Whitewashed Tombs: Public Persona vs. The Real Person

Credit: ANSA/OSSERVATORE ROMANO

Very often we form opinions of people by what we see, we “judge a book by its cover” as the cliché says. When God sees us he looks directly into our hearts; he is unswayed by the color of our skin, the manner of our dress, or the image we like others to see. In Matthew 23:27-28, Jesus exposes this truth when he addresses scribes and Pharisees:

You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.

From time-to-time it’s good for us to consider the disparity between what we like others to think and what they really are. Often the public persona we display for others is different from the person we really are. When we do this we exhibit the duplicity that Our Lord castigated in the scribes and Pharisees. The goal of Christian living is authenticity. Jesus praised the authenticity of Nathaniel, “There is no duplicity in him” (John 1:47) even after Nathaniel wondered “if anything good could from Nazareth?” (John 1:46).

Sometimes confessors greet the penitent with: “May the grace of the Holy Spirit fill your heart with light, that you may confess your sins with loving trust and come to know that God is merciful.” This greeting is a sort of prayer which invites the penitent to look at himself honestly so that he may confess his sins with true sorrow. A sincere confession has the benefit of bringing about true unity, true authenticity, eliminating duplicity in a person so that he can see himself as he is, as God sees him.

May the Holy Spirit fill our hearts so that we do not become whitewashed tombs!

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Against superstition, the cult of the body, and gossip (2nd Thessalonians 2:15)

In 2nd Thessalonians 2:15, Saint Paul tells us to: “stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught.” In our youth, most of us were taught the basics of Christian belief and practice. For more than a few of us, these basics came later in life. Regardless of how or when we came to practice the Christian religion, there is a temptation to become attracted to, or to dabble in, practices antithetical to our growth in holiness. There are many, let me list three:

  1. Superstition: broadly defined as irreverent worship of God or a false devotion frequently stemming from a tendency to magic. Examples of this include burying a statue of St Joseph upside-down facing a home in order to sell it, or believing that if one leaves copies of a certain number of prayers to St Jude in the pews of a church then the petition will be granted. This misplaced piety seeks to place a claim on God (read: forcing God to do something). True prayer demands that we approach him with empty hands, because prayer isn’t a sort of quid pro quo. Then there are many who religiously check their horoscopes everyday. Many think this is harmless, but it quickly becomes a sort daily devotional. A better practice would be to read a few verses from Proverbs everyday, then one would be truly wise as well as receive true insights into daily life.
  2. The cult of the body: there have always been some people who are in better shape than others: they run faster, jump higher, or lift more. In the end, though, these are usually just external appearances that give little indication to the real heart of a person. Nowadays, however, it seems that the number of people who show excessive concern for physical fitness and excessive concern for only eating specific types of organic foods has greatly increased. To be clear, there is a certain good connected with having a good diet and stable exercise routine. What I’m speaking against is the error that says: if I only put good things into my body and make my body as sleek as possible, then I will be good. The only thing that makes us good is the dignity God gives us. Good works–not external appearances–serve to adorn this goodness.
  3. Gossip: idle talk, especially about others. This is perhaps the easiest sin to fall into which stymies our growth in holiness. Dwelling on the faults and shortcomings of others mostly serves to show and increase one’s own internal emptiness. Some people feel a compulsion to talk because they think that is how community is made. True community is built by shared purpose: a parish assembled to worship = true community. Gossip undermines community because it pushes people further apart instead of knitting them closer together. Gossip forces us to only look at the outside of a person so that we are blinded to what could be going on inside of them.

Superstition, the cult of the body, and gossip: three behaviors that were not a part of God’s original plan for our happiness. In order to grow in holiness, may each us avoid them and “stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that we were taught” (2nd Thessalonians 2:15).

This my reflection on 2nd Thessalonians 2:15 and the readings at Mass today, what are your thoughts and reflections?

A homily of Fr Romanus Cessario, OP

I just came across this homily Father Romanus Cessario, OP preached last week on the parable of the landowner. Father Cessario was my seminary professor. It is less than five minutes so I strongly recommend taking the time to watch it.

An important takeaway: “God loves us because he is good not because we are.”

My reflection for the memorial of Saint Bernard focused on the first reading.

Woe to the Religious Leaders

Sunset from the courtyard at St John's Seminary, Brighton, Massachusetts.

Sunset from the courtyard at St John’s Seminary, Brighton, Massachusetts.

In Matthew 23:13-22 (today’s Gospel), Our Lord preaches woe to the religious leaders of his day for three reasons: first, they are stumbling blocks to people trying to enter the Kingdom; second, they do not instruct people in morality but in immorality; third, they falsely present the less important things as the most important things. Today’s religious leaders are not the clergy or those who work for the Church–today’s religious leaders are those who take seriously their discipleship and intentionally cultivate a deeper relationship to Christ and the Church (this should be true, of course, of every member of the clergy and every person who works for the Church). Striving to grow in holiness must mean that we want to help people get into the Kingdom, live moral lives, and focus on the most important things. With Saint Paul let us pray that:

Our God may make us worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith, that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in us, and us in him, in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ. (from 2nd Thessalonians 1:11-12)

Love God’s Commands and Desire God’s Promises (YouTube)

Everything changes when we love what God commands and desire what God promises.

