Today’s topic is Christian Righteousness and Forgiveness. I decided I’d do the quotes from the two daily readings first, then move on to the discussion.
“Those Christians who are attached to only exterior observances resemble [the Pharisee in Luke 18:11-12]. To say one’s breviary, to go to church, to attend Mass and Vespers, to take holy water, to kneel: in absence of right intention this is a pharisaical righteousness.” (Note 1)
“But what shall we say about those who do not have even this exterior precision, unless that that they are worse than the Pharisee?” (Note 2)
“The second defect in Jewish righteousness is … [t]hey thought themselves capable of doing good works by themselves instead of recognizing that it is God who works in them … believing that a man’s own works make him righteous. This righteousness is impure and, according to St. Paul, is nothing but refuse because it is nothing but pride. Let us then take care to avoid it, referring humbly to God what little good we accomplish.” (Note 3)
“Here then is the true Christian, the man who is truly righteous. He believes himself to have done nothing, for if he believed himself to be sufficiently just, then he would not be just at all. We must always advance. …what is more, if you do not advance, you will falter.
“This is why he said we must ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness’ (Matt. 5:6). This is no ordinary desire. It is a desire like the one that leads us to eat and to live; it is an ardent and invincible desire that should be kept forever aflame. Whatever your condition, you should have this hunger and thirst, as the capacity of your interior is infinite, so also is the righteousness you seek.” (Note 4)
“If you are judged wrongly (Mt 5:11-12) because of Christ, forgive. You will find that you are free, free beyond compare. … You forgive not in order to change the other person, but simply to follow Christ.” (Note 5)
“In order to stop the escalating pattern that often leads to killing, Jesus tells his listeners to avoid not only anger but also abusive and disrespectful name-calling like ‘you empty-head’ (Aramaic, raqa) and ‘you fool’ (Greek, moros, the root of our word moron).” (Note 6)
The first thing I though of when I started reading was genuflecting in church. I, at first (from the readings), though that we could do away with the outward signs of our faith so long as we maintain our interior faith—and that is true. However, I feel it goes beyond that—and not towards no outward signs (after all, aren’t sacraments outward signs of an inward reality?). Instead I was thinking of our belief and truly believing. If we truly believe that the eucharistic host in the tabernacle is physically the body and blood of Christ under the accidents of bread and wine, then why wouldn’t we genuflect when we cross in front of it? The Lord of the Universe, our creator and all that we strive to emulate is physically contained — body, blood, soul, and divinity — in the tabernacle, so why wouldn’t we show proper respect? Why wouldn’t we genuflect? Why wouldn’t we talk directly to our creator and seek his help and forgiveness and guidance, he is, after all, right there! Our outward signs of our faith are more than just formulaic rituals — think back to formulaic “spells” for prayers from yesterday — they are a true act of devotion and reverence and respect for Our Lord Jesus Christ whose body, blood, soul, and divinity are right there in front of us. If we can’t take just a few moments to acknowledge that presence, I question if the people truly believe that presence, or if it is just “Pharisaical righteousness”? Are they being “worse than the Pharisee”? What would Jesus say?
This reminds me of when I went to EWTN to Our Lady of Angels Monastery to the morning mass while traveling back to Arkansas and Tennessee. There was an older gentleman, probably in his 80’s, who, when he entered and every time he crossed in front of the tabernacle, he didn’t just genuflect, he knelt — a deep kneel, a reverent kneel, and it was done with much love and devotion. He truly was a believer in Jesus’ presence in the tabernacle, and he made sure he showed God proper respect. He wasn’t kneeling for you, or for me, he was kneeling to show God his respect.
All of this could lead me into the discussion of receiving communion in the hand or on the tongue, but that’s a rabbit hole I don’t want to run down — though I’ll at least say I believe we should receive on the tongue.
