Showing posts with label Pharisee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pharisee. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Deafening Our Conscience Through Outrage

Everyone notices the wrongdoing done by other people. We see something that seems unjust and we are outraged. We demand instantaneous retraction and until that is done, the one we see as guilty loses all rights to being treated as a human person. If that person is a member of the clergy, he is treated as if he forfeits all rights to the respect and submission due his office.

Meanwhile, more often than not, people refuse to consider their own wrongdoing as anything worth considering. Refusing obedience to the Church because their teachings and actions do not mesh with one’s own beliefs is not recognized as disobedience. Instead it’s treated as “standing up against evil,” where everyone imagines they are a miniature St. Paul, withstanding an erring Peter to his face.

The problem is, we are not like St. Paul. We’re more like the Pharisee who treats the sinner—or the one we think is sinning—as beneath contempt while thinking we’re superior because we don’t sin... or, if we do, at least we don’t sin as badly as them.

That’s a dangerous attitude. It shows we’ve forgotten or ignored our own guilt. As long as we aren’t as bad (in our own eyes) as them, we’re the good ones, the wise ones. That’s a dangerous attitude because it shows we we have become deaf to our conscience. As Benedict XVI put it:

“The Pharisee is no longer aware that he too is guilty. He is perfectly at ease with his own conscience. But this silence of his conscience makes it impossible for God and men to penetrate his carapace—whereas the cry of conscience that torments the tax collector opens him to receive truth and love. Jesus can work effectively among sinners because they have not become inaccessible behind the screen of an erring conscience, which would put them out of reach of the changes that God awaits from them—and from us. Jesus cannot work effectively among the righteous because they sense no need for forgiveness and repentance; their conscience no longer accuses them but only justifies them.”

Values in a Time of Upheaval, p. 82

When we are deaf to conscience, we justify the evil we do, saying it’s not as bad as the evil they do, therefore it’s unimportant. We protest, asking “Why does the Church focus on us when those people are doing worse? What we forget is that the deadliest sin for an individual is the one that sends that individual to hell. 

So you don’t support abortion? Congratulations. You’ve none nothing more than demanded of you. But if you’re committing other sins while refusing to acknowledge and repent of them, you might be no better off in the eyes of God—even if the magnitude of your sins are objectively less.

Our Lord shocked the Pharisees when He said, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” [Matthew 21:31 (NABRE)]. If He wanted to shock us equally today, He might say, “the pro-abortion politicians and cowardly bishops” (to name two popular targets of revulsion). If they repent but we do not, then they are in the same situation as the tax collectors [§] while we are in the same situation as the Pharisees. This doesn’t mean, “treat sins as unimportant.” It means “don’t exalt yourself just because you haven’t done that.” 

Or, as St. John Chrysostom, (Homily III on 2 Timothy), discusses on our focus on the great sins of others:

“Let each therefore, with an upright conscience, entering into a review of what he has done, and bringing his whole life before him, consider, whether he is not deserving of chastisements and punishments without number? And when he is indignant that some one, who has been guilty of many bad actions, escapes with impunity; let him consider his own faults, and his indignation will cease. For those crimes appear great, because they are in great and notorious matters; but if he will enquire into his own, he will perhaps find them more numerous.”

So, when we see sin in the Church—especially when it seems to go unnoticed—it’s not wrong to want justice and reform. But it is wrong to play the Pharisee, using the sins of others to justify ourselves. We might be risking our souls by using another’s sins as an excuse to ignore our own wrongdoing.


[§] To put it in historical context: Tax collectors (publicani) of the Roman Empire were not the equivalent of the modern IRS. Their greed and corruption ruined and destabilized entire provinces. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Church is NOT a Faction. Thoughts on Cafeteria Catholicism and Political Pharisaism Today

It happens whenever we change administrations in America. Catholics who favor those who are now in power view opposition from the Church as partisan behavior, injecting their opinions into political debates. With Trump, the bishops get opposed for stating the Church teaching on immigration. With Obama, the bishops were opposed for stating the Church teaching on abortion, same-sex marriage, contraception, religious freedom, and transgender issues. We could certainly go further back—for example the bishops expressing concern about the bellicose arms race under Reagan. In all of these cases, those Catholics who agreed with president of the time attacked the bishops for acting politically, while those who opposed him cheered the bishops for standing up.

The underlying problem here is a dangerous error which holds that the Church has one opinion, the State has another, and I am the judge who determines who is right. This is just another form of “Cafeteria Catholicism” where I choose what I will find and treat the rest as unimportant in God’s eyes. Of course that’s presumption. When God tells us to keep His commandments (John 14:15), and warns us that to reject the Church is to reject Him (Luke 10:16), we should not take their teachings so lightly. 

Of course many will take offense with this. People associate “Cafeteria Catholics” with liberalism, and Pharisaism with conservatism. But the fact is, any faction can play either role. The Cafeteria Catholic decides when to listen to the Church and when to ignore it. The Pharisee determines that whoever does not follow their interpretation of Church teaching is not a good Catholic. I’ve seen liberals and conservatives play both roles.