The collect (opening prayer) for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time:

O God, who cause the minds of the faithful to unite in a single purpose,
grant your people to love what you command and to desire what you promise,
that, amid the uncertainties of this world,
our hearts may be fixed on that place
where true gladness is found.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Let me know what you think about the prayers and readings for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time in the comments. Help me share God’s word with more people by sharing this post and others on your social networks!

Good lessons from unkind teachers (a reflection on Matthew 23:1-12)

Jesus Please Save Me From Your Followers

All of us have had teachers we’ve liked more than others. I bet most of us have even had a teacher or two we just couldn’t stand. Above all, we like some teachers more than others on account of the kindness they show us. Often the way a person treats us or makes us feel is more important than their expertise. One of my mentors taught me this lesson some time ago, “people will not always remember what you taught them, but they will remember how you treated them.” In today’s Gospel (Matthew 23:1-12), Our Lord presents the scribes and Pharisees as teachers to be listened to, but not as teachers who are kind to their students. We should learn two lessons from this: first, we need to be truly humble in order to receive a good lesson from someone who is unkind or hypocritical; second, we need to be humble and kind so that we can better share God’s message.

Lord, make us authentic teachers in word and deed!

Who are the teachers who have been kind to you?

Queenship of Mary 2014

Stained glass image of Our Lady in St Andrew's, Billerica

Stained glass image of Our Lady in St Andrew’s, Billerica

In the Gospel at Mass today we hear Jesus state the two great commandants: love God & love neighbor. It is fitting that this Gospel coincides with today’s celebration the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary because no one loves God & neighbor better than Our Lady!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on today’s readings and the Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, share them in the comments!

Your shepherding and Ezekiel 34:1-11

Rumunia 5806” by friend of Darwinek – friend of Darwinek. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In the first reading (Ezekiel 34:1-11) at Mass today the Lord tells the prophet Ezekiel to preach against the shepherds of the house of Israel. They are castigated because they selfishly satiate their own needs and desires while failing to care for the flock: “[they] pastured themselves and did not pasture my sheep” (Ezekiel 34:8). Of particular note is verse 10:

Thus says the Lord GOD: Look! I am coming against these shepherds. I will take my sheep out of their hand and put a stop to their shepherding my flock, so that these shepherds will no longer pasture them.

The question has to be asked: how does the Lord account my shepherding? If am found wanting, what do I need to change so that the flock receives the pasturing it deserves? Whenever flocks decrease we need to ask these questions. God wants his flock to flourish–that’s why he has the universal salvific will. Unfaithfulness to the Lord and failing to show mercy results in a diminishing of the flock. We must not think this scripture serves only as a warning to priests, though, for each of the baptized are anointed priest, prophet, and king.

May we not fail in the work Christ places before us and may his flock flourish!

Are you too attached to get into the Kingdom?

In Matthew 19:23-24 Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, 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.” There are two main reactions to this saying of Jesus. First: since I’m not rich so this teaching must not apply to me. This is mistaken especially in light of the fact that 80% of the people in the world live on less than $10 a day (source). This leads to the second reaction: how can I make it into the Kingdom when I’m so rich? The proper response to both of these reactions is more ordinary than we might think, but that isn’t to say that it isn’t radical. We have to have possessions to get through life (think about it: at a minimum Our Lord had his clothes). The danger with possessions, though, is that they can come to possess us. We might ask if this is the case with smartphone: is it true freedom (or even more productive) to constantly have one’s neck crooked down to look at a mobile device? We need to be detached from possessions so that they don’t hinder our attainment of salvation. The inordinate attachment to luxuries, name brands, toys, or whatever is what keeps us from passing through the eye of the needle that leads to the Kingdom. Obviously, the more we possess the bigger the risks are. But, if we use things properly then they can help us enter the Kingdom, for the scriptures praise those who give alms to the poor.

Lord, help us to be truly detached from the things of the earth so that we can enter the Kingdom!

Good advice from Pope Benedict

“Papa Benedetto” by [1] – Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Papa_Benedetto.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Papa_Benedetto.jpg

At Mass today we hear the story of the rich young man, a story which speaks to any person (read: every person) who receives an invitation from Christ. Ultimately, though, the invitation we’re offered is an invitation to the happiness which only Christ can give. Refusing the invitation results in the sadness which follows from selfishness. When faced with a divine invitation the words of Pope Benedict XVI provide encouragement: “Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.” Lord, help us to say YES to you!