Monday in the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time
Scripture Readings: Gen 12:1-9; Mt. 7:1-5
“You hypocrites!” That’s a pretty harsh accusation! It is especially hard when it comes from self!
We all have three tasks in Life: What to believe, how to behave, and what to care about. We have the “hypocrite” experience when there is a discrepancy between what we believe and how we behave. The problem is that the discrepancy reveals what we really care about. That is the plank in one’s own eye.
Jesus implies that removing that plank is either very difficult or… impossible. It is often very hard to articulate what we care about so much that it sometimes blindsides us. So we often deploy defense mechanisms such as rationalization… excuses: masquerades in search of grace. No wonder it is hard to remove the plank from another’s eye!
Jesus teaches this in the context of His Sermon on the Mount; His program for living. The short version is that the three tasks in life are also the three theological virtues. Our faith is what we believe (It seems our faith could always be stronger). How we behave reflects where our hope or striving is. It displays our values.
Then comes the most important: what we care about; what we love; our treasure. That influences—indeed, determines—who and what we are. It also makes us vulnerable to its loss. That is why the greatest commandment is to love what we can never lack when we love it.
Monday in the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time
Scripture Readings: 2 Kgs 17:5-8, 13-15, 18; Mt 7:1-5, at Mississippi Abbey
St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote: “It is the devil’s habit to do his business out of doors rather than at home. God, on the other hand, works on man and moves him inwardly rather than outwardly.”
When we focus on events around us, particularly the behavior of others, we are vulnerable to, if not moved by, the influence of the Evil One, and we stray from the path of love to which Jesus calls us. This path of love begins with love of the Father and grows out to neighbor. In today’s gospel and the chapter of the Sermon on the Mount that precedes it, Jesus gives us directions for self-forgetfulness, thoughtfulness for others, and for a deep, interior relationship with the Father. Ignatius was doubtless thinking of this gospel when he wrote this rule for discernment of spirits. And he had likely also read St. Bernard’s steps of truth.
St. Bernard tells us the first step of truth is to know the truth about self. “Remove the wooden beam from your own eye first.” Why did Jesus find it necessary to tell us this? Why do Bernard and Ignatius have to repeat it centuries later?
It is a matter of our securities and anxieties. These affect our expectations about the future. Those expectations affect our moral deliberations. We compare injustices done to us with successes of others and draw conclusions about the fairness of life in general. Such conclusions limit our ability to be guided by the love commandments. Because the devil “works out of doors,” with events around us, love of neighbor is our weak spot. We resort to scapegoating. This is what Jesus is warning us against. His passion, as scholars say, was designed to expose the scapegoating mechanism whereby we avoid facing the truth about self—our spiritual poverty, our utter dependence on God—and instead turn our attention “outdoors.” We think dealing with the scapegoat will secure our future and give us interior peace.
This “blaming” goes back to the beginning when Adam blamed Eve for his eating of the forbidden fruit. In fact, the story is told of Adam walking by the devastated Garden of Eden with his two son’s years later. He pointed to it and told them, “That’s where your mother ate us out of house and home.”
Scapegoating is a false means of self-transcendence, a false way of rising above self’s limitations. Rather than be trapped in a life given solely to self-interest, Christ calls us to be concerned and active in promoting the good of others and in assuring that the good and true endures for the benefit of future generations.
Jesus is calling us to love as God loves. The chief manifestation of His love is mercy. The steps of truth teach us to “remove the wooden beam” from our own eye so as to see the truth in the neighbor with sympathy. That sympathy or empathy comes from our own experience of misery. That experience helps us “see clearly how to remove the splinter from another’s eye.” In short, we “become merciful as the Father is merciful.” That is how we love as God loves. That is the third step of truth.
And in loving as God loves we find it is its own reward; it does not need pleasure, reciprocity, or personal gratification. We find it can be shown to strangers as well as friends and relatives. It can be shown to those who are difficult and unattractive. This is possible when we allow the Spirit to move us from the inside. Loving as God loves is what we call agape. It is why our monasteries are called to be a “school of love.”
And it is why, for monastics, community is not a living situation, it is an apostolate.