Daily Reflection
March 17th, 2000
Tom Krettek, S.J.
Philosophy Department
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.

Saint Patrick, bishop - Commemoration 
Ezekiel 18:21-28
Psalms 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
Matthew 5:20-26

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Teachings such as today’s from Ezekiel and Matthew leave me shaking my head in disbelief.  They do so because, on the one hand, my inclination is to interpret away the strenuousness of their demands regarding how I live my life, while, on the other hand, what they do demand is presented without any mitigating nuance.  

Ezekiel is very clear that wickedness, whenever and in whatever form, is remembered and incurs death, while virtue, whenever and in whatever form, is also remembered and receives life.  Whether one begins as wicked or as virtuous, one is to end up as virtuous rather than as wicked.  Why the house of Israel finds this unfair escapes me.  Apparently the house of Israel did not readily accept Ezekiel’s emphasis on being personally responsible for one’s sins.  This emphasis is more familiar to me.  However, the question posed to Jesus in John chapter nine regarding whether the man born blind or his parents sinned, suggests that old beliefs die hard, despite the best efforts of prophets to free me from them.  Consequently, Ezekiel still confronts me with the need to reflect on the ways that contemporary culture leads me into self-deception regarding personal responsibility for my way of life.  “I need this.”  “I deserve this.” “They owe me.” “It is a feature of human evolution.” “I am a three.” “I have rights.” “I need to express my real self.”  “Rabbi, who sinned, this person, or this person’s nature, or this person’s nurture?”  All of these attitudes come into play in relation to the virtue and wickedness in my life.  What needs careful attention is the extent to which I deceive and excuse myself through them.

These possibly self-deceiving attitudes take on added force in light of the Gospel and Jesus’ focus on moving me beyond my actions, important as they are, to my attitudes and feelings as locations of sin and for personal responsibility.  Jesus attaches importance not only to what I do, but also to what I am disposed to do, for they too are occasions for virtue and wickedness.  Many of my dispositions are simply invisible to me because they are me.  Just as I can only view my physical self through reflections, so too can I only view my attitudes through reflections.

Lent, especially of this Jubilee Year of forgiveness and reconciliation, is the Church’s call to such reflection and repentance.  Today’s Gospel even ratchets this up a notch in its reminder that Jesus’ words are not “If you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that you have anything against another person . . . .“  Jesus’ words are “If you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that some person has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first to be reconciled with that other person, and then come and offer your gift.”  Awareness of how my actions and attitudes affect the life of another demands not only a high degree of self-knowledge, but also a high degree of attention to the other.  This is the challenging demand that I am to prepare for during Lent, namely, to let go of my life so that others might live.  

This is what leaves me shaking my head.

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