What we have to remember though is the Church is not a faction with an opinion. She is the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15). She is the one who binds and looses (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). When our bishops warn us not to be swept up into a popular view, at odds with Church teaching, we should be paying attention, not assuming their words are partisan or uninformed.

This is a lesson easier to see with other countries, and when those of a different ideology do it. We praise Bishop von Galen of Germany and Cardinal Sapieha from Poland for standing up against the Nazis. We praise many who suffered for speaking against the communists. In all of these cases, some people thought they were being political because these people agreed with a policy the Church condemned. We also praised the bishops for standing up for religious freedom against Obama (I’m not trying to say these were equivalent threats, mind you).

But when the bishops stand up against a popular policy, people treat them as if they were particularly uninformed, and ignorant of Church teaching when Church teaching actually says more than is cited. For example, people accuse them of being ignorant of St. Thomas Aquinas (the most popular currently is STh., I-II q.105 a.3, which actually is about evaluating God’s Law in the Old Testament) or the Catechism saying that nations do have a right to regulate immigration but ignoring the full text of ¶2241, which also talks about helping those in need as much as possible).

It’s the same error—treating the successors to the apostles as being merely one faction with an uninformed opinion and oneself as the judge who evaluates it. 

However, this error must not lead us into the opposite error of a political pharisaism. The fact that the Church teaches we are obliged to act in a certain way does not mean we must support political platform X which seems similar to it. The Church has never said we must vote for one party or one specific program. We do have to consider what the Church teaches and try to be faithful. Those Catholics who say “You must vote for this party/proposition” are misappropriating the teaching authority of the Church.

That does not mean we can vote however we like or support whatever we like. We’re obligated to form our political preferences to follow Church teaching. If we decide one Church teaching can be ignored in favor of another, we have malformed our conscience with Cafeteria Catholicism. If we decide whoever does not support the candidate or platform we do is on the side of evil, we have fallen into Political Pharisaism. Both are wrong.

What we need to realize that we should be listening to the Church when she warns us about dangerous mindsets. We should not be thinking of the bishops as idiots when they dare to speak against what we prefer politically. Otherwise, we might find at the last judgment that we have fallen away from the Church without realizing it, and we will hear Our Lord say, to our horror, "I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.” (Matthew 7:23).

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Political Pharisee


One rather annoying thing I see on Social Media is the number of people who make political posts on Facebook praising how enlightened they are, while looking with contempt on those they disagree with. As always, this is not limited to any one party or political slant. It’s not surprising in an election year, but I do wonder why so many Catholics feel that the obligation to love one’s neighbor gets suspended from the beginning of the primary season in January through Election Day in November.

Political parties, politicians and voters are all sinners, and none of them can claim to be God’s party. But the problem I see is many people are comparing themselves or their political affiliations with those they disagree with—always in their favor—and viewing themselves as living righteously. If they stay in a party, they see the party as angelic. if they abandon that party, they see it as demonic and they portray themselves as martyrs for the truth…even though the only suffering they normally experience is from people rolling their eyes and questioning the prudence of that choice.

In other words, what we’re seeing is Catholics infected by pride. They label their opinions as the only possible Catholic option and name those who disagree as deceived fools or willing dupes. The problem is, other Catholics who reach a different opinion are looking at them in the same way. On account of political partisanship, we divide the Body of Christ.

I’m sure every person who is guilty will say, “Wait a minute! Look at what that party stands for! No good Catholic can vote that way!” Yes, that’s often true. From a Catholic perspective, the Democrats routinely fail at moral obligations, the Republicans routinely fail at social justice obligations and third parties tend to either have the same failings as the major parties they emulate or have ugly positions which are only unknown because the parties are so obscure. In other words, no Catholic can claim moral superiority on the grounds of their party affiliation (or lack thereof). Every political party and every politician falls short in the eyes of God and His Church.

So, does this mean we should throw up our hands and not vote at all? No. Voting is a duty we must take seriously. As Catholics, we promote good and oppose evil in whatever way is possible. That not only means voting in such a way where either we promote the greater good or (more often) try to block the greater, but it also means we challenge the parties between elections and hold the politicians accountable to do what is right. Archbishop Chaput considers the problem of belonging to a party which is pro-abortion, but I believe his point applies to every evil that a party embraces:

My friends often ask me if Catholics in genuinely good conscience can vote for “pro-choice” candidates. The answer is: I couldn’t. Supporting a “right” to choose abortion simply masks and evades what abortion really is: the deliberate killing of innocent life. I know of nothing that can morally offset that kind of evil.

But I do know sincere Catholics who reason differently, who are deeply troubled by war and other serious injustices in our country, and they act in good conscience. I respect them. I don’t agree with their calculus. What distinguishes such voters, though, is that they put real effort into struggling with the abortion issue. They don’t reflexively vote for the candidate of “their” party. They don’t accept abortion as a closed matter. They refuse to stop pushing to change the direction of their party on the abortion issue. They won’t be quiet. They keep fighting for a more humane party platform— one that would vow to protect the unborn child. Their decision to vote for a “pro-choice” candidate is genuinely painful and never easy for them.

