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Don’t “Go By The Book” So You Won’t Have To Look

Wednesday, August 24, 2022, 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Year CII

by Fr. David M. Knight

The Responsorial says self-knowledge is a key to happiness: “Happy are those who fear the Lord.” The foundation of self-knowledge is to know that, without God, we are nothing and can do nothing. But with God we can do God’s work.

In 2Thessalonians 3: 6-18, our last reading from this letter, Paul criticizes the converts who were using religion as an excuse for not fulfilling human obligations. Those who, in Mahalia Jackson’s words, are “so heavenly minded they are no earthly good” are not heavenly minded at all. They are just “looking up to heaven” to avoid doing any work on earth. An angel cured the apostles of this tendency on the day Jesus ascended into heaven: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The point: “Get out there and spread the Gospel; you want him to find you working when he comes again.”

Paul’s converts may have been saying, “If the end of the world is coming any day now, what is the point of trying to accomplish anything here on earth?”—or to do anything about what causes people suffering on earth? And this attitude has recurred in periods of Christian history, when love of God, falsely understood, cancelled out the practical side of love for neighbor. Scripture is stern about that:

If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead (James 2:15-17. And see 1John 3:17-18).

In Matthew 23:27-32 Jesus concludes his “profile” of the Pharisees. Basically, they are “profiteering” off of religion: using religion as an excuse to cover up things inside of them they do not want to reveal or face.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs…. You also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

One of the most common forms of this is to use strict observance of laws to cover up one’s fear and refusal to take responsibility for personal choices. Pharisees reject Catholic theology of law, which says we must take responsibility for judging whether observance of a particular law at a particular time will do harm or good, fulfill the law’s real purpose or thwart it. They “go by the book” so they won’t have to think. And they claim credit for it!

Another hidden motive behind Phariseeism is simple resistance to change. They won’t look around to recognize the reasons for change. They cling to traditional customs and practices when the march of history has made them ineffective or even harmful. For example, Latin in the Mass. They use the Council of Trent (1545-1563) as an excuse for rejecting Vatican Council II (1961-1965), and insist on simplistic, “catechism” answers when more developed theology has added clarifications. In short, they cling to the practices of the past to escape the challenges of the present (see Mark 7:1-8; Acts 6:14). They do not know themselves or God. Respect for the living voice of God would save them. But for this they would need to listen to God as God. “Happy are those who fear the Lord.”

Initiative: Give God’s life: Be a “priest in the Priest.” Minister to all who are willing to “come alive.”

Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry

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