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  • Writer's pictureFr. Scott Haynes

A Blessing or a Curse

Fr. Scott Haynes

 


The Prophet Malachi gives a prophetic message directed towards the Priests of ancient Israel. Malachi’s words resonate with a timeless significance that extends beyond its historical context. The passage (Malachi 2:1-2) begins with a solemn declaration, emphasizing the specificity and urgency of the divine instruction. The commandment of the Lord of Hosts is clear:

“And now this Commandment is for you, O Priests, if you do not listen, and if you do not take it to heart to give Honor to My Name, then I will send the curse upon you…” (Malachi 2:1-2).

This divine directive serves as a foundational principle for the Priests, laying out the essential elements of their sacred duty — listening, internalizing, and honoring the name of the Almighty. If the Priest is a Priest of God, he must be conformed to the Lord as His sacred minister. St. John Vianney taught the children in his parish,

“A Priest is not a Priest for himself… He is not for himself, he is for you” (St. John Vianney, Catechism on the Priesthood).

If the Priest is to impart the love and wisdom of God, he ought to honor the name of the Lord in all he says and does.

 

The consequences of neglecting this commandment are then articulated in unmistakable terms, as the Lord says:

“...then I will send the curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings; and indeed, I have cursed them already because you are not taking it to heart” (Malachi 2:2).

The gravity of Malachi’s prophecy underscores the profound connection between obedience to God’s commandments and the blessings or curses that result — the consequences of obedience or disobedience. It highlights the reciprocal nature of the sacerdotal role, where fidelity to divine directives brings about divine favor, and neglect leads to divine judgment.

 

While the historical and cultural contexts differ, the fundamental call to listen, internalize, and honor the divine commandments remains constant is incumbent upon the Priests of the Church today. Just as the Priests of ancient Israel were instructed to honor God’s name, Catholic Priests are called to adhere faithfully to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the authentic guidance of the Church. A Priest’s calling is to be a vessel of God’s grace, spreading love and forgiveness to all who seek God with a sincere heart. Thus, as he imparts the timeless truth of God’s commands to God’s holy people, the Priest must follow the admonition of St. Paul:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you abundantly, in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16).

To impart godly wisdom, the Priest must first be filled with knowledge of the Word of God, because this enlightens the mind with truth and strengthens the will do live according to it. Thus, St. Jerome writes,

“For if, as Paul says, ‘Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God,’ and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” (St. Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah, Nn. 1.2: CCL 73, 1-3).

 

In governing the people of God, St. Gregory the Great reminds the Priest of his office of teaching, stating that he must guide and correct the faithful

“...as a mother in loving-kindness, and as a father in discipline...” (St. Gregory the Great, Pastoral Rule, Ch. 6).

He goes on to say,

“...that neither discipline be rigid nor loving-kindness lax.”

A Priest’s words should be like heavenly whispers — words spoken in kindness, reminding us of our divine purpose. This must be the Priest’s consistent admonition to the people — to live in truth and in the love of the Heart of God. To illustrate his point, St. Gregory refers to the lesson of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:34). He points out that the wounded man who has been brought to the inn by the Samaritan half dead has both wine and oil applied to his wounds,

“...the wine to make them smart, the oil to soothe them.”

He adds:

“For whosoever superintends the healing of wounds must needs administer in wine the smart of pain, and in oil the softness of loving-kindness, to the end that through wine what is festering may be purged, and through oil what is curable may be soothed.”

The lesson of the parable teaches us that:

“Gentleness, then, is to be mingled with severity; a sort of compound is to be made of both; so that subjects be neither exulcerated by too much asperity, nor relaxed by too great kindness.”

 

The universal call to holiness exempts no person. Indeed, at St. Paul tells St. Timothy:

“the Lord knoweth who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19).

God has set His sights high for each of us. The Lord does not desire sin for His children. Neither does God simply want us to be naturally good. Rather, God wants each of us to be saints. As St. Paul teaches, our Creator calls all His children to be vessels of honor, cleansed of sin:

“But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and earth: and some indeed unto honor, but some unto dishonor. If any man therefore shall cleanse himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and profitable to the Lord, prepared unto every good work” (2 Timothy 2:19-21).

St. Peter speaks to the members of Christ’s Mystical Body and calls all to live according to their Christan dignity:

“But you are a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people: that you may declare his virtues, who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

 

The commandment to “give Honor to My Name” (Malachi 2:2) finds its echo in the Gospel teachings of Jesus Christ, where Our Blessed Savior emphasized the importance of love, compassion, and the pursuit of righteousness. Just as the Prophet Amos exhorts the people, “Seek ye the Lord, and live” (Amos 5:6), so all must heed the words of the Precursor of the Lord:

“Repent, and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).

