Saturday, October 26, 2013

30th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C 2013



I must say that at this point in my life… I am happier than I have ever been. I am a happy man. That’s an awesome thing to say! I haven’t always been able to say that. In seminary I vividly remember wondering, “When will I be ordained? How long is this going to take? Will I be able to cut it as a priest? Can I even make it through seminary?” When I was a deacon at St. Gabriel and an Associate Pastor at St. James, I wondered, “Can I do all that a pastor has to do? Will I be a good shepherd?” Over the 4 months that I’ve been here, I have found great fulfillment in being the shepherd of this flock. My heart and soul are invested more than they ever have been. I live and breathe these parishes and can truly say that I am happier than I’ve ever been.

There have been some challenging moments. Change is hard for everyone. For you and for me. For you, I imagine it’s like receiving a whole new father. Fr. Chris was with you for 16 good years and was well-loved. He has definitely left some big shoes to fill. For me, it’s a little bit like leaving home, graduating from college, beginning a new career, getting married, and starting a family all at the same time! (The Basic Plan for Ongoing Formation, Part II, A) One of the most difficult things though has been bumping up against the gossip that so often characterizes small parishes and small towns. It’s really a problem in all parishes, big and small. I don’t mean to say that everyone here is gossipy, but you and I know that it doesn’t take many people to stir things up. Gossip really does sap the life and energy out of a parish and its initiatives.

I am part of the parish too, though! If this parish is gossipy then that includes me too! I am also guilty of venting at times to the first person that will listen without taking the time to pray about it and fully understand the situation. If we want to break the mold of what a small-town parish is like, if we want to prove to God and our neighbors that we don’t have to be gossipy parishes, then the change must start with me. With the theme of this weekend’s readings focusing on humility and prayer, we have the perfect occasion to recall the Church’s teaching on this subject to help us break this mold.

Last Monday at RCIA, when we studied the last seven of the Ten Commandments, we looked at how the Catechism of the Catholic Church expands on the 8th Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” This is the commandment that the Pharisee broke in the Gospel reading today. Here is what the Catechism says about this in paragraphs 2477 to 2481: “Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.” It then goes on to list some examples of sins against the 8th commandment. One is Rash judgment, which is when one “even tacitly assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor.”

The Pharisee in the Gospel definitely committed this sin. His prayer, full of pride, was not even a prayer to God. The Gospel said he “stood and prayed thus with himself.” The whole time he simply rattled off his accomplishments in order to somehow impress God. Full of himself, he saw no need for God’s grace or mercy. He boasted that he was not like the rest of sinful humanity; “even like this tax collector,” he smirked. On what grounds was the Pharisee able to conclude that he was a sinner? Simply because he was a tax collector? This particular tax collector could have been St. Matthew for all we know! What we do know is that because he was so quick to judge his neighbor, his prayer bore no fruit for him. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, “Jesus said. It is only when we humble ourselves that Jesus is able to lift us up. It is only when we acknowledge that we are in need of his mercy that Jesus is able to give us his mercy. It is the “prayer of the lowly” that “pierces the clouds,” said the prophet Sirach in the first reading.

Another sin against the 8th commandment is called Detraction. This is when one, “without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them.” This one is particularly tempting because of our desire to want to be included and favored. When you or I see a group of folks that we relate too, that we are friends with, or that we want to impress, the latest nugget of gossip turns their eyes toward us and we have their attention. We think, “They are listening to me! They want to hear what I have to say! They want me as part of their group!”

This sin plays on all of our insecurities. “I know what so-n-so did and they don’t. Wait till I tell the guys this one! They’ll really approve of me then! And we will be able to say to ourselves, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this guy.” The devil loves this one because he loves for us to compare ourselves to anyone other than Jesus. Simply saying, “At least I’m not as bad as him over there” keeps us stuck where we are. But saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner! Make me holy as Jesus is holy!” is a statement that moves us forward and up to him. Jesus is our audience, he is the only one we have to impress. …And we thwart our spiritual progress for what? A few moments of recognition from friends who love us anyway? And meanwhile a man’s reputation is ruined, his name drug through the mud, and our hearts turned against him.

Calumny, another sin against the 8th commandment, is when one “by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.” This one comes about largely from a certain disruption that leads to misunderstanding. What begins as the innocent question, “Well… that’s different… why did Fr. Hardesty do that!?” then turns into, “Well, he must not like us… he must not want to spend time with us… he must want to inconvenience us… he’s keeping us here for a full hour on purpose!... he wants to make us miserable…. What are we gonna do?? Well… there’s no use… I’m just gonna go to a different parish!” And all of that happens without the person giving me one chance to explain.

One of the best things you and I can do to avoid committing this sin of calumny is to simply approach each other directly and kindly. Let’s help each other with this one. If I do something or decide something that you disagree with or are uncertain about, come to me and ask me directly about it. My role as a spiritual father is to listen to the needs of his sons and daughters and to be eager to respond to them. And you as spiritual sons and daughters should feel free to voice these needs to me. For my part I will take more time to learn and understand different practices or features of the parish before I make a faulty conclusion about them.

Lastly, the Catechism goes on to quote St. Ignatius of Loyola who says that to avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way: “Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.”

You and I together need to give each other the benefit of the doubt rather than being quick to condemn. Rash Judgment, Detraction and Calumny “destroy the reputation and honor of one’s neighbor.” Whenever we sin against the 8th commandment, we have a duty that “obliges in conscience” to repair the wrong, publicly or privately, insofar as possible. This humble making of amends along with frequent, at least monthly, confession can help us break out of this cycle and give us the grace and strength to continually “put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” By “putting away falsehood,” we will be able to “put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander.”

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