Daily Reflection
August 27th, 2008

Paul Mahowald, S.J.

St. John's Church
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The Lord came to call sinners, not the self-righteous! Our gospel today addresses that attitude of self-righteousness which we all have to a certain extent. It is so easy to rash-judge others and condemn them without any reflection on our own errors, omissions and selfishness. Jesus calls people with this attitude, “whitewashed tombs” -- beautiful on the outside, but inside full of every kind of filth.

But in our lives we all have to judge others: parents judge their children as they guide them, teachers judge their students as they grade them, yes, even priests in the confessional judge the penitent as they absolve them. It comes down to what is our attitude when we judge others. Do we think of the ones being judged positively and give them help physically and spiritually? Do we try to help them cope more maturely with the challenges in their lives? This constructive criticism is not what Jesus (or Paul) is disappointed in. What he is addressing here are our attitudes. He does not want us to “puff-up” ourselves when we see someone else somehow seem to fail.

The first reading, Paul’s final words to the Thessalonians, criticizes the newly converted who presume that they are already saved, do not have to help others and do not have to work for their own food. Paul reminds them that even he and his associates continue to be a model for others and work for others and, yes, work for their own food! This reading comes out of a subsistence type of living in Palestine in the first century where everyone coped from day-to-day to struggle to have sufficient food and drink for yet another day. How do we in our complex modern society take fruit from this reading?

Certainly we can avoid the rash judgment of the less fortunate. We need to remember the old cliché, “There but for the grace of God go I!” We help in many ways by remembering that our taxes go in a big way to help the poor, the aged with their critical needs or our contributions to special causes that directly help the poor should be cheerfully made with these readings in mind.

“For you know how one must imitate us” – an expression from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians that we should be models for others in our conduct. Perhaps we can take the example of St. Monica (whose feast is today) who patiently suffered through the dissolute life of her husband and the abuse from her mother-in-law. Above all her piety, patient charity and good example won the conversion of her two sons, Patrick and, in the year of her death, the baptism of St. Augustine.

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