The Protestant Reformation broke out in 1517. One of its arguments for change was that Rome, the city of the popes, had fallen into worldliness. Although this was not sufficient grounds for leaving the church, the charge was by no means groundless.
Fortunately, a Florentine, Philip Neri, born in 1515, would re-evangelize the Eternal City and win the title “Apostle of Rome.” With wonderful leadership, Philip, first as a layman, then as a priest, used every possible means – pilgrimage, devotions, music, visits to the sick, jokes, a new religious order, and many others – to bring about a genuine spiritual renewal. Young people adored this witty man. Popes and cardinals sought his direction and counsel.
But despite his popularity as an organizer, Philip also received from God many mystical graces, like the ability to read hearts and to cure diseases. Prayer, especially the celebration of Mass, brought on ecstasies. Many of his associates testified to that. Sometimes when he was saying Mass he was swept up into a union with God that lasted as long as two hours. Those who saw him on such occasions said that his face glowed with a supernatural light. It was as if St. Philip had become a mirror reflecting the God of Light. He seemed already to be enjoying for a few minutes with the saints already in heaven, the vision of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “…
Father, holy one, we praise your glory reflected in the saints.” (Prayer after Communion, Mass of All Saints Day.)
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q343: What does Jesus mean in today’s gospel (Matt 23:1-12) when he says, “do all things they [the Pharisees] tell you, but don’t follow their example”?
The Pharisees were the most influential religious group in Jesus’ time, and the majority of scribes and lawyers were Pharisees. Thus, as a Group they were the guardians and interpreters of the Law. They prided themselves on knowing the Law backwards and forwards, and debated endlessly about the smallest details of various words and commands.
The “problem” was not their knowledge of the words of the Law. Rather, the “problem” was that their pride in that knowledge led them to focus exclusively on the external dimension of the law, and neglect the more important internal dimension of spirituality. They became argumentative in their self pride, even trying to trap Jesus and show him they knew more than he did.
Jesus recognized their proud self-importance, simply by observing their external habits. They wore prayer boxes (phylacteries) that grew larger and larger than required by Torah; their prayer tassels on their cloaks got longer and fancier than required by Torah; they looked for seats of honor and public recognition. In short, they lacked the humility which is the very essence of true inner spirituality. Thus Jesus told the crowds and his disciples, “do as they say, not as they do.” They would not mislead them regarding the words of the Law; but they did not themselves live out the spirit and meaning of the Law.
We find that same pride – lack of humility – today in Catholics who refuse to humbly accept all of the teachings of the Magisterium, the official teaching office of the Church that Jesus established. They “pick and choose” what they want to believe, just like the Pharisees at their worst level of behavior — woefully deficient at the level of inner spirituality, and deceiving themselves about that fact.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The condition for entering the kingdom is that of becoming like a child in relation to God. This means “humbling ourselves,” being open to the truth as taught by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church so that Christ may be formed in us (CCC #526). Pride is a capital sin because it sets oneself in competition with God (CCC, Glossary on Pride; also #1866).
All Who Exalt Themselves will be Humbled
Both Jesus and the prophet Malachi zero in today on those who focus on religious externals, who are all show and no substance. We sit back and agree, “That’s no way to be.” But who are the Pharisees of our time? It’s easy to point the finger at religious leaders who are in the spotlight all the time. But it is very easy for anyone who takes religion seriously to be faced with the temptation to be formalistic and judgmental. We all need to have our lives match our words, to be humble in our dealings with our brothers and sisters, to be more compassionate and less judgmental. As St. Paul puts it today: “Though we might have made demands as Apostles of Christ, we were gentle among you, sharing with you our own selves.”
Lord, I have found my peace with you. Do not let a proud heart or self righteousness suppress the gentle life you nourish within me. May each of imitate you in being instruments of peace for others, bearing their burdens, not imposing them.