Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The "Pharisee in the Church Today" is Me

Pope Francis says there are Pharisees in the Church today.

Some people say, "When he refers to 'Pharisees' he's talking about the conservatives!" Others have noted that it was precisely the Pharisees who favored things like divorce and were therefore confronted by Jesus's radical Gospel teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.

These are typical ways of "interpreting" Francis. But I find them frustrating. I already know this debate well enough. I'm interested in something else, namely, what do the Pope's words mean for me, right now?

This theme about Pharisees in the Church today is part of a consistent message of Pope Francis. What guidance for my own life do I find here? Is it even relevant to me? I don't think political terms like "conservative" and "liberal" are helpful when looking at the Church. I also oppose "divorce and remarriage," and the way it has developed into a kind of "normal" accepted lifestyle choice in the post-Christian West. I know that real consummated Christian marriage cannot be dissolved, and that this clear teaching of Christ cannot be changed: "They are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate" (Matthew 19:6).

Yet I recognize myself in the Pharisee. Pope Francis's challenge, to me personally, has always been to provoke me to look beyond my narrow way of loving people.

Yes, we really do need to witness to the truth in love. But it's so much easier, for me, to cosy up in a comfortable corner with the truth, and to say to (or at least think about) others: "This is the truth of what you should be like. Now take your messy life and go away. You bother me. Go fix yourself and maybe come back when you fit into my comfortable coherent little world."

That's the Pharisee that I am!

I thank God for the mirror that He has put up to my face these past five years through the witness of the Pope. The problem for me is my own self-love, my own satisfaction, my fear of risking my comfort in order to grow closer to God. And I so easily disguise my own laziness and love of comfort in the garb of a "prudent, balanced judgment," or a pious detachment from "worldly" things.

Woe unto me...the Scribe, the Pharisee, the hypocrite!

I am the "Pharisee" because I fail to trust in the grace of Jesus to change my heart. I am so timid! I am afraid to allow Jesus to empower me to really go beyond myself, to find the margins beyond my own self-sufficiency and the real people who are waiting there, desperately in need of my love.

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