PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH - PREACHING WHAT YOU PRACTICE!!!
The first reading today is from the Book of the Prophet Malachi. He tells the priests and people of his time “If you don’t listen to me, I will make your life awful!” He insists that they are not keeping the ways of God and are partial in their decisions and are not interested in serving God or the people. It should touch our own hearts when we hear the Prophet say: “Why then do we break faith with one another, violating the covenant of our fathers?” This is a message for all of us, even today. Do we keep the covenant of the Lord? Are we faithful to the teachings of Scripture and of the Church? If we are not faithful, why?
Brethren, the charges today are brought against the priest, however, I will address myself to you my dear people of God, since there is no ministerial priest here for me to address except myself (LOL). However, by virtue of our baptism we all share in the priesthood of Christ hence, it is not out of place to address us too as “Priests”. In the first charge God says If you do not listen, if you do not lay it to heart, to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts, I will send a curse upon you and of your blessing I will make a curse. Friends, instead of giving priority to God’s Word and commands, and to give glory to His name by our conduct and actions, we have focused on a worldly agenda that does not give glory to God; we have centered our lives on the transient things of this world.
Furthermore, the Prophet says You have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction… Friends, our lives ought to be the very gospel we preach. Often times, what we do speaks so loud that people cannot hear what we are saying. Everywhere we go we should preach the Word of God and only when necessary we should use words. Sadly, our way of life has turned many away from God. Instead of leading others to God we tend to lead them away from God. When was the last time you encouraged someone to live a chaste and pure life? When last did you visit the Blessed Sacrament and encouraged a friend to do same? When last did go for the sacrament of reconciliation and equally encouraged others to do same?
You have made void the covenant of Levi, says the LORD of hosts. I, therefore, have made you contemptible and base before all the people, since you do not keep my ways… Beloved, our God is a good God, and is completely incapable of evil. However, when we fail to keep His laws and commands we suffer the consequences of our actions and inactions. The present situation of our lives, if we wish to be sincere, may not be unconnected to the choices we have made, some of which are contrary to God’s will and love. God who created us without our consent cannot save us without our corporation.
In the gospel narrative, Jesus admonishes us to listen to the teachers of the Word and the Law, and reverence what they teach but we must not imitate the lives they live. Why? Because they preach first what they have not first practiced. They preach but they do not practice! Always we need to be self-reflective enough to understand whether we are doing this ourselves. Jesus is really tough on those who tell others what to do while they themselves are not doing it. This is a fairly human failing. Often when we someone criticizing another person, we recognize in them the same defect that they are criticizing. How difficult it is to say that! It is not so much that this is always the case, but it is the case enough of the time that we should become self-reflective and self-aware so that we don’t do the same thing.
Jesus did not mince words when it came to religious hypocrisy. St. Matthew reports Him declaring: Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you are like to whited sepulchers, which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones, and of all filthiness. (Matthew 23:27) That, more than anything else, is what got Him killed. His death was a staged by hypocritical religious leaders who Our Blessed Lord exposed to the people under their authority. Hypocrisy isn’t just found among clergy and religious alone.
Some nominal Catholics have proclaimed that they do not come to church anymore because it is filled with people who think they are holy but live in unholy ways in their ordinary, everyday lives. They are religious on Sunday but do not live religious lives from Monday through Saturday. We need to also recognize that many who accuse others of hypocrisy are themselves guilty of it. We are almost all charged with hypocrisy and it is often very difficult to match what we profess in faith, with what our external conduct depicts. We need the grace to God to raise the bar of our lives to reach the heights and the obligations our faith imposes on us, without which we are sure to falter.
What, then, are we to do? The first thing we must do is to admit that there is a tremendous gap between what we are and what we ought to be. We need first, above all else, recognize the truth about ourselves and then, asking for God’s mercy, set about amending our lives. We can no longer live in denial of our own limitations and pretend as though it does not matter, or it does not affect us and the community in which we live. As the gospels relate, “Do not judge and you will not be judged. For the judgement you give is the judgement you receive”. In the best of us, there is something really damning and in the worst of us there is also something really ennobling, hence it behooves on none of us to judge the other.
However, this does not preclude us admonishing others in love. We must recognize that the difference between a saint and a sinner is the fact that the saint acknowledges his/her weaknesses and is willing to make genuine and sincere efforts to overcome and trusts in God’s mercies and faithfulness, while the sinner becomes overtly presumptuous of God’s mercy and unwilling to make sincere efforts to overcome his/her weaknesses. The struggle with sin reaches the point where the saint is confident enough to say, “Do as I do, and not just as I say”, whereas the sinner is not that convinced.
Beloved, when was the last time you demanded right conduct from others and equally demand the same right conduct of ourselves? As Priests, parents, leaders of various societies and sodalities, friends in relationships, married persons, siblings, colleagues, etc. The problem the Pharisees faced was that they loaded up others with heavy burdens placing impossible loads on other people’s shoulders without lifting a finger to help them. They would rather excuse themselves from the burden they place on others, in the hope that their words will suffice for their inability to measure up to the demands they place on others.
As a prophetic peacemaker, Jesus challenges those who pervert religion into an opportunity to gain personal honor, glory and power. Jesus accuses the scribes and Pharisees of seeking the glory that rightly belongs to God. The real goal of the Pharisees was to dress and act in such a way as to draw attention to themselves instead of glorifying God. In their misguided zeal for religion, they sought respect and honor for themselves rather than for God.
“The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” We should always keep this teaching in our hearts and in our minds. We must seek to serve one another, not dominate one another. We should seek to proclaim this word of God in the way we live and relate to one another. The more humble we become, the possible it is for God’s word and God’s presence to be known by others. Jesus gives us the example of those who try to follow the Law but only put burdens on others. It is clear that our challenge is to live the word of God in such a way that others are drawn to God and not away from God. Is your life and living testimony of the presence and the love of God?
Paul recounts with thanks to God how he faithfully transmitted the undiluted message of eternal life to the church of Thessalonica. He writes thus: “Like a mother feeding and looking after her own children, we felt so devoted and protected towards you…we were eager to hand over to you not only the good news but our whole lives…while we were bringing the good news to you.” Rather than mislead or exploit the people, these great priests and pastors of souls employed their whole energy in communicating the message of eternal life to the people. From this therefore, we must learn that once the message of eternal life or the good news is effectively communicated it bears good fruits and in turn evokes a very deep sense of thankfulness to God. This is Paul’s source of joy and thankfulness to God: “Another reason to thank God is that, as soon as you heard the message we brought, you accepted it for what it really is, God’s message and not some human thinking.” Are people drawn to appreciate the faith and our God better by your association with them? Do others give glory to God because of who we are?
It is easy to read today's Gospel and start pointing fingers at others. Of course, I can point a criticizing finger at all the officials I know, political, religious or otherwise. But let me ask the question: am I so different from them? It is important that I see how this applies in my own life. The Gospel is addressed to ME.
Prayer – Lord God help me to be sincere in following YOU. Teach me and give me the courage to practice what I preach, and the grace to humbly admit wrong while drawing strength from you alone. Amen!!!