Thursday, November 18, 2010

Letter of the Law or the Spirit of the Law?


Catholics are as resilient a religious denomination as has ever existed, which is why it is the oldest Christian one. What other religion stands up to so much hostility? What other religion has been attacked more acutely from the inside (as in the abuse cases)? What other religion is so open to public mockery, and yet takes it so humbly? With the election of a brave, outspoken new bishop to head the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (one who has no hesitation in going after The New York Times), there may be a very positive turn in public perception. It is for us to pray for bishops and priests, not criticize them.
Our Church is filled with heroes and yet every once in a while it doesn't hurt to ask ourselves the question: Are we careful not to fall into the trends of the Pharisees (or Sadducees)?
This is the chore of our time: studying the Pharisees and making sure we're not imitating them!
It is a question that leads to soul searching.
Are we mean-spirited, in the cause of "righteousness"?
Do we seek institutions more than God and Jesus?
Do we operate only by laws (like Pharisees), or do we love (like Jesus)?
Do we ignore the afterlife, as Sadducees ignored life after death?
Do we pray like Christ, or favor philosophy like the Pharisees?
Do we live on by the letter of our religion (again, are we legalistic) or do we live by its Spirit?
“Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” says a Mass reading this week (from Revelation 3).
Do we listen to the Holy Spirit? Do we prefer Him or institutionalism? Do we mingle among the aristocrats, or among the disenfranchised? ("Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the chief seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places" -- Luke 11).
Do we disdain miracles? (The Sadducees doubted or restricted miracles, and disdained the prophetic. Jesus said their forefathers had killed the prophets.)
Do we encourage healing and exorcism or discourage it (as the Pharisees attempted to stop Jesus)?
Do we follow the Bible because it is supernatural, or only for its plain sense (as did the Sadducees)?
We all need to ask: are we humble, or are we pretentious?
Do we speak plainly or in a way that seeks to impress?
Are we full of pomp? Do we lengthen our "tassels" (Matthew 23)? Are we materialistic? Are we too into the "trappings," instead of the essence (clean on the outside, like Pharisees, but not inside)?
Do we argue over the technicalities of religion instead of pursuing its larger aspirations (as did both Sadducees and Pharisees)?
Questions, questions! Soul-searching. Let us not be surprised on how we are evaluated when we die.
And let us ask: Is religion a means to an end -- or (as in the style of Sadducees) an end in and of itself? Many are those who will be surprised at how they are evaluated when they die -- that what is in the heart is more important than outward appearances; that treating others well scores higher than religiosity.
Do we honor God with our lips while our hearts are far away from Him?
Finally, are we progressing to a higher place in the afterlife, or entangled in a legalism that knows the structure of religion without its Truth?
Do we hold "to a form of godliness," although we have "denied its power" (see 2 Timothy 3)?
Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches," let us repeat from Revelation 3.
"Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ," says Matthew 23. "But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted."
We ask these questions at a critical time when Catholicism is challenged as much by a worldly approach as it is by scandal.

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