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2 Thessalonians 2:1-3a, 14-17; Matthew 23:23-26

In this chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is venting against the scribes and Pharisees.  The object of his frustration and perturbation is their distorted values.  Jesus points out that ritual and pious practice can be helpful, but the scribes and Pharisees have made them ends in themselves rather than means.

We may look down on the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees.  Unfortunately, we may, at times, have a bit of the hypocrite in us.  In days gone by, we abstained from meat on Fridays, fasted and abstained during Lent, observed Rogation Days, and so forth.  All of the above were means that made us feel holy.  I mean a Catholic had to be tough!  There may be other forms of ritual and practice currently that give us warm feelings.

Why do we get caught in this trap?  First of all, there is clear accountability, for example, we either eat something or we don’t.  Being kind and just are fuzzy, and the final results are not always known.  It is a case of black-and-white situations versus possibly maddening, gray situations.  It is easier to deal with the former.

As Jesus points out, we must not neglect ritual and practice.  The challenge is to face up “the weightier matters of the law.”  It is easy to become distracted from this intent.  Often a lack of courage is the reason.  So maybe Christians do have to be tough—with God’s help.

Today is the feastday of one of the great saints of our Christian tradition,  the great and greatly influential thinker and writer, St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church.  Augustine’s tradition encourages us to cultivate both reason and faith.   The Ignatian spiritual tradition, derived from the writings and example of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, also emphasizes the regular “examen” and “discernment” in interpreting interior movements and evaluating actions and decisions.   Meanwhile, central to the lives of Paul, Augustine and Ignatius is a tremendous, life-shaping love of God Who Loves Us.

By Tom Schloemer

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