15 October 2014

Take No Other Path

St Teresa of Jesus
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Sisters of Mt Carmel, NOLA

Our Lord is unrelenting in his condemnation of hypocrisy, particularly the hypocrisy of those who wield religious authority. He says to the Pharisees, “Woe to you! You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.” Not only does he accuse his opponents of being dead and rotting in the ground, but he also accuses them of leading their unwitting followers into uncleanliness, impurity. Thus the hypocrisy of each Pharisee is both a personal and a public failure. When spiritual leaders fall, those who follow them fall as well. Jesus concludes his indictment of the Pharisees and scribes with a pointed accusation, “You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.” Here lies the kernel of their hypocrisy: though they follow the Law to the letter, they do so only for the benefits that come with being seen doing so. They do not intend to see justice done nor do they love God; their only purpose is to lift themselves up and bask in the admiration of their followers. Therefore, Jesus says to them three times, “Woe to you. . .”

How do we avoid the temptations of hypocrisy? Paul writes to the Galatians, “If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. . .If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.” Paul is not giving us permission to live lawless lives, wildly following every impulse, every appetite. He is challenging us to do something far more difficult than living the letter of the Law. Rather than scrupulously obeying every jot and tittle of the rules, we are called upon to fulfill the Law; that is, we are freed by Christ to live out the purpose of the Law, the underlying freedom that the rules guide. For example, you can be meticulous in driving the posted speed limit and still believe that the other drivers deserve to be run off the road. You can come to Mass daily and still seek vengeance on your neighbor. You vow yourself to living a life of charity and still disparage your brothers and sisters. Despite a perfect driving record or a lifetime of perfect Mass attendance, you can still harbor hatred, anger, selfishness, and rivalry. Following the rules is no guarantee of a pure heart. But a pure heart makes the rules unnecessary b/c such a heart is ruled by none but the name of Jesus.

St. Teresa of Avila considers the power and purity of the Holy Name: “. . .it seems that no other name fell from [St. Paul's] lips than that of Jesus, because the name of Jesus was fixed and embedded in his heart. Once I had come to understand this truth, I carefully considered the lives of some of the saints, the great contemplatives, and found that they took no other path. . .A person must walk along this path in freedom, placing himself in God’s hands. If God should desire to raise us to the position of one who is an intimate and shares His secrets, we ought to accept this gladly.”* Walking the Way with Jesus, his name the name of freedom, and placing ourselves with him into the Father's hands – this is the perfected way of peace, the complete path to integrity and the death of personal hypocrisy. Teresa names a few of the great contemplatives of the Church as her examples: Francis, Anthony of Padua, Bernard, and Catherine of Siena. All men and women of Christ who set aside the need for power and control, the need to be right and never contradicted, the need to be seen being holy by others. Their anchor in the unmooring sin of this world: the name of Jesus, contemplated as the only path to peace. 
Christ came to fulfill the Law. As his Body, the Church, we are vowed to preach his Word. So, we share the fruits of that Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we will lead in the Spirit, we must first follow the Spirit, and that, sisters, is exactly what we have given our lives to do. Follow the Spirit first; then, lead with the Spirit in Jesus' holy name.

*from The Office of Readings
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