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23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 07.09.2014


In 1959 Pope John XXIII called for three things. Hold a synod for the diocese of Rome. Revise the code of canon law. Convene an ecumenical council. No one had dreamed that this elderly bishop of Rome and the 260th successor of St Peter would do anything like this.

The revision of the code of canon law would be finished in 1983 when on the first Sunday of Advent it came into force replacing the former code published in 1917. The Code of Canon Law, the book containing the law of the Church, is divided into seven sections. The sixth section deals with penalties or sanctions in the Church.

The most serious sanction that can be imposed on a member of the Church is excommunication. Those who worked on revising the law gave serious consideration to dropping this sanction from the code but in the end retained it because it was one sanction that is found in the scriptures. St Paul speaks of excluding people from the community if they will not change their ways as does St Matthew in today’s gospel where it speaks of those not changing being treated by the community like a pagan or a tax collector.

Excommunication does not mean someone is shown the door and told that they have had their membership in the Church revoked. This is the way it is often spoken of in newspaper articles or news reports. The presentation usually has the implication the offending person has been kicked out.

Excommunication is more akin to being deprived for a time of full involvement in the sacramental life of the church and other aspects of life in the community. From a family perspective it is like when as youngsters we are sent to our room or sent from the table fellowship. Being sent away is a wakeup call that our behaviour needs changing. Consider warnings issued in the work place that our work is not up to scratch. Usual practice is that you receive two or three warnings and then comes dismissal.

Jesus as the prophet Ezekiel centuries before him proclaimed we need from time to time to be corrected if we are doing something wrong. Everything we do, hopefully we acknowledge, I not good. We can sin. As the prayer used in celebrating the sacrament of penance says – in choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things.

The correction, the call to change, often some from those closest to us, family, friends or employers. Those in public positions can find calls coming through the various media outlets or arising from investigative commissions and enquiries. At times it is not easy for them to do as it is not easy to receive. If we do, then a wrong behaviour is abandoned and we become better people.

Fr Adrian Farrelly

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Oct 20, 2014 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 07.09.2014 Listen Download