This past weekend I had the opportunity to be with my family for the celebration of a sibling's milestone birthday. (Survival instinct prevents me from divulging the name and actual age.) While home I had the chance to watch my three-year old nephew in action. I find that children can be very instructive when it comes to understanding the teachings of our faith. A case in point is insight into the teaching of our Lord in yesterday's Gospel.
The little one, like most his age, can be rather rambunctious. At least once this weekend he was given a "time out." When that ended his mother insisted that he apologize before returning to play. He did, but something tells me his heart was not quite in it. I think the apology was more a means to an end, namely, getting back to his toys. On the other hand there are times when a child acts spontaneously from the heart with expressions of love. The drawing of a flower, for example, may not be great art but a parent thrills to receive this sign of love or gratitude springing from the heart of the child.
"Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." These words of Jesus accompany his teaching in yesterday's Gospel about the commandments of God. Pharisaical righteousness is mere formalism, that is to say, external observance of God's commands with the heart far from God. It is clear in the Gospel that Jesus is calling his followers to a very high standard. Equally clear is his expectation that obedience to the commandments of God should be an expression of our love for God and not merely rote observance.
This latter expectation should be at the heart of our examination of conscience. Are we growing in our love for Christ? Is our living of the law of Christ formalistic or an expression of our loving response to Christ who loved us first?
This reminds me that I heard in the news about a new "app" for the iPad and iPhone, one to help prepare a person to make a good confession. I also heard that it is among the top sellers! Could that be due to a misunderstanding that the app would replace going to confession, that one could be absolved by a simple touch of the screen of a gadget? Imagine that! A good example of Pharisaical righteousness that would be! Of course, the app is actually no more than a way to help people prepare for confession by posing questions that aid an examination of conscience. Great idea! The central question to guide the whole examination, though, has to pertain to our personal relationship with Christ. Am I sincerely sorry for sin, because by my sin I have harmed my relationship with Jesus? "Unless your righteousness surpasses ..."
Let's pray this week for a deepening relationship with Jesus, so that, by his grace, we will be enabled to live ever more authentic lives of discipleship, rooted in his love.