Sunday, March 3, 2019

Those "Wooden Beams" in Our Eyes

We live in a society which prides itself on its tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion, and we are part of a Church which proclaims radical mercy. But, instead, what do we actually see and hear and experience everywhere around us more and more, but angry judgments and vindictive condemnations? There is perhaps no medium more designed for focusing on the splinters in other people’s eyes than Twitter. But even people who perhaps have never ever sent a single hateful tweet have been affected and corrupted by our ambient culture of self-righteous anger and condemnation, a culture which encourages us to minimize, if not ignore, our own shortcomings and failings, favoring what one commentator has called “being destructively judgmental” instead of “restoringly corrective.”

Judgments are, of course, inevitable in life. We cannot even the cross the street without making a judgment (hopefully an accurate one) about what the traffic is doing! But how we judge is critical, how rapidly we judge is critical, how well informed we are when we judge is critical, and ultimately how in touch we are with what is going on inside ourselves when we judge is absolutely critical. How often have our judgments been filtered through our personal, social, or ideological biases, those wooden beams in our own eyes? As Pope Francis reminded us in a much-quoted homily in 2016: “Behind the rigidity there is something hidden in a person’s life. Rigidity is not a gift from God. Gentleness, yes. Goodness, yes, benevolence, yes, forgiveness, yes. But rigidity, no!”

Yet despite all the personal, social, situational, and ideological biases that block our vision, there is, Jesus suggests in today’s Gospel [Luke 6:39-45], a way forward; for, when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher. Only by faithfully following and imitating the lessons given us by Jesus himself can we hope to move forward. That is the work of a lifetime, of course, never quite completed until we find our final fulfillment in the perfection of the Kingdom of God. Meanwhile, we keep going forward, helping one another along the way, not like the blind being guided by other blind guides, but more like short-sighted, near-sighted pilgrims leaning on one another, relying on one another, helping each other and being helped in turn.

And one of the resources given us to help us help each other is Lent, which begins this coming Wednesday. Everybody seems to love Ash Wednesday. But Ash Wednesday is just the gateway to this most wonderful season of the Church’s year. Lent is our annual wake-up call, our annual invitation to get up and get moving to get where we want to be – to become who we want to be – not on our own, but guiding one another and being guided, travelling together as one Church along the path the Lord leads us – the path of gentleness, goodness, benevolence, and, above all, forgiveness.

Homily for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, March 3, 2019.

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