Tuesday, August 23, 2016

“How would your life be different if…You approached all relationships with authenticity and honesty? Let today be the day…

To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst nothen be false to any man. – (from Hamlet), by William Shakespeare

Gospel Text: (MT 23:23-26)
Jesus said:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin,
and have neglected the weightier things of the law:
judgment and mercy and fidelity.
But these you should have done, without neglecting the others.
Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You cleanse the outside of cup and dish,
but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence.
Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup,
so that the outside also may be clean.”

There are a few things that come to mind as we reflect on Jesus’ admonishment to the scribes and the Pharisees. One is the reminder to resist the temptation to focus on the shortcomings of the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus’ words are meant as a caution to us! So often we can be tempted to focus on the small stuff as a way to demonstrate our superiority over others, or as a way to avoid the real issues with which we need to grapple. There are so many challenges facing people today, and we need to explore ways to help them live their lives with integrity as we strive to do the same.

Another thing is to reflect on what Jesus means by being “frauds.” Jesus is not saying “Woe” to them because they fell short of perfection. We all do. If I am judged as being a fraud or a hypocrite because I haven’t perfectly followed Jesus, then, yes, I admit to being a fraud. But I don’t think falling short constitutes being a fraud. Jesus says “Woe” to the scribes and the Pharisees because they were so quick to condemn others for falling short.

Recognizing our own weaknesses and sins, we can’t condemn others for not being perfect. Instead, may we turn to God, who, in the words of our first reading from 2 Thessalonians, “loved us and in his mercy gave us eternal consolation and hope.” And may God console our “hearts and strengthen them for every good work and word.”

Monday, August 22, 2016

“…when the door starts closing a bit because of our weakness and sins, confession reopens it.”

"Everyone say to himself: ‘When was the last time I went to confession?’ And if it has been a long time, don’t lose another day! Go, the priest will be good. And Jesus, will be there, and Jesus is better than the priests - Jesus receives you. He will receive you with so much love! Be courageous, and go to confession,”  - Pope Francis on Feb. 19, 2014

Gospel Text: (MT 23:13-22)
Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men.
You do not enter yourselves,
nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You traverse sea and land to make one convert,
and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna
twice as much as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say,
‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing,
but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’
Blind fools, which is greater, the gold,
or the temple that made the gold sacred?
And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing,
but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’
You blind ones, which is greater, the gift,
or the altar that makes the gift sacred?
One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it;
one who swears by the temple swears by it
and by him who dwells in it;
one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God
and by him who is seated on it.”

In the Gospel reading, Jesus denounces the religious leaders of his time for their lack of godliness and sincerity. He accuses them of hypocrisy; of cleansing the outside while being defiled in the inside. 

This applies to all of us who call ourselves people of God.  We are all sinners, fallen and in great need of God's grace.

Jesus is calls us out of our conceited selves and reminds us that holiness is not something that we put on for others to see and notice. It is more important to nurture our relationship with God than to receive the empty admiration of others. 

Cleaning from within through repentance before God, especially through the sacrament of Reconciliation, and being truthful at whatever cost brings us closer to God, "Purify the inside first, then the outside too will be purified."      

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The pretense of self-sufficiency is the enemy of salvation. If you “think” you are self-sufficient, you have no need of God. If you have no need of God, you do not seek Him. If you do not seek Him, you will not find Him.

I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost: (1874 –1963: was an American poet)

Gospel Text: (LK 13:22-30)
Jesus passed through towns and villages,
teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem.
Someone asked him,
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
He answered them,
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough.
After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door,
then will you stand outside knocking and saying,
‘Lord, open the door for us.’
He will say to you in reply,
‘I do not know where you are from.
And you will say,
‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’
Then he will say to you,
‘I do not know where you are from.
Depart from me, all you evildoers!’
And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth
when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
and all the prophets in the kingdom of God
and you yourselves cast out.
And people will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.
For behold, some are last who will be first,
and some are first who will be last.”

I sense that Jesus is saying to us that we can all be saved.  He is telling us that it is not something we can take for granted.  It is not a guarantee that can seduce us into thinking we don’t have to do anything, that we are not called to a special life, to a special role in this world.  He’s alerting us to the fact that our journey is counter-cultural.  It is not a journey that looks like a path of world values.  

It isn’t about “blending in with the crowd.”

Saturday, August 20, 2016

“One of the biggest flaws of people is pretending to be blind to their own mistakes, but do not pretend to be deaf towards the mistakes of others.”

Gospel Text: (MT 23:1-12)
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus forgave and accepted many sinners in his lifetime - tax collectors, prostitutes, adulterers, soldiers, criminals, etc.  He was, however, particularly severe on hypocrites, and his most severe criticism was reserved for the Pharisees. 

Hypocrisy combines two of the greatest sins – pride and dishonesty.  The Pharisees did not want to be criticized and loved to make a show of their goodness.  With this attitude, it was difficult for them to accept Jesus and his call to conversion.  Jesus emphasized a childlike attitude, openness and complete disposition to the Father.  The Pharisees however had their own agenda to protect, and had ceased to give genuine worship to God.

We too run the risk of going through life with a hypocritical attitude – saying one thing and doing another.  We may end up with the same mentality as the Pharisees, being blind to our own failings while keeping a watchful and critical eye at the failings of others.  We must always be vigilant against this very subtle sin, and ask ourselves constantly:  Are we really open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our lives?  Or are we living our faith in a self-righteous and self-sufficient manner?  Whose interests are we really after – God's or ours? 

Friday, August 19, 2016

“Christianity teaches us to love our neighbor as our self; modern society acknowledges no neighbor.”

Gospel Text: (MT 22:34-40)
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law, tested him by asking,
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Jesus challenges us explicitly. Our love of God must be the motivating force in how we think, speak, and act. Our attitudes and motives, our outlook on life, must be reflective of a genuine love for God and others, and not simply for love of ourselves.

We cannot be selective of the people we love or how we love.

We must recognize that genuine love in our hearts must be expressed by our love in action. Love of God and love of neighbor are not measured by externals of piety or impressive words. We truly love only through our selfless thoughts, words and actions, by our imitation of Christ.

How can we transform our love? We can pray simply and humbly before God, acknowledge our weakness and sin and ask the Lord to open our eyes to see His presence in every person and situation.