29 August 2006

Law, License, Hypocrisy

Beheading of John the Baptist: 2 Thes 2.1-3, 14-17 and Matt 23.23-26
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX
NB. I liked this homily at 5am this morning. Now, I dunno...it seems a little confused to me. Too many peices competing for too little space and time. (Fr. Philip @ 12.20pm)
Always in our struggles for holiness we are tempted to weigh too heavily on the side of the Law or on the side of License; we become unbalanced, top-heavy or bottom-heavy, and we either fall over or become immobile. The most obvious indication that we’ve given to much time and energy to one or the other—Law or License—is the presence of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is evidence for all to see that we have succumb to the temptation to take the quick and easy way out of our spiritual struggle and simply elect to either idolize the Law or idolize License. Hypocrisy is not about failing to live up the standards you truly believe in. Hypocrisy is the failure to apply to yourself the standards you apply to everyone else.

Jesus blasts the Pharisees as hypocrites because they pay very careful attention to the minutiae of the Law while ignoring the more difficult, the “weightier,” things of the Law. He accuses them of straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel, of being self-indulgent pirates. Blind to their own hypocrisy—as we often are—they cannot be reliable spiritual guides for others. The Pharisees have become top-heavy with the Law and they tumble easily at the word of a righteous man.

The Thessalonians seem to be dealing with another problem: a lack of direction, a failure in local leadership, and perhaps, some hypocrisy resulting from a bottom-heavy preference for the rule of License. Paul has to warn this Christian community not to jump at very “spirit” that claims authority to reveal secrets or get all wound up over some new letter or new gospel that shows up at their assemblies.

License rules here b/c the community is ignoring or even rebelling against legitimate ecclesial authority. Either some the Thessalonians themselves or recent converts from other places are trying to grab power and influence by appealing to new revelations about Christ, new revelations about salvation. Using false letters and false spirits, they want to undermine authentic apostolic authority with appeals to that same apostolic authority in order to set themselves up as apostolic authorities! Hypocrites!

So, where’s the balance for us btw Law and License? The balance is Freedom. And it’s expression is found in this letter from Paul: brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught; stand firm against false teaching, that is, teachings that clearly contradict the story of our salvation history; stand firm against attempts by apostolic posers to lay claim to Christ’s authority and lead us over a spiritual cliff; hold fast to the truth of the faith as spirits of dissent, disappointment, and anger wash over the church; hold fast to the beauty and goodness that the Father has revealed to us in His Son and in one another. Open your hearts to be fortified against the picayune naggings of legalistic bookkeeping spirits whom you imagine tally your sins and crank out a lengthy bills. Open your minds to be fortified against the corrosive waves of libertine spirits whom you know snatch at your reason and dissolve it in pretty of vats of sophist potions and stir it with the soft-headed rhetoric of relativism.

Freedom—the balance btw Law and License—is the gift of the ability to follow Christ to the Father and become perfect in His love. We are freed from sin, not freed to sin. When we preach the truth of the faith—even when we fail to live up to that truth—we hold fast and stand firm, avoiding hypocrisy.

To preach anything else but the truth of the faith is an exercise in self-indulgent pirating—stealing from the blind their chance to see, stealing from the deaf their chance to hear.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:42 PM


    Greetings to you, Father,

    I discovered your site tonight - I'm skipping around it for now, searching it, with great enthusiasm and abandon.

    It was listed in a Catherine Lucia's profile as a site she follows. She had commented in another site that I follow, and her name caught my attention. It is rare, maybe never!, that I have ever been misled or disappointed by a Catherine :] !

    Quoting you, "...vats of sophist potions..." and "To preach anything else but the truth of the faith is an exercise in ... stealing from the blind their chance to see, stealing from the deaf their chance to hear." Indeed! So refreshingly and artfully pointed.

    I admire, and enjoy, what I've seen of your gift with the written word, Father. I suspect it may become something I will draw on as time passes. Thank you. Thanks be to God, in Jesus' Name.

    I have been praying for you for a long time as one in the body of Dominicans, So nice to 'meet' you, God be with you now and always,
    Catherine Teresa