But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him. (Habakkuk 2:20)
So I’m reading today in Numbers chapter 25 the story of Israel’s on-again-off-again descent into idolatry and of one particular brazen Israelite’s rebellion against God. Take a few moments to read this section copied from the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition.
While Israel dwelt in Shittim the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate, and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel; and the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people, and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel. . . .
And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation, and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the inner room, and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman, through her body . . . .
And the Lord said to Moses, “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace; and it shall be to him, and to his descendants after him, the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God, and made atonement for the people of Israel.’”
I paused in my reading as my mind replayed this scenario. God repeatedly commanded Israel to be set apart entirely and exclusively for Him. And here they were once again, thumbing their collective noses in God’s face. One of them even had the temerity to bring a foreign woman into his bedroom in broad daylight.
Please do not misunderstand my point. I certainly would never advocate we take swords and do away with everyone in the Church who willfully, openly and flagrantly causes scandal. But is it not instructive that God was so pleased with Phinehas’ zeal for righteousness that He blessed the man with a perpetual covenant “because he was jealous for his God”?
With all I hear from pulpits about God’s love, and nary a word about His judgment against sin, it is little wonder to me that we have so few Church leaders zealous and jealous enough for God’s holiness that they would even refuse the Eucharist to Catholics who openly snub their nose at Church teaching regarding morals and faith. With all I hear about God’s mercy from pulpits, and virtually nothing about God’s unremitting requirement that we live according to His laws, I am no longer surprised when our Bishops and priests do not excommunicate the unrepentant and openly rebellious congregants for the scandals they cause.
But by cowering from standing for Christ in the face of a demonic and worldly political correctness, and refusing for whatever other reason to do the hard thing – the godly thing – as did St. Paul when he ordered the church at Corinth to remove from themselves the one causing scandal (see 1 Corinthians 5) – by refusing to do the hard thing, do not our cowering Church leaders encourage sinners to continue in their sin? Worse, since unchallenged scandal can encourage others to follow the easy road of sin, do not leaders who shrink from doing the right thing merely teach their sheep to walk the path that leads ultimately to judgment and eternal damnation?
St. James wrote: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). St. Paul warned: “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
And so I pray, “Oh, God! Give us leaders with the boldness of a Phinehas, zealous for God, for holiness, and for truth – leaders not concerned with being friends with the world at the expense of being a friend of God.”