One of the pillars of Catholic thought is this: Don’t deliberately kill the innocent, and don’t collude in allowing it. We sin if we support candidates because they support a false “right” to abortion. We sin if we support “pro-choice” candidates without a truly proportionate reason for doing so— that is, a reason grave enough to outweigh our obligation to end the killing of the unborn.

And what would such a “proportionate” reason look like? It would be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions— as we someday will.

Chaput, Charles J. (2008-08-12). Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (pp. 229-230). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

When the party goes wrong on abortion, then we challenge the party on abortion. Obviously the right to life is key and we can never sacrifice this for other concerns. St. John Paul II warned that without the right to life, concern for other issues are false and illusory (Christifideles Laici #38). That’s common sense. No human beings, no human rights. But since we’re supposed to be the light of the world and salt of the earth, we don’t stop once we satisfy one concern. When the party goes wrong on immigration, we challenge the party on immigration. Whatever party platform goes against Church teaching, we challenge the party. We keep working on reforming that party wherever it goes wrong.

We Catholics must stop playing the political Pharisee. We’re not superior to the good faith Catholic (that is, one who obeys the Church and does not support what the Church calls evil) who reaches a different conclusion than ours. Instead, each of us need to look at our political preferences in light of our religious belief and see if we have chosen pride (“I can’t be wrong”) over recognizing our flaws. Then, after making this scrutiny, we must work on bringing the party we choose into following what God commands.

After all, in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, the repentant Tax Collector was justified, not the proud Pharisee. If we’re not careful, we might find that the justified person winds up being the repentant one affiliated with the party we despise—not us.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Quick Quips: Bulletproof Personal Infallibility

It’s time for some more short observations on topics. I write this set about the rebellion against the magisterium and how we excuse it when we find ourselves in the wrong. We do this so well that whenever the Church teaches something we dislike, we automatically treat it as proof of their error. 

Double Standards Make Us Hypocrites

Dual hypocrisy2

When it comes to people citing Scripture or Church teaching in a partisan attack, it always gets quoted in a way which condemns an opponent but ignores one's own transgressions. The liberal Catholic points to Scripture or Church teaching about charity and care for the poor, condemning his conservative opponent for hypocrisy. But he ignores them on morality. Likewise, the conservative Catholic points out what they have to say about living rightly, but ignores them on the topic of mercy. 

Both of them take pleasure in accusing the other of being bad Christians but both behave hypocritically. They edit Scripture Church teaching to what pleases them and ignore the parts they violate. Our Lord gets transformed into an endorsement of a theological or political position. The problem is, our faith calls us to be both moral and charitable; both just and merciful. If we only obey the faith we profess when it suits us, we disobey and cause scandal to non-believers who can plainly see our hypocrisy.

This does not mean we treat our faith as a checklist of laws to follow. What it means is we must constantly check our behavior and consider whether we are blind to our own wrongdoing. When we discover wrongdoing, we must seek to amend our lives and make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation when needed. It means we must stop making ourselves into Popes and start listening to what the Church’s teaching authority tells us of right and wrong.

If we fail to do that, our actions declare God’s Word and His Church superfluous. When they agree with us, we don’t need them; when they disagree with us, they’re wrong. Who needs a Church that is unnecessary or wrong? If we want to truly bear witness to our faith, let us seek to live all parts of it out of love for Our Lord.

Casting Pearls Before Swine

When it comes to attacking the Church (whether from an anti-Catholic, a radical traditionalist or a liberal dissenter), there is a widely used tactic. This tactic is to take a personal interpretation of the words of the Bible, the Pope or another magisterial document and treat that personal interpretation as if it was the truth and no other interpretation was possible. When the Catholic defending the faith objects to the interpretation, the attacker claims the defender is willfully ignorant and trying to explain away “the truth.” If the defender speaks imprecisely, they pounce and twist words to portray him as holding a position he never held.  If the defender points out that the attacker is factually wrong, the attacker ignores the refutation and continues repeating the same point until the defender gives up in disgust. When the defender does finally walk away, the attacker claims victory, and says nobody could refute their argument.

In terms of reason and logic, this is a sham. There is no dialogue to find truth. The attacker has made up their mind and is only interested in bashing people over the head. It’s simply a case of harassment. When targeted with this tactic, our response should show people of good will what we believe. We should not get into endless debates with people who confuse interpretation of texts with the texts themselves. They’ll just treat the attacks on their interpretations as attacks on the teaching itself.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

A couple of weeks back, I was visiting my father and we watched some Blue Bloods on Netflix. One of those episodes caught my attention. It involved a police officer accused of brutality. Because his bodycam stopped working during the crucial part of the altercation, activists accused him of turning it off. During the episode, the police chief and some of his staff debated bodycams. The police chief said what he disliked about them was they testified to the fact that people presumed the police officer was lying unless there was proof to the contrary.

In the real world, we can (and do) argue about real police brutality and whether they prove a national problem, a regional problem or individual problems, but the program made a good point. It’s unjust to automatically assume one group is guilty until proven innocent. But I’m not going to argue about the police. I write about the Church and morality, after all. What I want to explore is tying together how the above musings illustrate how we assume the Pope and bishops in communion with him are in error unless proven otherwise. 

