Daily Reflection
August 23rd, 2003
Roc O'Connor, S.J.
Theology and Campus Ministry
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Ruth 2:1-3, 8-11; 4:13-17
Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4, 5
Matthew 23:1-12

Ouch!  That gospel passage smarts.

Seems to me I've gone through several stages in my life while reading this very challenging word from Matthew 23. 

When I was in grade school, I remember wondering what the heck phylacteries and tassels had to do with anything.  I didn't know what they were, for goodness' sake.  Since I was a good little Catholic boy, I didn't know why it was bad to call someone "father" except that Protestants said it was.  And, I figured that downgrading myself was humility.

When I was an adolescent I found it very easy to recognize how "they" performed works to be seen; how "those folks" tied up heavy burdens; how "they" didn't practice what they preached.  I figured that "they" needed humility.

After some years in the Jesuits, and especially after ordination, I realized that I was given special treatment - places of honor at banquets, seats of honor here and there, greetings and salutations in marketplaces and elsewhere.  That started to get uncomfortable.

Now when I preach I sometimes have the impression that I am asking people to do what I am either unable to do or unwilling to do.  I don't always practice what I preach.  Humility now means being "unmasked" by the Word and given the chance to learn anew.  Otherwise, it's just humiliation.  Humiliation is humility without the learning that I'm not the center of the universe. 

So, I find this passage from Matthew 23 very unnerving.  I'd like to point my finger at others and excoriate them for their failings.  But, at this stage I see more clearly my own failings and find that finger pointing (as the ultimate stance) would distract me from my own life as a modern day Pharisee.  It's a hard grace to receive, that of unmasking.

Last summer an Italian Jesuit named Caesare Giraudo summarized the Mass saying, "The Word tells us about God's fidelity and our infidelity.  Then we celebrate God's fidelity in the Eucharist."  Good words today on a challenging passage.  It IS about God's fidelity, after all, isn't it?


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