Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
(I Samuel 1:9-20; Mark 1:20-28)
Ever fascinating, Pope Francis does not sidestep criticizing the clergy. His reprimand of the German bishop who spent a lavish amount of money on his residence made world news. Not so noticed by the press, he took aim at insipid clerical preaching in his recent exhortation The Joy of the Gospel. Francis realizes that the people follow their clergy. Where priests zealously live the gospel, the people will follow suit. The first reading provides an example of a priest from the Old Testament whose laxness created great trouble for ancient Israel.
In the reading from I Samuel Eli harshly and erroneously rebukes Hannah for coming to the temple drunk. In the end he sounds contrite enough for his mistake; however, further reading of I Samuel reveals Eli making other costly misjudgments. He does not ban his two sons Hophni and Phinehas from temple service after they wantonly extort people. More tragically, he evidently allows the Ark of the Covenant to be used as a talisman in the war against the Philistines leading to its loss in battle.
Although the universal priesthood of the baptized is rightfully given center attention in the Church today, we should not underestimate the need for competent, hard-working, holy priests. At least in the United States, they do not need money or other material gifts, but they should be prayed for. When they err in a significant way (or are perceived as having done so), they should be told politely rather than criticized behind their back or excused frivolously.