Some may question the values of today's gospel reading. Others may react with a deep-seated hope that restrictions are missing from our lives and the practice of religion. The words of Jesus are the response to both of the sentiments just mentioned. Here are his words as quoted in St. Mark taken from Isaiah 29:3:
This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts."
[Emphasis made by this blogger.]
On this day before Ash Wednesday, in prayer I encourage each reader to reflect on your own religious practices and your personal practices each day of your life. Just consider a "neighbor" (i.e. a relative, a next door neighbor, a fellow parishioners, a office or other job colleague) who is always at Sunday Mass and quick to point out the faults of others...sometimes even before leaving the church's parking lot! How often do husbands and wives make denigrating remarks about their spouses at a party or at the beauty salon?
What Jesus is teaching in selecting these words from Isaiah deals with hypocrisy. It exists everywhere and usually is not in short supply. For sure personal religious practices( i.e Mass attendance, reciting the rosary etc) easily fall victim to the sword of stabbing the neighbor's name or reputation.
And how about this scenario: a penitent comes to confess and begins with "Father, you know, I just could not remember the penance the last priest gave me at the end of my confession. I have not gone to communion since then." Here is the question, folks: Which is more important: failure to recite those few Hail Marys or Our Fathers or the failure to make an effort to avoid sinning? Too often penitents fail to see the forest because they are lost in the trees. Yes, in our faith (our personal relationship with God) and our religion (particular religious practices attached to a particular church) we focus on particular practices rather than our unconditional love for God and our neighbor.
Perhaps during the days of Lent this year, when you have the opportunity like Peter had in having Jesus suggests he toss out his fishing nets again, let's not take the invitation of Jesus to us "Put our into deep waters ..." Let us toss our nets out with the hope of catching the many God-given gifts that we have lost through carelessness or hypocrisy. Likewise attempt to pull in those times or those habits that make our actions little more than lip service rather than moments of genuine Christian loving.
Pope Benedict Stuns the World
In these historic hours of our Church let us pray to the Holy Spirit for the grace of wisdom and prudence for the Cardinal electors of the next Pope in their hours of discussion and consideration of the momentous burden placed on their shoulders this morning when they first heard the most unfamiliar words about a modern pope: "The Pope has resigned." None of their days for the next several weeks will be filled with peace as the electors must weigh the needs of our Church and the leadership that must confront the neo-secularized world of our times.
While prudently opting to withdraw from the daily fray, Pope Benedict XVI may quickly learn that dying might have been more pleasant than living through the critical evaluation of one's efforts, perhaps one's efforts at Legacy building, at the helm of Peter's Bark in an age when the world-wide availability of one's entire lifetime with its successes and failures is not secret. And perhaps it may be the fate of leaving Peter's chair to another person during one's lifetime that the martyrdom each man accepting membership into the College of Cardinals pledges to accept will become a reality. Let us pray for this Holy Father that he will be given the strength to endure the cross he will be forced to carry brought about by accusations -- already published the world-wide press -- of his failures in the matter of the sexual abuse scandal that has so drained our Church in many ways.
Come, Holy Spirit, come. Pour an abundance of your graces upon our Church in these days!