As readers of these reflections, we are probably not engaged in murder, burglary, or car theft. We don’t click on the “Daily Reflection” link while planning a bank robbery or Internet fraud. We’re law-abiding, tax-paying, and God-fearing people who intend to live as God wills. Yet that may be our trouble, hints today’s Gospel excerpt. Today I find myself invited to consider in prayer if I’m like one of the Pharisees that Jesus is calling “hypocrites” and “blind guides.” I don’t want Him to say “Woe to you” to me, but I do need to ask myself: Am I missing something in my relationship with God and God’s people?
The Gospel gives me good images of missing the point, of cultivating appearances and ignoring reality. I like the idea of paying tithes in herbs and spices (mint, dill and cumin), but while I pay my bills / tithes / taxes in ordinary money, do I serve my companions and community with “justice and mercy and fidelity”? Do I avoid the gnat and swallow the camel – that is, get all involved in a small matter and neglect the real needs and feelings of people around me? And do I too easily “cleanse the outside” – that is, feel satisfied so long as I’m looking good, and don’t ask myself how I might really be and do good?
How can I accurately examine and judge my own situation and motives? Do I really want to? The Psalm suggests that I do, with its refrain “The Lord comes to judge the earth,” and lines about the joy of the heavens, the sea and the plains under God’s justice. The first reading from Paul offers some guidance for self-examination. Paul warns his readers not to be misled by appearances or events, but rather to be reasonable and faithful, to “hold fast to the traditions that you were taught.”
Today is the feastday of one of the great saints of our Christian tradition, the great and greatly influential thinker and writer, St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church. Augustine’s tradition encourages us to cultivate both reason and faith. The Ignatian spiritual tradition, derived from the writings and example of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, also emphasizes the regular “examen” and “discernment” in interpreting interior movements and evaluating actions and decisions. Meanwhile, central to the lives of Paul, Augustine and Ignatius is a tremendous, life-shaping love of God Who Loves Us.
Today, not because the Gospel warns or scolds me, but because it invites me to consider my actions and motives, I pray to be aware of God’s loving presence and enlightened by God’s grace. May I find the courage to be honest with myself, and may I thus be strengthened in my relationship with God and with God’s people.
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