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Dealing With Our Own Inner Pharisee

By Deacon Keith Fournier
July 20th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

We are invited to begin, and begin again, and again - every day - with fresh new grace.  Perhaps that is one of the lessons we can learn this morning. We are called to deal with our own inner Pharisee. When we do, the whole world begins to look different. And we become very different. We see Jesus with the eyes of living faith. Then, we can seek to participate with Him in His redemptive mission by being members of His Body, the Church, as she spreads His light and love in a world steeped in darkness.

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - I have a priest friend who reminds me that not ALL the Pharisees were so blinded by their self righteousness that they failed to recognize that the One whom they so often sought to correct was God Incarnate.

And, he is correct. They were a genuine religious reform movement which sought to bring faithful Jews back to living the fullness of the Law of Moses in order to witness to the truth.

However, the ones which the evangelists who penned the four Gospels use to communicate a danger which can afflict all of us, were certainly blinded by their own self righteousness. They are given to us as tutors.

Today's Gospel passage is a reminder: "Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath."

He said to the them, "Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were  hungry, how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering, which neither he nor his companions but only the priests could lawfully eat? Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the sabbath and are innocent? I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath." (Matt. 12:1-8)

The scene speaks to us of people who, even though they prided themselves on their strict adherence to the Law - and believed they were being devout - had become incapable of seeing the Source and Fulfillment of the Law as He stood in their midst. I suggest that we can easily become those kind of men and women, if we fail to stay in a fresh and ongoing intimate communion with the Lord.

This seems to be a particularly dangerous temptation for those who consider themselves devout. It is an easy trap to fall into. A trap we need to always be on the lookout for in our own lives. And, fall is the operative word. The real crux of the problem is we may not know it is even happening before we find ourselves awakened to its corrosive effects through the bad fruit within and around us.

Decades ago I was an early responder in one of what have now been collectively called the ecclesial movements in the Catholic Church. I became a lay leader in a group which was enthusiastic in its sincere desire to live the fullness of the Catholic Christian Life and bring others into the same experience. Over time, some of us fell into the trap. By God's grace, I had my eyes opened in a way which now visibly informs my daily life.

I had been convicted by the Holy Spirit of my failings in leadership - and my own pride. I asked to take some time away from lay leadership to reflect on the entire experience. A dear friend,  unaware of my own inner journey, gave me a print of a famous painting by an artist named Gerrit van Honthorst (1590-1656) which hangs in the London Museum of Art.  It is entitled Christ Before the High Priest .

I was quite young and knew nothing of the artist or the painting. However, it was beautifully framed and fit well in the room in the basement where I always took my morning prayer. During an intense period of prayer and reflection one particular morning, the scene in the painting burst off the page, as good art can do - and entered into my heart.

It depicts Jesus, standing before the High priest with His holy hands bound. The Priest, who at the time I thought was a Pharisee, is looking up with an arrogant demeanor and a pointed finger. Before him on the table appears to be the Torah, opened up as though he were truly reading it, and he was ready to correct.

Yet, standing right in front of him is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Incarnate Word,  Jesus the Christ, the One greater than the Temple, the One who is the Lord of the Sabbath, the One who fulfills every promise in that Book.

I thought to myself, "how could a man get to this point? How could he fail to see the Light of the World before him?" I sensed the Lord prompting a response in my heart as I looked more deeply into the eyes of the High Priest (whom I thought was a Pharisee) and the eyes of Jesus as depicted in that painting. The response, "You have become that man".

The experience shook me to the core and literally changed my life. I also pledged to hang that print in every office I ever had for the rest of my life as a steady and sure guide, and loving warning, to watch over my own prayer and relationship with the Lord. To avoid becoming stale and relying on yesterday's bread. I have followed through on that pledge.

We are invited to begin, and begin again, and again - every day - with fresh new grace.  Perhaps that is one of the lessons we can learn this morning. We are called to deal with our own inner Pharisee.

When we do, the whole world begins to look different. And we become very different. We see Jesus with the eyes of living faith. Then, we can seek to participate with Him in His redemptive mission by being members of His Body, the Church, as she spreads His light and love in a world steeped in darkness.

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