When the Pope or a bishop speaks about a moral obligation where we’re in the wrong, we respond by questioning their orthodoxy. When the Pope or a bishop speaks in a way when there is more than one interpretation, we choose the one that agrees with what we think. When we want our bad behavior justified, we pick an interpretation favoring it. When we want to disobey the Pope’s teaching on a subject, we choose the interpretation making him look bad. We never ask whether we’re in the wrong. 

As Catholics, we believe Our Lord founded the Church and gave her His authority. We believe He promised to be with the Church always and protect her from error—so long as we happen to agree with the Church. But once we disagree, we presume the Church is guilty of error unless she uses a precise phrasing saying no more and no less than what we demand as refutation. Of course, we make ourselves the judge of that evaluation, so we are never in the wrong.

When we do this, we become just as hypocritical as the people we denounce for disobeying the parts of Church teaching we follow. We don’t bear witness to Our Lord and we don’t evangelize. Instead we tell people they can do whatever they will, excusing their own behavior and condemning the behavior they dislike. Perhaps the first thing to do to evangelize our nation again is to start with our own repentance.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Out of Control and Missing the Point

The Pope’s visit to America confirms what I long knew—the media and the politicians don’t understand the meaning of religion, treating it as one more political viewpoint. It also confirmed what I long suspected but hoped was actually false—that a large portion of American Catholics view religion in the same sense as the media and politicians. The result of this mindset is that the average person praises or laments what the Pope says or does in light of his or her political convictions and not on the basis of the Christian faith.

St. Paul wrote about this way of thinking in his letter to the Philippians:

17 Join with others in being imitators of me, brothers, and observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us. 18 For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their “shame.” Their minds are occupied with earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself. (Philippians 3:17-21)

Our calling as Christians supersedes our preferences in politics. Politics necessarily involves earthly things. Our faith involves approaching this world according to the bigger picture of what God calls us to do with the fact of our life after death always kept firmly in mind. So, to judge the Pope’s words and actions by political preference is to pervert the Christian message, committing sacrilege according to the sense of treating holy things as profane.

Unfortunately, America is very dualistic. We think things are either liberal or conservative and create a logical error called denying the antecedent. That error works as follows:

  • The Pope is conservative or liberal.
  • Not conservative.
  • Therefore liberal.
The argument overlooks the possibility of “none of the above” being an answer.
Hes with Me
Unfortunately, the American view of politics has determined that concern for the environment or the treatment of immigrants to be “liberal” and the defense of life and marriage to be “conservative.” That’s how it plays with our political parties. But actually, the Catholic Church has a body of teaching that can point to both liberals and conservatives and say “you’re wrong about that.” In addition, she can say to both, “You’re right on this, but for the wrong reason."

When the Pope meets with the President, meets with Congress, meets with the Little Sisters of the Poor, meets with a former student (who happens to be actively homosexual), meets with Kim Davis—these things are all given a political meaning, even though the Pope intended no such thing by them. Then they take offense by the fact that the Pope did not use his addresses to condemn the President or Congress.

But, since the Pope did not intend a political message, the people who wanted one with him endorsing their position got angry when he took a stand against their position. People who hate Kim Davis were angry that he did not denounce her. People who support her were angry that he didn’t tell supporters of “same sex marriage” to literally go to hell.

Essentially they wanted him to be something he had no intention of being, and got disappointed because he didn’t satisfy their desire to see their foes "put in their place.” The thing is, Jesus didn’t set out to put people in their place. He came to call them to repentance. It was only with the self-righteous, the ones who behaved in a hypocritical manner, that he ended up "putting them in their place."

The Pope isn’t Jesus, of course. (With the anti-Catholics out there who think we do believe that, it unfortunately has to be said). But he is following the example Our Lord gave for us to follow. He’s essentially offering Our Lord’s mercy to the sinners. When we want the Pope to praise us and denounce the sinners we despise, we behave as hypocrites—and it was the hypocrites that Our Lord openly denounced.

I think that in trying to play “Capture the Flag” with the Pope, people assumed that if he would only “say more” about topic X, other people would go along. Really? Why should it be any different under Pope Francis than it was under his predecessors. Blessed Paul VI on contraception, St. John Paul II on a whole raft of issues. likewise Benedict XVI. They’ve been speaking out since 1963 on sexual issues, economic issues, life issues and so on. There’s been no variation in message. Sollicitudo rei Socialis and Caritas in Veritate say the same thing as Evangelic Gaudium—they all draw on Paul VI and Populorum Progressio (and Sollicitudo rei Socialis #34 mirrors Laudato Si).Despite this fact, people haven’t changed. The pro-abortion politicians have been this way throughout the past four pontificates. The people who think social justice is a code word for “socialism” still think so. If the Pope has so much influence over sinners that he can change them with a word, then why haven’t they been changed already?

