Saturday in the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings: Ruth 2:1-3, 8-11, 4:13-17; Mt 23:1-12

In the 1970’s there was a comedian on “Saturday Night Live” named Dennis ler who used to go into “rants.” That was his “shtick.” He’d say things like, “Now, I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but guilt is simply God’s way of letting know that you’re having too good a time.” Or “Born again?! No, I’m not. Excuse me for getting it right the first time.” And, “You know there’s something wrong with an educational system when you realize that out of the three R’s only one of them begins with an R.” 

Today Jesus is on a rant! The rant is brought on by His compassion for the ordinary people who are being ill-used by the scribes and Pharisee’s. The strength of His feelings show that He is teaching something very important: He is teaching about the difference between religion and faith.

Religion is seen in today’s gospel as a series of behavioral observances. They direct the use of our will, of our free choice. But observance can be hollow, ostentatious and competitive. The Rule of St. Benedict is a set of behavioral observances and in places it encourages competition. As such the observances are a way of socialization. As stated in the first step of humility, they can help us live in mindfulness of God … if we have interior faith.  

Faith comes by the grace of God and involves reliance on His goodness, rather than reliance on what one is as a result of religious observance. “Reliance” is the key here. Reliance on anything less than God is unfaith. Jesus points to the Pharisee’s as an example of this. Earlier in Matthew’s gospel Jesus “marveled” at the faith of the centurion who had no religious observances.

St. Benedict, in his Prologue prior to giving observances, writes that “Clothed with faith and the performance of good works let us set out on this way with the gospel for our guide…” (v. 21). Faith precedes good works. To be “clothed”, Georg Holzherr writes, is to wait with alertness, with readiness for the coming of the Lord. This readiness is preparation for a long march through the wilderness. Faith is the essential interior disposition and the observances and structures—the good works—help us when the emotional and cognitive assaults of the evil one attack us.

The experience of faith is deeply personal, formed by what one has been through in her life. Life experience affects ones believing; it affects ones capacity for trust and confidence, fidelity and loyalty. This, along with inherited temperament and social-cultural conditioning, shape how one approaches faith. Despite and because of our individual stories, we have this shared affection that constitutes “truly seeking God.” If we do not appreciate these in the sister next to us, we might never benefit from her example of heroic faith. We must either appreciate this or admit that being a Christian—a Cistercian Christian—does not affect the sort of person one becomes.