Memorial of Saint Pius X, Pope
Ezekiel 28. 1-10
Around 1440 the author John Lydgate observed that "comparisons are odious". The phrase caught on, and has continued down to our time. All of us tend to make comparisons and so apparently engage in odious activity. The present presidential campaign certainly features its share of this. It may dismay us that such odious behavior is still with us.
However, if we attend to the biblical readings for today’s Eucharist, it’s hard to overlook the role of comparisons evident here. God’s own spokesperson, the prophet Ezekiel, presents a thumping onslaught against the cowering Prince of Tyre. Ezekiel cuts him down to size, for comparing himself to the Lord God, and thinking himself "to have the mind of a god". A further deflation occurs on the lips of the prophet when he compares the hapless prince, despite all his wealth and exalted status, with "foreigners, the most barbarous of nations", who nonetheless managed to overcome and do him in. These comparisons lead to the prophetic judgment: "…you are a man, not a god, handed over to those who will slay you".
Then Jesus, in the day’s gospel, continues Ezekiel’s kind of judgments by employing further odious comparisons, this time between the rich and the smelly, mean-spirited camel, suggesting "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God". Taking his chances from this surprising remark of Jesus, Peter compares what he and his fellow apostles have done ("We have given up everything and followed you.") by an apparent reference to the exploits of the camel and asks: "What will there be for us?" This implied comparison may sound a bit like odious self-interest, but it serves Jesus’ purposes in proposing a glorious future for the twelve in the days to come.
Indeed, comparisons, even odious ones, support God’s intentions well. Nothing better manifests the grandeur and magnificence of God than comparing Himself to us. Often this may result in odious judgments, but in His favor, not ours. Nonetheless, such comparisons bring out the difference between God and ourselves better than anything else. There may be some in the human community who find such comparisons odious, but most of us relish the differences they reveal, and lead us toward God rather than away from Him. While for some it may mean that those first among us now may be last at the end, for most of us, currently in last place, it means that, at the end, we can anticipate finding ourselves up front where we will "receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life".
Pope St. Pius X, whose memorial we keep today, was deeply involved in similar comparisons during his pontificate, that resulted, on the one hand, in his disapproving judgment about some theologians associated with the Modernist heresy, in comparison with traditional theology, and, on the other hand, in his encouraging judgment about more frequent reception of the Eucharist, on the part of the laity, and for earlier access to the Eucharist by younger children, in comparison to the then current practice of infrequent communion by adults, and only later access to it by young people.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.