No, America is out of control and missing the point. They think the Papal message is political policy and if the Pope says something similar, it is assumed that the Pope validated their entire platform. If the Pope said something in opposition, he’s a foreigner who should stick to religion and “stay out of politics.” (It’s hypocritical—basically a case of “It’s OK if he agrees with me, bad if he doesn’t.”) Catholics missing the point and out of control are making things worse. We’re called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. If we’re acting as worldly and partisan as everyone else, we are failing to share the Gospel with the world. 

American Catholics who think of themselves as orthodox need to get back in control and get the point. Otherwise, they are causing great harm in their dissent and disobedience while patting themselves on the back for being “faithful."

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Avoiding the Error of the Pharisees

In my opinion, the Pharisees are important to consider in this day and age in the Church. I don’t say that to use the group as an epithet, nor to use an ad hominem to target bloggers I disagree with. I think we need to consider them because they did have an attitude towards religion that seemed right from a human perspective, but ultimately that attitude fell short in the eyes of God.

Briefly, the view of the Pharisee was (seeking to avoid pejorative terms) that one was faithful to God by keeping His laws. In doing so, they offered their interpretation of how the Law was best followed. People who did not follow that interpretation were considered sinners. In contrast, because they followed the Law in accordance with their interpretation, they believed they were holy. It strikes me as being an “either-or” fallacy. Either one followed their interpretation of the Law and were holy, or they did not follow their interpretation of the Law, and were corrupted. The problem is, the either-or fallacy overlooks the possibility of there being more than two options—in this case, the fact that it was not enough to follow the observance of the Law. Jesus did not fault the Pharisees for keeping the Law. He faulted them for failing to love God and neighbor while keeping the law (Matthew 23:23).

The historic Pharisees were, of course, something that emerged from Jewish culture. But we should not think that the attitude of the Pharisee is limited to Judaism. it seems to me that the mindset which motivated the Pharisee can exist in Christianity in general. This includes existing in the Catholic faith. The either-or fallacy can be found among members of the faith as well. As Catholics, we believe that if we would love God, we must keep His commandments (John 14:15, Matthew 7:21, 1 John 5:2-3). However, a Catholic who only kept the commandments and did not love His brother, would be just as in the wrong (see 1 John 4:20-21) as the individual who thought one could ignore God’s commands so long as they showed love for the unfortunate. The Catholic teaching recognizes that we must both act rightly and love rightly.

The historical Pharisees were right in recognizing that some actions done against the Law were sins. Likewise, the Pharisee mindset in the Church rightly recognizes that if people refuse to follow the moral teachings of the Church, they do wrong. Where this mindset goes wrong is in assuming that since they do not behave that way, they stand before God holy and righteous. But Jesus called the Pharisees “Whitewashed tombs,” (Mathew 23:27) because their internal attitudes were wrong, regardless of how rigorously they kept the law.

Today, I see the Pharisee mindset most flagrantly in the opposition to Pope Francis. This opposition stems from an interpretation from a certain group of Catholics on how one is to be faithfully Catholic. This interpretation includes an implied mindset of thinking that sinners should be cast off from the Church. Yet the Pope makes an effort to reach out to these people where they are. Whether it is the washing the feet of a Muslim girl in a youth prison on Holy Thursday, whether it is praising a single mother for choosing life, or dialoging with atheists and non-believers, or reaching out to the divorced and remarried and the person with same-sex attraction, he is reaching out to the sinners and calling them to the love of God. As he said in a September, 2013 interview:

“I see clearly, that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up.

What he does is laudable. But some people look at this approach, and challenge his supporters with words very similar to the words the Pharisees addressed to the Apostles, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11). The Pharisees were scandalized with Our Lord. Today, many are scandalized with Pope Francis, even though he is not doing anything contrary to the Church teaching—only contrary to a personal (and non-authoritative) interpretation of the Church teaching.

So, how do we avoid the error of the Pharisees? It is imperative that we do avoid it, because Our Lord saw fit to condemn it. We must avoid it by changing our attitudes:

  • We must stop thinking that our keeping the commandments is enough before God.
  • We must stop thinking that those who failed to keep the commandments are to be cast away.

Or, as Jesus said:

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them [a scholar of the law]* tested him by asking, 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and the first commandment. 39 The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

If we forget this, we are not keeping His commandments—a requirement of loving Him. Each individual will have to look into their own heart, knowing God is their judge, and ask whether they have fallen into the error of the Pharisee, thinking only about keeping the commandments and lacking the love that goes with it. It is an easy thing to do today with such hostility towards the Church and some Catholics flagrantly defying the Church teaching and seeming to get away with it.

Yes, we need to speak out against sin—but not in the mindset of “The Church needs to put those bastards in their place!” It needs to be done out of love, with concern for the fate of the individual who falls into sin. We need to love the person with same sex attraction, the woman who has an abortion and the Catholic politician who flagrantly votes against Catholic teaching, and our approach to their sins should be one of bringing them back to God and reconciled with His Church. Otherwise, we may have to face the final judgment with the reality of “the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Matthew 7:1b)

Friday, June 12, 2015

"You Have Cast Off the Weight; Beware, Lest the Sand Overwhelm You"

Let’s consider a Bible passage from Matthew 9:9-13...