If we are to be “vessels of honor,” Christians must not persist in a life of sin. Rather, we must learn spiritual discipline and seek God’s assistance to conquer the temptations that assail us. St. Philip Neri wisely noted:

“Not to know how to deny our soul its own wishes, is to foment a hot bed of vices.”

When temptation seems irresistable, we must remember the words of the Prophet Jeremiah:

“Thou art my hope in the day of affliction” (Jeremiah 17:17).  

 

Priests are called to honor God in their daily life and ministry, transmitting the teaching of Christ in the fullness of truth and the loving-kindness of Our Merciful Savior. The teachings of Jesus, encapsulated in the Gospels, provide a roadmap for Priests to navigate the complexities of the modern world while remaining anchored in the unchanging teaching of the Church. Adhering to the deposit of faith ensures continuity with the apostolic tradition and guards against the pitfalls of relativism and secularism.

 

St. John Vianney saw the attempt to modernize religion by eroding the moral foundation of the Gospel. He taught:  

“When people wish to destroy religion, they begin by attacking the Priest, because where there is no longer any Priest there is no sacrifice, and where there is no longer any sacrifice there is no religion” (St. John Vianney, Catechism on the Priesthood).

Catholics must resist the secular attempt to update religion by accommodating Christ’s teaching to the changing whims of the times. The progressive erosion of our moral sense is a slippery slope — a trajectory that always sends us downward. If we follow the world’s ever-changing morality, we can become numb to the moral decline that surrounds us. We notice that certain immoral behaviors that once horrified people no longer have the same effect after a few years. People become accommodated to a “new normal.” Once this stage of moral compromise is reached, the opposition to sin no longer resounds in the soul, and those forces who oppose the Ten Commandments and Christ's moral teaching see that the moment is ripe to introduce new violations of God’s law into society. Against such a background, the Church is called to stand firm in the faith.

 

In the context of the Prophet Malachi’s warning about curses befalling those who neglect God’s commandments, the consequences of deviating from the teachings of Jesus Christ and the magisterium of the Catholic Church are similarly grave. The curse is not a punitive measure arbitrarily imposed by a distant deity but a natural outcome of straying from the path of divine truth. It manifests as a rupture in the Priest’s relationship with God and a loss of the spiritual blessings that flow from fidelity to Christ’s teachings. The phrase “I have cursed them already” in Malachi suggests that divine judgment is not a distant prospect but a present reality. In the contemporary context, the challenges faced by Priests who deviate from Christ’s teaching are evident in the erosion of spiritual authority, moral credibility, and the trust of the faithful. The consequences extend beyond the individual Priest to the broader Church community, impacting its ability to effectively witness to the Gospel in the world. Thus, the Priest must strive to be faithful to Christ in his ministry, after the example of the Apostles.

 

The necessity for Priests to adhere to the persistent teaching of Jesus Christ and the unchanging magisterium is underscored by the rapidly changing cultural and moral landscape. In an era marked by relativism, secularism, and moral ambiguity, Priests face the challenge of remaining faithful to the unchanging truths of the Gospel while engaging with a world that often rejects or questions these truths. The commandment to “give Honor to My Name” in the contemporary context involves upholding the dignity of the Priesthood, living a life of holiness, and faithfully transmitting the deposit of faith to the members of Christ’s Mystical Body. The Priest is called not only to preach the Gospel but to embody it, becoming a living testimony to the transformative power of Christ’s teachings.

 

Additionally, the connection between Malachi’s message and the role of Priests today highlights the importance of genuine pastoral leadership. Just as the Priests in Malachi’s time were entrusted with guiding the people in the ways of God, modern-day Priests are called to shepherd their flocks with wisdom, compassion, and fidelity to the Gospel. The Priest’s role as a spiritual father and guide is crucial in navigating the challenges of contemporary society and leading the faithful towards an authentic encounter with Christ.

 

In conclusion, Malachi 2:1-2 serves as a timeless admonition, providing a framework for understanding the enduring responsibilities of Priests, who must ever teach and follow the Ten Commandments and moral teaching of Jesus. This passage from the Prophet Malachi serves as a reminder that, regardless of the epoch, the essence of the sacerdotal vocation lies in honoring God and keeping His Commandments. From this spiritual obedience to the Lord, may the blessing of the Priest be a blessing to those who seek to live a life configured to Christ, our Crucified and Risen Lord.

 

St. Therese of Lisieux’s Prayer for Priests

 

O Jesus, eternal Priest, keep your priests within the shelter of Your Sacred Heart, where none may touch them. Keep unstained their anointed hands, which daily touch Your Sacred Body. Keep unsullied their lips, daily purpled with your Precious Blood. Keep pure and unearthly their hearts, sealed with the sublime mark of the Priesthood. Let Your holy love surround them and shield them from the world’s contagion. Bless their labors with abundant fruit and may the souls to whom they minister be their joy and consolation here and in heaven their beautiful and everlasting crown. Amen.

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