The Pharisees and the scribes questioned Jesus, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders?” He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.”
It seems as though the more controversial I get (or the madder I get), the more readers I get. Yesterday’s meditation scored big with almost 900 readers! So much for the positive power of negative advertizing! But believe me when I tell you that I am not trying to score big on readers. What I am trying to do is my meditations – faithfully, constantly and holy.
In today’s Gospel, the Lord throws into doubt an entire religious party that was established for the sole purpose of preserving and protecting the Law, the customs and traditions of the Chosen People of God. This was their sole purpose in life and Jesus was throwing cold water on them.
What is so great about the Catholic Church? What distinguishes her from all the other religions, institutions, organizations? What does she do so well? The answer is simple: She can dwell on earth. “There is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below” (1Kgs 8:23).
Like Jesus, the Church can be my friend and my foe at the same time. She has the uncanny ability to be loved and hated; admired and scorned; loved and feared all at the same time. She can be as gentle as a lamb and as ferocious as a lion! “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together and a little child will lead them” (Is 11:6). I mention this only because there is a disturbing trend among too many Christians that the lions of the Church must be absorbed into lambs, or the lambs must be eaten by the lions! No. Let them be! Both are necessary. Both are essential. Both are Christian! Christ was a doormat and far from being a doormat! He is THE DOOR. Christ is a pacifist and a warrior. Christ is the Lamb of Mercy and the Lion of Judgment!
The awesomeness (and mystery) of the Church is that it is like no other institution on earth: It is a paradox, a sign of contradiction. “There is no other God like you in heaven above and on earth below.” She can punish the faithful son and reward the prodigal son. She can be a stream and a storm, majestic and pomp and downright street smart and ghetto. Mother Teresa was street smart and majestic. John Paul II was ghetto and full of majesty! Both were as tough as nails and as gentle as wool. The Saints know how to maneuver in and out of this world without losing their identity, their holiness, their purpose. Christ knew how to dine with sinners and live as a Saint. The Church knows how to pardon sins in secret and veraciously condemn them in public. She will treat the most hideous of criminals as Peter and Paul, and treat those who would condemn them as Judas Iscariot.
And it all makes perfect sense!
I have friends who have had abortions and use contraceptives; friends who are homosexual; friends who cut themselves, starve themselves, hurt themselves. I have friends who are the most vocal critics of Catholicism, Christianity, and religion in general. I have heard the confessions of inmates, classmates, teammates and have forgiven them like I would have forgiven the Holy Father (if he had called upon me for confession).
Of course it is not always easy. But like Christ, the Church is not in it for easy but for eternity.