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. 10 While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. 11 The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. 13 Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

From what we know about what Jesus taught, there is one thing we can never forget:

  • Major Premise: Jesus came to call the sinners, not the righteous.
  • Minor Premise: Jesus came to call us.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, We are sinners. 

If we forget this fact, then we run the risk of becoming like the Pharisees, looking upon others as sinners, but giving no thought to our own sins. If we give no thought to our own sins, how can we repent of the evil done? The fact is, there are two types of sinners out there—those who acknowledge what they do is wrong, and those who do not acknowledge what they do is wrong. Jesus was calling the Pharisees to conversion as well. But the Pharisees did not acknowledge their own sinfulness. Instead, they assumed that because they kept the law strictly and did not commit the sins of the tax collectors, they were righteous before God. But actually, they merely committed different sins and still need the attitude of metanoia—the change of heart—which means they regret the wrong they did and turn back to seek God. If they did this, they would receive God’s grace.

Likewise, if we think our own religious practices and the fact that we do not commit notorious sins to make us righteous before God, we are behaving in the same way as the Pharisees did. Let us consider the words of St. Augustine in his Commentary on Psalm 40...

Who is there can calculate the number of the hairs of his head? Much less can he tell the number of his sins, which exceed the number of the hairs of his head. They seem to be minute; but they are many in number. You have guarded against great ones; you do not now commit adultery, or murder; you do not plunder the property of others; you do not blaspheme; and do not bear false witness; those are the weightier kind of sins. You have guarded against great sins, what are you doing about your smaller ones? You have cast off the weight; beware lest the sand overwhelm you.


[Augustine of Hippo, Psalm 40, #21, in Saint Augustin: Expositions on the Book of Psalms, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 8, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 126.]

St. Augustine raises an excellent point here. Let us not think that just because we may not have notorious sins on our conscience that we are free of sin. We can be damned by a multitude of sins that we dismiss as unimportant compared to the sins of others. This is why we must not rest on the assumption that our actions are good enough, compared to the sins of others. The saints sought the grace of God and struggled against their sins out of love for Him. We must go and do likewise.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

TFTD: Do People Understand What the Church is For?

He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. 10 “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ 13 But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18: 9-14)

When one reads the comments on blogs and on Facebook, it’s easy to feel despair at the state of the average Catholic. I’m not talking about the trolls here. I’m talking about those people who think they are faithful Catholics, but their comments show a fundamental lack of understanding on why the Church exists. They get upset that the Church does something they think should not be done, or does not do what they think should be done.

But I think this is to miss the point of what the Church exists for. The Church is the ordinary means Christ chose to bring His salvation to all the world. That salvation is for both the people who know they need salvation and those who do not know they need salvation.

The people who know they need salvation are those who recognize their sinfulness but do not necessarily know how to come back to the Church. The ones who don’t recognize their sinfulness either think they are without sin or else think that their sin is nothing to worry about in comparison to them. Because they don’t see their own sin, they don’t seek to come back to Christ.

I believe Pope Francis is frequently speaking to this second group. It’s easy to focus on the notorious sinners out there, like the Catholic politicians who take a public stand in opposition to the Church. But if we use their behavior as the norm for what is sinful, we’re going to be exalting ourselves and denouncing others—which is exactly what Christ said not to do.

So, I would say that when people are upset that the Pope doesn’t speak out more on topic X, perhaps they should be asking themselves whether he is following Christ’s example and speaking out to them.

Perhaps he isn’t neglecting other sins. Maybe he’s being the vessel of Christ to reach out to us to make sure we don’t become pharisaical.

At least that’s what I think when I read his sermons.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Pope vs. Pharisaism?


Why did Christ come to this world? Was it to praise the people who followed the rules and condemn those who didn’t? Or was it to save the lost? It’s pretty clear to anyone who reads the Bible that it was the second choice. But when Jesus did so, the Pharisees objected to his close association with sinners—they assumed that associating with sinners meant he was either ignorant of their sins or didn’t care what they did.

Sometimes it seems we’ve learned nothing from this. Pope Francis sets out following the lead of his Master, to bring the lost sheep back to Christ. But some Catholics are offended that he reaches out to sinners instead of condemning them.

I don’t believe it is a case of Pope Francis teaching differently than St. John Paul and Benedict XVI. I think it is a case of some Catholics having lost sight of Christ’s mission and thinking it is enough to speak out against sin. What’s they’re not considering is what the Pope is considering . . . asking, “How do we reach out to these sinners and lead them to salvation?"

I also don’t believe that the actions and teachings of Popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI are different than those of Pope Francis. I think that rather Pope Francis scandalizes because he does the modern equivalent of eating with the sinners, and we have forgotten that Jesus scandalized in the same way. We need to remember that all three popes called on us to act on the teachings of the Church.

One of the problems I saw with the synod was the reaction to Cardinal Kasper. A lot of ink/pixels were spilled over his ideas—ideas I believe are incompatible with the teaching of the Church. The problem some people made was this: Just because Cardinal Kasper had a wrong idea on what to do with those people in same sex relationships or invalid marriages does not mean there is no right solution. But we have to be clear on what the right solution to the problem is.

