I have always found it ironic that as much as all of us want to be guided by our “better angels” - there’s something in the human psyche that seems to take inordinate delight in the failings, misdeeds, and dark side of humanity. What in the world would the National Enquirer Tabloid do if this tendency in the human heart were to ever be replaced by our desire to only see and speak of the good of others - they’d go broke in a month!
Don’t get me wrong, God does not call us to look at our world and our lives in an uncritical and pollyannaish way. God has given us the ability to discern right from wrong, virtue from vice, right judgment from foolish. The problem is, most of us are ever so quick in discovering those faults and failures in others rather than focusing that same critical gaze on ourselves, on our own life, on our own heart. But let’s face it, its far more entertaining to notice the splinter in our brother’s or sister’s eye than to notice the wood beam in our own.
There are, however, unavoidable consequences to living this kind of life - being the guardians of virtue and right conduct for everyone else but ourselves. It can invariably lead to one of the most dangerous and self-destructive ways of living. Failing to check these tendencies in our own lives can lead to living the kind of life that Jesus was quick to criticize and condemn with some of the strongest language in the New Testament - I’m talking about hypocrisy. I find it fascinating that in the catalogue of wicked sins of our time that we Catholics are so quick to condemn, few if any of them are mentioned explicitly by Jesus in the Scripture. Now, that of course does not mean that just because something wasn’t mentioned explicitly by Jesus in the Scripture as wrong it is freed it from righteous judgment. Rather, in laying out a vision to establish our moral compass - Jesus goes first to the human heart.
Jesus is far more concerned about challenging his followers to root out self righteousness than policing the morals of others. Time and time again, Jesus takes after the Pharisees who have became the epitome of hypocrisy for the Lord. In graphic imagery Jesus describes their lives as tombs - beautiful to look at from the outside but filled with dead and corrupting bones.
For Jesus, the greatest barometer of moral integrity, will invariably be gauged by the quality of how we LIVE our lives - the fruit that we bear from hearts that are rooted in the Lord.
My brothers and sisters, as the penitential season of Lent opens for us this Ash Wednesday, the Lord is setting before us this privileged time to take a close look at our hearts and reflect on how well they are rooted in the Lord of our lives. Have we become so preoccupied with policing the morals of others that we have become morally shortsighted ourselves? Are we more concerned about “splinter” in the eyes of everyone around us, that we have become blinded to the wooden beam in our own eyes?
Let us pray that this season will truly be a time to celebrate our freedom in Christ, a freedom that begins with rooting out the self-righteous blinders in our own lives.
May our opening prayer this day be our touchstone to guide us through these upcoming days of renewal and grace:
Father in heaven, form in us the likeness of your Son and deepen his life within us. Send us as witnesses of Gospel joy into a world of fragile peace and broken promises.