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MONDAY HOMILY: Blessings and Woes

By Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds
August 27th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Jesus gives great importance to the virtue of sincerity.  To be sincere is to live in the truth, and the source of all truth is God.  To be sincere involves living as God would have us do, so that our desires, words, and actions are authentic and all spring from the same source. The visible forms of the faith serve to cultivate and reinforce an interior disposition of belief, conversion, and worship.

SUGAR LAND, TX (Catholic Online) -  As Jesus' passion and death draw near, his teaching becomes more intense.  According to the chronology of St. Matthew, the Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem is a prelude to the dramatic cleaning of the Temple.  There follows a series of parables that emphasize the theme of judgment and repentance.  In the Gospel of today's Mass (Matthew 23:13-22), Jesus rebukes the Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy.

As we have seen, Jesus gives great importance to the virtue of sincerity.  To be sincere is to live in the truth, and the source of all truth is God.  To be sincere involves living as God would have us do, so that our desires, words, and actions are authentic and all spring from the same source.

The hypocrisy of some of the scribes and Pharisees stands in stark contrast to this ideal.  Jesus doesn't criticize these religious leaders simply for being sinners; no one can escape that condition.  Nor does he rebuke them for being unrepentant; he must still have hope for them in that regard.  They are criticized, however, for manipulating the precepts of their religion, and for failing to share the riches of their faith with others.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men.  You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter" (Matthew 23:13). 

This is the first in a series of seven "woes" in the Gospel of St. Matthew.  In a way, they are the "reverse side of the coin" to the eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12).  Whereas the Beatitudes proclaim the pattern of blessedness for the Christian, these "woes" reveal the barrenness that is the rotten fruit produced by the rejection of Christ and his Gospel.

Blessedness versus barrenness.  This is the contrast presented by Christ.  If we want to find blessing, grace and peace in our lives, we will strive, with God's help, to live the virtues described in the beatitudes.  On the other hand, the interior blindness that fuels the "woes" will only lead to corruption, cynicism, and unhappiness.

Particularly offensive to the Lord is the twisting of religious practice into something that resembles superstition.  

"You say, 'If one swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.' You blind ones, which is greater, the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?" (Matthew 23:18-19).

Where did the Pharisees get all of this?  Their approach to religious duties seems to be little more than a series of well-choreographed rituals, far removed from the intentions of the heart.  It is almost as if religion has been reduced to a game of chance.  "To attribute the efficacy of prayers. to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2111).

We recognize, of course, that Jesus directs this warning not only to the Pharisees, but to us as well.  We never want to regard the outward practice of the faith as a kind of "good luck charm" with the power to manipulate circumstances to our benefit.  Rather, the visible forms of the faith serve to cultivate and reinforce an interior disposition of belief, conversion, and worship.

Indeed, in the sacramental life of the Church, outward ritual is transformed by the power of Christ into a living and dynamic communion with God.  The sacraments possess a power all their own, because it is Christ himself who is at work.  When our faith is firmly rooted in the sacraments, it will not only be preserved, but it will grow in vigor and intensity.


Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds is the Pastor of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sugar Land, Texas. You are invited to visit them on the Web at: www.SugarLandCatholic.com.

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