The next quotes (the remaining ones before forgiveness) deal with man’s righteousness through works. This is a bone of contention between Catholics and protestants. So much so when I went to church with my Dad when I was home one Sunday (after we went to morning mass), the preacher talked about saved by grace alone. Your works don’t save you, you can’t save yourself, you can only be saved by grace. I don’t argue that point, no Catholic will, we are all saved by grace alone. There is nothing I can do to earn my salvation, it is a free gift from God. But faith without works is dead (cf Jam 2:14-26). As I talked about yesterday, faith is a grace and is a free gift of God, but our intellect has to cooperate with it, our will has to assent to it, or we will not be suffused with grace. This saving grace, the power of God, is the source of our good works. We don’t do good works, God does good works through us. Without good works, we have no faith — faith without works is dead. Therefore, like protestants, we believe we are saved by grace alone. Unlike protestant, we believe you can cease to assent to that grace and chose to live in mortal sin and lose the grace and God’s salvation (see CCC 162). The other side of the coin is good works without faith — this is, essentially, pride and trying to buy your way into heaven without assenting to grace and receiving faith (read James 2:14-26 for more information). I once saw a good analogy, I can’t remember where, of the difference between the protestant and Catholic views of grace. Imagine that grace is a train. God can send it to whatever station he wants to save souls, even souls that aren’t on a train track (he is God). Protestants view of faith is that you have to believe in the train to be saved. The Catholic view is that you have to believe in the train, but then you also have to get on the train. If you want more information read this article from Catholic Answers; and this article from EWTN.
The next quote on forgiveness hearkens back to the post “Lent Day 6”. The “Lord’s Prayer” asks God to forgive us as we have forgiven — which underscores the point of the quote, “…we forgive to follow Christ.” (Note 7)
The last quote was the ‘bumper sticker’ on the reading from Renewing our Discipleship and is very fitting for our modern, interconnected world. We’ve all forgotten how to have a discussion and have retreated to name calling. The examples in the quote are tame compared to what you see online. As Catholics, we need to get back to dialectic and reason vice ad hominem and plain ugliness.
Okay, I’ll leave you with my highlighted passages from Pope Benedict XVI’s book Jesus of Nazareth: Part II.
“From these ‘little ones’, praise will always come to him (cf. Ps 8:2)—from those able to see with pure and undivided hearts, from those who are open to his goodness.” (Note 8)
“…there is a mysterious saying of Jesus that Luke also quotes (albeit at an earlier point, during the journey toward the Holy City): “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. . . .” (Mt 23:37-38; Lk 13:34-35).” (Note 9)
“Here Jesus expresses his own ministry and his summons to discipleship in terms of the powerful goodness of God himself, who protects Jerusalem with outstretched wings (Is 31:5). Yet this same goodness invites the free consent of the chicks, which they refuse: “and you would not!” (Mt 23:37). The misfortune to which this refusal leads is described by Jesus mysteriously yet unmistakably in a saying couched in the language of ancient prophecy. Jeremiah records the words spoken by God concerning the abuses in the Temple: “I have forsaken my house; I have abandoned my heritage” (12:7). Jesus says exactly the same thing: “Your house is forsaken” (Mt 23:38). God is withdrawing. The Temple is no longer the place where he sets down his name. It will be left empty; henceforth it is merely “your house”.” (Note 10)
1. Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, Meditations for Lent, trans. Christopher O. Blum (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2013), 38.
2. Bossuet, Meditations, 38.
3. Bossuet, Meditations, 38-39.
4. Bossuet, Meditations, 40-41.
5. Brother Roger of Taize, “Forgive, Then Forgive Again”. In Renewing Our Discipleship, Daily Reflections on the 2017 Lenten Readings for Mass, ed. Steve Mueller (St Louis, MO: All Saints Press, 2017), 10.
6. Renewing, 10.
7. Renewing, 10.
8. Benedict XVI, Pope. Jesus of Nazareth Part Two, Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection (Kindle Locations 503-505). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.
9. Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Kindle Locations 509-512.
10. Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Kindle Locations 518-524.