November 5, 2017 (Steven O’Reilly) – I went to Mass this Sunday morning with my wife at our parish Church. My ears perked up as I listened to the first reading, which was taken from Malachi (1:14B – 2:2B, 8-10). As given on the USCCB website, the reading is as follows (emphasis added):
A great King am I, says the LORD of hosts,
and my name will be feared among the nations.
And now, O priests, this commandment is for you:
If you do not listen,
if you do not lay it to heart,
to give glory to my name, says the LORD of hosts,
I will send a curse upon you
and of your blessing I will make a curse.
You have turned aside from the way,
and have caused many to falter by your instruction;
you have made void the covenant of Levi,
says the LORD of hosts.
I, therefore, have made you contemptible
and base before all the people,
since you do not keep my ways,
but show partiality in your decisions.
Have we not all the one father?
Has not the one God created us?
Why then do we break faith with one another,
violating the covenant of our fathers? (USCCB: Malachi (1:14B – 2:2B, 8-10))
As I sat in the pew, hearing the words read aloud that the priests were said to have “turned aside from the way and have caused many to falter by your instruction,” it brought to my mind the debate over Amoris Laetitia and communion for the divorced and remarried. Curious that these thoughts entered my mind, I resolved to read these verses in context upon my return home.
The lines from the First Reading are drawn from Malachi chapter 1 (verse 14b) and chapter 2 (verses 2:2B, 8-10). In chapter 1 of Malachi, coincidentally, the Lord is angry with the priests for offering “polluted bread” (cf Malachi 1:7), and “blind”, “lame and sick” (cf. Malachi 1:8) sacrificial offerings on the altar of the Lord. In brief, the priests allowed, condoned and committed sacrilege at the altar of the Lord. However, this was not included in the reading as presented in mass. It is also unfortunate that the first reading ended with verse 10 because the prophet Malachi continues on in the verses which immediately follow to list other offenses against God, specifically divorce and remarriage:
(11) Judah has broken faith; an abominable thing has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. Judah has profaned the LORD’s holy place, which he loves, and has married a daughter of a foreign god. (12) May the LORD cut off from the man who does this both witness and advocate from the tents of Jacob, and anyone to bring an offering to the LORD of hosts! (13) This also you do: the altar of the LORD you cover with tears, weeping, and groaning, Because the Lord no longer takes note of your offering or accepts it favorably from your hand. (14) And you say, “Why?”— Because the LORD is witness between you and the wife of your youth With whom you have broken faith, though she is your companion, your covenanted wife. (15) Did he not make them one, with flesh and spirit? And what does the One require? Godly offspring! You should be on guard, then, for your life, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. (16) For I hate divorce, says the LORD, the God of Israel, And the one who covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. You should be on guard, then, for your life, and you must not break faith. (17) You have wearied the LORD with your words, yet you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “All evildoers are good in the sight of the LORD, And he is pleased with them,” or “Where is the just God?” (USCCB: Malachi 2: 11-17)
The Lord is clear in Malachi: “The Lord is witness between you and the wife of your youth with whom you have broken faith, though she is your companion, your covenanted wife… do not break faith with the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce” (cf Malachi 2:14-16). Hearing the reading at Mass, and then reading it in a fuller context, I cannot help but think it providential that we have these words before us now at this moment of Church history as debate rages over Amoris Laetitia and whether the divorced and remarried (without annulment or at least adhering to the conditions specified in Familiaris Consortio 84) can receive communion. The two chapters of Malachi speak of pastors who have turned away from the truth and lead others to ‘falter by their instruction’ and condone sacrilegious offerings, and the Lord – who “hates divorce” – warning all to “not break faith” with one’s spouse (cf Malachi 2:15). Reading Malachi verse 2:17, I could not help but think of all of those who concoct Rube Goldberg-like situations to somehow rationalize communion for the divorced and remarried (see here): ” You have wearied the LORD with your words, yet you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “All evildoers are good in the sight of the LORD, And he is pleased with them,” or “Where is the just God?”” (Malachi 2:17). Two thoughts came to mind. The first, smiling, I wondered if the verse “you have wearied the Lord with your words” might apply to the excessive length and confusing ambiguity of Amoris Laetitia. But, on a more serious note (though I would not discount the first!), I thought of Amoris Laetitia 303:
“Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.” (Amoris Laetitia 303)
The ambiguity of the statement above has encouraged some to do that of which the Lord complains in Malachi (cf 2:17) regarding “breaking faith” (e.g., divorce and remarriage), i.e., saying the Lord is pleased with those who are doing something that is evil (see here and here and here). Thus, personally, I do see in these chapters of Malachi a providential reminder to Catholics at this moment, as we await the “formal correction” (see The Coming Storm) – which I expect before the end of November. That reminder is: pastors must not (1) stray from the way of truth, or (2) cause others to falter by their instruction, or (3) say with regard to those who “break faith” with their spouse through divorce and marry another that “all evildoers are good in the sight of the Lord” (see here and here) or (4) permit sacrilegious communions at the altar of the Lord (e.g., divorced and remarried, “ecumenical” communion received by non-Catholics). Pope Francis often beats up on rigid “doctors of the law”, but here these “doctors” are reproached by God precisely for not instructing others in the truth and for not preserving the altar of the Lord from sacrilege. I – for one -would be interested to hear Pope Francis provide an extended commentary on Malachi chapters one and two. But, it seems to me, this warning in Malachi should be taken to heart by the pope, the cardinals, bishops and priests. Silence is not an option.
Let us pray Pope Francis remembers the Lord’s words to Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou being once converted, confirm thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).
Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He lives near Atlanta with his wife Margaret. He has four children. He has written apologetic articles and is working on a historical-adventure trilogy, set during the time of the Arian crisis. He can be contacted at StevenOReilly@AOL.com.