11 October 2007. Thursday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time
Malachi 3, 13-20 Ex Opera Operato
The first reading is taken from the prophet Malachi. His book is written to correct the lax religious practices of the Israelites and the priests in the newly restored temple of Jerusalem. For example, the priests of the temple are cheating: they are commanded to offer unblemished offerings (Leviticus 1), but the priests are offering sick animals, hoping the people will not notice. But the people are disillusioned, and so they said that ‘it is vain to serve God… rather must we call the proud blessed; for indeed evildoers prosper.” And so the people follow suit.
Malachi tells the people that they have not been faithful and that they are not giving God what He deserves. He tells the people to serve God faithfully and to His commandments. This will bring them greater blessings. In the end of time, those who serve God faithfully will be separated from the evildoers. The Gospels tell us that the sheep and the goats will be separated. The faithful (sheep) will be rewarded and the evildoers (goats) will be punished.
Religious and civil leaders influence many people. In many ways, this causes a lot of stress for many ministers — being an example of goodness is indeed very hard and challenging. People are watching us and oftentimes follow what we do — more than what we say. Like teachers, students remember how they are than what they teach. The scandals in the Church have disillusioned a number of the faithful. And so they say, “what is the relevance of coming to confession, when the priest is more sinful?” Or, “why should we pay taxes to the government when government officials squander it all? Why do the proud and the evildoers prosper, and the good suffer? If those who accept bribery in the government made money, then I will follow suit for my family. You cannot eat your high ideals and principles.
When Malachi reminds the people that they are not giving God what He deserves, we are reminded to keep in mind the focus of our lives. I was fourteen years old when the priest in my hometown threw the paten at me. The paten is a shallow disk which holds the Eucharistic host. He threw the paten at me, like a Frisbee, as I sat at the church organ. He thought that I was noisy. But I was the only one at the choir area. This greatly embarrassed me and I resolved not to serve at mass. My mom kept reminding me that I did not serve the priest — I serve God and the people. God deserves my service since He gave me my talents.
In the Church, the validity and the effect of the Sacrament comes ex opere operato (by the very fact of being administered; from the work, having been worked), which means that the sacrament is valid regardless of the personal holiness of the minister who gives it (Compendium of the Catholic Church, 224). The focus is the work and not the worker.
I guess this is what Malachi is teaching us today. Often we are taken out of focus. We are not saying that the ministers and the government officials are not culpable of their sins. But we are asked to see beyond them: the greater good where the taxes should go, the people who deserve our services, the God who is the primary reason for worship.