“Good advice was once worth a camel; but now that it’s free of charge, no one takes it.“ ~ Lebanese Proverb
Forgery . . . hypocrisy . . . identity theft . . . sinful saints . . . annoying insects . . . camels.
Did I attend Mass this morning or did I watch an episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians - Egyptian Roadtrip?” Where do we even begin?
Well, in today’s 1st Reading (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, 14-17) we encounter Saint Paul doing his best to restore his reputation while simultaneously talking the people of Thessalonia off the proverbial ledge. A phony letter was forged wherein one of Paul’s detractors, pretending to be the great prophet, flat-out lied about the second coming of the Messiah. And here you thought the never-ending litany of fraudulent end times prophecy was strictly a modern day problem.
Today’s 1st Reading is a reminder that our brothers and sisters in Christ who proceeded us were faced with the same wickedness and deception from those looking to hijack their eternal souls. We must heed the words of Paul, standing firm and holding fast to the traditions that we have been taught. These unchanging and everlasting truths are the lifeblood of our faith, meant to meticulously guide us on the journey home to the Father’s Kingdom.
In today’s Gospel (Matthew 23:23-26), we witness Jesus once again laying into the Pharisees, chastising then for “neglecting the weightier things of the law,” such as final judgement, mercy, and fidelity. He goes on to address quite graphically the inner grime of their souls when he says “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.” In keeping with the blind guide theme, Jesus goes on to utter one of my favorite lines in Scripture when he chides the Pharisees for their tendency to “strain out the gnat and swallow the camel.”
The camel has always been one of my favorite animals. In fact as of this writing, my 11 year old niece still believes that I have a pet camel named Claude who lives in a stall off 5th Avenue near Radio City Music Hall and is featured prominently in the closing scene of the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/Daily-Mass-Reflections-821. If this were true of course, Claude’s rent alone would compel him to go out and find a second job, perhaps posing for cigarette packages or serving as the off-color punchline in a George W. Bush sound byte.
Jesus too would seem to have an affinity for camels, at least when it came time for him to speak metaphorically. For instance, He once famously warned his Apostles that it would be “Easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 19:24). https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/Widening-The-Eye-Of-The-Needle.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus urges us to hone our self-awareness while abandonIng the sin of hypocrisy. Saint Augustine defines those who are living in a state of perpetual sinfulness as being incurvatus in se, which is to say that they are “caved in around oneself.” To be in sin is to be caved in around the ego and its narrow concerns. When the Lord says, “Reform your life,” he means move from that old mind and make him the center of your life. As Bishop Barron points out on this topic, “We must know and feel deep within our very being what is wrong in us; we must stare it in the face and acknowledge it with uncompromising honesty. Without this journey into our own inner hell, we will not feel the compunction to shift our way of being and seeing. And we must awaken to what is godlike in us, what is rich and unbroken, what is united with the saving designs of God. Without this clear sense, we will fall into complacency and see metanoia as, at best, a cruel illusion.”
This notion of “straining out the gnat while swallowing the camel” would seem to be a reference to what I like to call our “spiritual blindspots.” I’ve come to believe we all have them. But through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the habitual practice of a very thorough examination of conscience, fortification by way of the Holy Eucharist as often as possible and prayer, we can grow in our self-awareness and rid ourselves of these pesky blind spots.
On the topic of prayer, I leave you with one which enlists the intercession of one of my favorite Saints, the great Saint Lucy https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/The-Feast-of-Saint-Lucy. This legendary virgin and martyr of our Church happens to be the Patron Saint of good eyesight, but as you will see as you read and reflect upon this prayer, her patronage goes far beyond eyesight of the mere 20/20 variety. I invite you to pray this prayer every day, as I do, asking the Lord to give “perfect vision to your eyes, that they may serve for God's greater honor and glory,“ for the salvation of our souls and the souls of all those whom we encounter. I can think of no better use of our spiritual vision.
“O Merciful God, by the intercession of St Lucy whose name means ‘light’, increase and preserve Your light in my soul so that I may avoid evil, be faithful in living out my faith, and refrain from the blindness and darkness of sin.
St Lucy, obtain for me, by God’s blessing and your intercession, perfect vision for my eyes and the grace to use them for God’s greater honor and glory and for the salvation of souls.
St Lucy, virgin and martyr, hear my prayers and obtain for me an answer to my petitions.” ~ Amen