The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Homily for Today: Wednesday 28th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Luke 11:42-46

On our last trip to Rome, Diane and I visited an awful lot of churches. One of the more interesting things we did was visit the crypts, often located in dark and damp places far below the church itself. Down there you encounter the tombs of saints, and popes, and monks, princes and princesses, the rich and the poor, some well over 1,000 years old. Being there among our ancestors in faith is strangely comforting, and leaves me with a sense of peacefulness which I expect comes from our faith in the resurrection.

I also enjoy reading the inscriptions. The Latin sometimes takes a while to translate, but I usually figure out what they’re telling us modern visitors. Occasionally a worn marble slab has been walked on so much over the centuries that the name and inscription are indecipherable. This always saddens me. I want to know about the person buried there. What kind of person was he? Does anyone pray for his soul? It’s always seems a little tragic.

In today’s Gospel passage we encounter something equally tragic. Jesus, in response to the Pharisees’ continuous judgmental criticism, says, “You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.”  How tragic is that? And how it must have shaken the Pharisees. In effect, Jesus was accusing them of spiritual decay, but even worse in calling them “unmarked graves,” he is accusing them of contaminating others who don’t recognize the decay.

You see, the Pharisees were very religious men – religious but not necessarily holy. Their religion consumed their lives, and everything they did was measured against it. Quite literally, it meant everything to them. Unfortunately it left little room in their lives for either God or their neighbor.

Because their religion was an end in itself, God was left out of the picture, and what remained was a superficial religion – superficial in the strictest sense of the word: it was all about surfaces.  Jesus made this clear on another occasion when he said, “If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
In their misguided zeal, the Pharisees required unnecessary and burdensome rules that obscured what was truly important. Instead of leading people to God, they led them to Pharisaism. And Jesus warns the people about them.

The main ingredient missing from their religion was God’s love, a love we are to share with the world. God is love and everything He does flows from His love for us. As Jesus showed us on the Cross, God’s Love is sacrificial, embracing and lifting our burdens. Without love, everything goes wrong. How could it be otherwise? When love is absent, God’s been rejected.

Of course, love’s not easy, and loving one another as God loves us can be very difficult indeed, the study and struggle of a lifetime. The Pharisees devoted their study and lives not to love but to their interpretation of Law and ritual.

It’s important to realize that Jesus isn’t criticizing ritual per se; no what He’s criticizing is the Pharisees’ placing more importance on observing proper ritual than on the observing the commandment to love God and neighbor. After all, as Catholics we observe many rituals. We’re observing one right now in the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice. And this is as it should be, because the rite is as old as the Church itself and its purpose is to bring us closer to God through hearing His word and receiving Jesus in the Eucharist.

But the ritual is a means, not an end. The end is not the ritual but our communion with Jesus. When we let this happen, when He becomes one with us, we also allow Him to transform us. In other words, what we do on the outside should help us change on the inside. But when we act like Pharisees and focus solely on the externals, we break this connection.

Do you allow the love of God to transform your mind and heart? And are you willing to carry your neighbor's burden? Do you avoid judging as the Pharisees judged? Jesus tells us clearly, and we should pay heed. We’re not to judge. It is for God alone to judge.

 “…God loves us as sinners and …the task of Christianity is not simply to teach us how to live, but to teach us how to live again, and again, and again.”

…because as sinners we are constantly falling…again, and again, and again.

This is the Good News -- that God loves each of us with a merciful forgiving love, a love that brings us to new life again, and again, and again!

Thanks be to God!

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