The duty of the watchman - Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary time (A)

Decrease font size
Increase font size
Print this page

The prophet Ezekiel received a word from the Lord addressed directly to him. It was a personal word and involved the Lord’s expectation of his ministry as a prophet. Ezekiel, who incidentally was a priest, is told: “Son of man, I have made you a sentry to the house of Israel.” In some translations the word ‘watchman’ is used in place of the word ‘sentry’.

These words addressed to Ezekiel were commented upon by Pope St Gregory the Great. They caused him to consider the responsibilities that he had in his role as Pope. The feast of St Gregory the Great, September 3, was actually last Sunday. The feast has special significance for me as it was the feast day on which I was ordained a bishop – fourteen years ago.

St Gregory was a monk before becoming pope – in fact, he was the first monk to become a pope. Prior to being a monk he was Prefect of Rome; he was the equivalent of being the Lord Mayor of Rome. He was attracted to the monastic life and lived in a monastery he founded near the Colosseum. He was called out of monastic life to the demands of the papacy at a very turbulent time. In commenting on this text of Ezekiel, he speaks of how he now finds himself burdened with many responsibilities. He says, “With my mind divided and torn to pieces by so many problems, how can I meditate or preach wholeheartedly without neglecting the ministry of proclaiming the Gospel?” He senses his own inadequacy in having to deal with so many different situations and so many varied individuals. As a monk he had enjoyed the time to pray and reflect. Now his life is one of demand and constant distraction.

I am in sympathy with him as I experience my role as bishop. I often feel that my administrative demands stop me from being as pastorally involved with people as I would like.

Pope Gregory says, “I am forced to consider the affairs of the Church and of the monasteries. I must weigh the lives and acts of individuals. I am responsible for the concerns of our citizens. I must worry about the invasions of roving bands of barbarians, and beware of the wolves who lie in wait for my flock. I must become an administrator lest the religious go in want. I must put up with certain robbers without losing patience and at times I must deal with them in all charity.”

As a sentry, or watchman, he sees his role of being a guardian of the Church. He says that a watchman “stands on a height so that he can see from afar what is coming”. He then adds: “Anyone appointed to be a watchman for the people must stand on a height for all his life to help them by his foresight.” He offers insight here as to how he sees his role as pope. He has to stand on the heights in order to see all that is going on. He needs to have what we call these days ‘a helicopter view’. He mentions that he has to be able to see what is coming so that he can prepare the people and ensure their wellbeing.

Ezekiel, as a prophet, has had his role defined as being a watchman. A watchman is, as the name suggests, a lookout, someone who keeps watch for approaching danger. He warns people of impending danger so that they can take appropriate action. The prophet must speak words that warn and guide. We see this theme reflected in the teaching of the Lord in the Gospel today.

Pope St Gregory the Great understood that he had the role to preach and teach so that the people would be guided aright. This is role of a bishop in a diocese. In the reading today we learn that the Lord warns Ezekiel that he will be held accountable for his response to this responsibility. He is expected to speak out - to warn and guide the people. Pope St Gregory knew this well. A bishop knows that he will be accountable before God for the way in which he has exercised his teaching and guiding role.

Pope St Gregory ends his thoughts on this reading from the prophet Ezekiel by saying, “So who am I to be a watchman, for I do not stand on the mountain of action but lie down in the valley of weakness? Truly the all-powerful Creator and Redeemer of mankind can give me in spite of my weaknesses a higher life and effective speech; because I love him, I do not spare myself in speaking of him.”
As I reflect on the expectations of the Lord in regard to his prophet Ezekiel and the reflections of Pope Gregory the Great, I see clearly what is expected of me as a bishop.

It is because of this that I feel compelled to actively speak out on such an important matter as changing the definition of marriage.

I am aware that marriage in the end is God’s good plan for human life. He created men and women precisely with marriage and family in mind. Marriage is a union of a man and a woman. This is God’s plan. Marriage is the normal way in which human life is to be lived. It is ordained for the generation and nurturing of children.

We cannot change the meaning of marriage. A society can redefine it in law as some 25 nations have chosen to do, but marriage will remain marriage no matter what. It is a union of a man and a woman. Marriage belongs to nature, and nature reflects the intentions of the Creator. Human laws cannot change what marriage is.

Changing the definition of marriage is going to do great damage to our society. Children will grow up in confusion as there will be sustained efforts to promote the alternative to true marriage.

I fear for the pressures that will be placed on parents. They will be denied their rights. They will be forced to see their children led astray by these dangerous new ideas about sexuality and gender. They will be prevented even from removing their children from dangerous and false teaching.

As a bishop I stand as a sentry and I see great dangers ahead for families, for the Church and for society. Thus, I must speak out. I must urge all people of good will to reject the proposal to change the definition of marriage.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Friday, 8 September 2017