Cardinal Kasper’s problem was that he saw the solution as admitting a certain number of divorced and invalidly remarried Catholics to the Eucharist even though they did not end that relationship. One can’t have absolution without a firm purpose of amendment. But some others at the synod, in my opinion, lost sight of the issue as well because they they didn’t provide a suggestion at all. They assumed the solution was to restate the fact that certain things are sinful and can never be accepted by the Church.

That’s very true. But while Cardinal Kasper’s ideas fall into error by wanting to do something the Church cannot do, others seem to fall into the problem of forgetting that it’s not enough to say “X” is a sin. We also need to decide what to do about the people who fell into sin.

That was the whole point of why Pope Francis called the synod in the first place. He wanted to explore how the Church could help bring these people to salvation while being true to Christ. But Christ never compromised on the truth, and neither did the Pope.

So we should not attack the Pope for following the example of Christ. We should be supportive in finding ways to do this in keeping with our Catholic faith. Otherwise, we’re not working with Christ, we’re acting like Pharisees.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Is There A Snare People Are Missing Here?

Beware of snare

I’ve recently read a blog article written by an angry convert turned priest that basically gives a message to Pope Francis of “I’ll do my job if you do yours,” (strongly suggesting the Pope was failing to do so). In the past couple of days since the summary was written, he has penned some more angry blogs. One gets a sense that he feels betrayed by what he has seen from the news and the documents released. He’s not the only one. While the rhetoric from some Catholic blogs are slowly dialing back the anger there is a problem that needs to be considered.

Why? Because when people begin to be so mistrustful of the Church, some people are tempted to leave to go elsewhere and others begin to view the Church as an anchor one is tied to. Not all of them, I grant you, but some do. It got me thinking about many of the blogs I follow and their takes on the synod. There is a lot of anger and fear showing up. There seems to be a lot of people who assume the Church is going to choose wrongly or implement badly. In some instances, there seems to be a sense of being “betrayed."

But the thing is, such reactions aren’t proportional to the situation, and that makes me wonder about the origin of the anger, fear and mistrust.

What if the devil is working on people through the extraordinary synod—but not in the way those who feel betrayed think? What if this time his snare is to catch the people seeking to be faithful Catholics and drive them away from the Church, whether overtly or mentally, by making them feel betrayal where there is no betrayal? What if they are so busy looking for signs of a snare aimed at making the Church teach error that they miss the signs of a snare leading them to their own rejection of the Church? The snare of believing the Church to be in error and the self to be infallible. The snare of making oneself the judge over the Church teaching.

That’s the kind of snare that can lead a person to decide that if the Church does not teach as they want, it means the Church has fallen into error. But if the Church is the barque of Peter, there is nowhere to jump to. It’s like the old Pre-WWII political cartoon by David Low:


Replace “Collective Security” with “The Catholic Church” and “Cut-throat Arms Race” with “Error,” and the image becomes quite appropriate. What happens when people are deceived into jumping off the raft . . . or even brought to the state of pondering whether the raft needs to be abandoned? This is a snare that the devil can set for the unwary.

It troubles me because people who should know better are acting as if words which could be tightened up and improved on are deliberately chosen and were chosen with the worst possible meaning. I mean, yes, Cardinal Kasper have proposed things I simply do not believe can be compatible with the words of Our Lord and the teaching of the Church. But  I really do not believe that what this cardinal desires for the Church to do (and I do think him sincere, although wrong) will be something the Church will ever teach.

See, I don’t feel betrayed by Pope Francis. You’d think I should be. In the past on my blog, I have indeed written against the bigotry masquerading as “tolerance” that leads the elites to label us as “homophobic” and the current effort by the US Government to legitimize same sex relationships as “marriages.” But the fact is, I don’t feel betrayed. Why is that? Because I don’t believe that Pope Francis has any desire to change Church doctrine. He has called himself “A faithful son of the Church” when asked for his positions on issues like so-called “gay marriage.” I believe him. There is no evidence showing he has ever supported legitimizing such relationships, and there is evidence that he has opposed it. For example, taking a leading role in the fight against legalizing it in Argentina.

So, applying reason here, which is more probable? That the Pope is going to change Church teaching? Or that some people have been deceived into believing the hype by the media and the anti-Pope Francis rhetoric by some Catholics?

I’m not angry, because I believe that Pope Francis loves Jesus Christ and loves the Church and wants to serve faithfully. From everything I have read of his writings before he became Pope, I believe he will not do anything to betray his flock entrusted to him as the successor of St. Peter. And, when the final synod is done in 2015, I believe the Holy Spirit will prevent him from teaching error when it comes to issuing the teachings that result.

Now yes, we will always have bad Catholics out there who try to twist the Church teaching to their own benefit. But we’ve had that since the beginning of Church history. We are to pray for the synod and make sure we defend the truth from those who twist it.  If we get angry and want to complain now because of how dishonest people tried to distort the meaning of the synod document, think how poorly we’d fare in the time of the Arians or the Donatists or any other era where it has happened where people have tried to call evil good, or good evil.

