Homilette for Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Memorial of Saint Teresa of Avila, virgin and doctor of the Church

(Luke 11:42-46)

In the gospels Jesus seems to have a running battle with Pharisees. But we should not think that Pharisees are necessarily his enemies. As he has done before and will do again in Luke’s gospel, Jesus in today’s passage is dining at the home of a Pharisee. Obviously, Jesus has some differences of outlook, but he also holds much in common with Pharisees. We may profitably suppose that some of the harsh criticism in the gospels is not so much Jesus’ for the Pharisees of his time but the evangelists’ for Pharisee-like Christians a generation later.

Catholics today, perhaps like some Pharisees of Jesus’ time and Christians of the first century, sometimes pay too much attention to details and too little to the gospel message. Some go to church checking to see if the flowers by the altar are freshly cut or artificial. (In order to prevent cheap imitations Church rubrics have called for fresh flowers by the altar.) Others might gossip about the profanities used by their pastor without realizing that they might be committing a graver sin of detraction.

In today’s gospel Jesus compares the nit-picking Pharisees to “unseen graves.” He means to say that they are already dead because they do not accept the love of God which brings life. St. Teresa of Avila, less somberly but with the same impatience, once prayed, “God save us from sad-faced saints.” Both she and Jesus realize that righteous living is not so much frowning on other people’s sins as turning to God in thanksgiving for our blessings and praying for those in special need of help.