So, here’s my question. Are we risking putting ourselves in a snare because we refuse to trust the teaching authority of the Church to do the right thing? Are we so sure of our knowledge what the Church must do, that we won’t heed the voice of one who teaches with authority when his teaching goes against our own opinions? That’s an awfully risky path to take. There could be a nasty surprise waiting if one does not watch one’s step.

As for me, I’ll trust that God will protect the Church under Pope Francis from teaching error and trust that the Pope truly wants to serve and bring Christ to the notorious sinners—not by changing doctrine, but by trying to find a way to have the notorious sinners see and accept the truth of Christ. That’s the only path free of traps that I can discern.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

On Pharisees and Reaching Out to Sinners

“What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. *Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you." (Matthew 21:28-31).

I think what troubles me the most about the new conservative dissent against the Pope is how much it is based on the fact that he is reaching out to the public sinners with compassion, rather than judgment.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the Church should be liberal (and, for that matter, neither is the Pope). But as I see how many Catholics columnists -- even those I ordinarily approve of -- taking an attitude of disappointment, annoyance, even anger -- against the Pope, I find myself struck with a sense of deja vu. It's a sense that here in the 21st century we're seeing the same attitude that the New Testament described in the First century -- that there are a group of religious people, seeing the (real) sin of people being reached out to, but can see no further than their sin.

Now Jesus knew the prostitutes and tax collectors were sinners. He also knew the Scribes and Pharisees did not commit the sins they did. But that wasn't the important part. The important part was Jesus loved both the Pharisee and the tax collector and wanted to save them both. 

To do so, He took different approaches based on what each needed to hear. To the prostitutes and tax collectors, his approach began with the love of God... letting them know God loved them and wanted them to turn back and seek the Lord.

To the scribes and Pharisees however, he needed to shake them out of their idea that because they didn't sin as the prostitutes and tax collectors did, they didn't need to repent.

In Mark 2:16-17, we have this interesting exchange:

Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors and said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard this and said to them [that], “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

They were scandalized because Jesus did not deal with them as they thought he should.  Instead, He engaged them where they were. He chose to dine at the house of Zacchaeus. He told the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.” (John 8:11).

Now we know these lessons. But do we take them to heart? I wonder.

I mainly wonder how we might react if Jesus said to us, "The liberals and the homosexuals are entering the kingdom of God before you."

That would probably be as shocking to us as “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you" was to the Pharisees.

I think of these things as Catholics are scandalized by Pope Francis. In the time since he became Pope, he has spoken gently to those estranged from the Church and admonished us who might be too complacent about our relationship with God.

But speaking to those estranged gently is not to sanction their sins. Jesus ate with sinners. But He didn't say it was OK to remain in their sins. Prostitutes and tax collectors may have been entering the kingdom before the pharisees, but that doesn't mean they remained prostitutes and dishonest tax men.

Likewise, Pope Francis calls sinners with compassion. But he doesn't say they can remain sinners.

Pope Francis seeks to emulate Jesus Christ. When we respond, let us be careful not to emulate the Pharisees.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

On Pharisee Mentality

One temptation which always follows behind the Christian trying to be faithful is the mentality of the Pharisee.  Since I'm not afflicted by it, I'll write this to help those of you who are…

Ha, ha.  Actually, this is one of the first symptoms of it: To look at others faults and failings while being blind to your own.  Jesus warned us all about this type of thinking, in Matthew 7:

3 Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?

4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye?

5 You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.

It is a strong indictment which any one of us can be guilty of.  Jesus speaks quite strongly about this: It is hypocrisy to look down on others who sin while forgetting our own guilt before Him.  Now of course He doesn't mean we can't call any action evil or wrong.  That's an old deception which is aimed at us to overlook the fact that we are sinners ourselves when we look down on others for being in a state of sin.  If we realize our own need for Christ, we ought to recognize others are seeking Christ as well.  They might be further away from Christ to be sure.  However, they also might be closer because they recognize their own sin and need for salvation.  Christ has said in Matthew 21:

28 “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’

29 He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went.

30 The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.

31 Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.

32 When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.

It is a paradox which can drive a person crazy.  "Hey!  I'm following all the rules here, but you're saying these people who do all these evil things are closer to God than ME?"  Yet, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10).  The one who knows that God is holiness, is goodness and looks at their life compared to the holiness of God will see their own life lacks in comparison to what God asks of us.

It doesn't even mean we need to act like one of those cretins who show up at the funerals of AIDS victims with signs saying the deceased is going to Hell to be acting in a way which Christ calls wrong.  All we need to do is to act as if we are superior to others in how we live, as Christ teaches in Luke 18:

10 “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.

11 The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector.

12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’

13 But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’

14 I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Pharisee is proud of his actions, and forgets he is also a sinner who needs the mercy of Christ.

So I hope I set you all straight with that splinter.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go lie down and take some aspirin or something to deal with the pain.  The optometrist has said it might be caused by this beam I have in my eye... but what would he know?