April 25, 2019

The True Condition of Our Heart

We all have a list of things that drive us crazy. One that drives lots of people up the wall is caused by those, kids and some adults too, who do exactly the opposite of what they are told; out of spite, I guess.

Is Jesus upset with us on account of us doing the opposite of what he tells us? Jesus, our Lord of infinite wisdom, forbade us to judge, and even more to condemn others….That was part of the lesson of last Sunday, remember?

Guess what is the favorite sport of many of us here present? Starting with me and going down the pews: We can call it a game of profiling of sorts. It is the game of trying to figure people out, to size them up, to spot their flaws, to compare ourselves favorably with them and, as soon as those flaws begin to pop up, to judge and, at times, to condemn.

Let us reflect on this potentially deadly game many of us are instinctively playing. As we saw last Sunday, it is potentially deadly because the Lord assured us that he will use on us the very same measure we use in judging and condemning others and, we know that, so far, our measure is so small that we would be in big trouble.

We are called to love without any reservation (enemies included) and to serve people up to our ultimate self-sacrifice. This is the new commandment that Christ has given us during the Last Supper. However, that is hard work; as hard as the image of our crucified Lord conveys to us so eloquently, so unequivocally.

On the other hand, criticizing and judging and condemning are not hard work at all and much more wickedly enjoyable and it comes soooo natural to us! Thankfully, St. Paul (1 Cor 15:54-58) stops us in our tracks and forces us to look at our goal, the goal of incorruptibility, of immortality, of reaching heaven, if you will.

As I said, the game of criticizing, judging and condemning is deadly. Death’s sting is sin, including the sinfulness of our propensity to spend time judging and condemning others rather than spending it loving and serving those people the Lord has placed in our lives. 

We gather today to give thanks to God who gives us victory over our deadly tendency through our Lord Jesus Christ. Both the first reading (Sir 27:4-7) and our Gospel passage (Lk 6:39-45) give us clear indications on how to go about clothing our corruptibility and our sinful tendencies in immortality and incorruptibility. We have to scrutinize ourselves with impartial eyes, to see how we perform under duress; how we fair in hard tests. And also to keep in mind that what we say reveals our wisdom or our foolishness.  

Furthermore, our faults are exposed whenever we are sifted by the trials of life. The fire of tribulations evidences our true mettle and the fruits we bear manifest accurately the quality of “our tree,” to stay with Jesus’ metaphor. We should never act on first impressions and in the spur of the moment: praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested. (Sirach 27:7)

Could it be that we are so quick in criticizing, judging and condemning because we sense that our performance, especially in time of trials, is sub-par? That to direct people’s attention on others’ flaws would somehow divert it from our own shortcomings? That the splinter in our brother’s eye would, hopefully, keep people from noticing the beam lodged in ours?

Perhaps, we do not spend most of our time focused on the defects and mistakes of others; but we might suffer from the compulsion to judge and to condemn in absentia. Actually, as we set up court, we might like a sizable audience, yet we could not bear to have the accused present: we want our work of judging and condemning to be done only behind people’s backs.

If we are not guilty of this, we might be inclined to be presumptuous in thinking that our flaws are not as serious or as devastating as other people’s. We might be blind pretending to lead the blind or to be disciples who know more than our teachers.

Obviously, we realize that consistency is crucial before we can fulfill our calling to love and to serve. In different ways, as parents, as teachers, as witnesses of Christ’s message, we are all called to lead someone, to shape precious lives, to edify the confused, to lead the wayward to Jesus.

For this reason, in brutal honesty about our true condition, after we have removed our mask and stopped pretending to be better than the next person, we can enjoy the Banquet that Jesus sets up for us. During Holy Communion, we should ask him to enlighten us to be so humble, so bold and so forthcoming that people would feel, if not necessarily comfortable, at least encouraged, to point out to us areas where we have room for improvement.

This is a good suggestion because, as we played our risky game of quick judgments and condemnations, we must have encountered people who, even without words, convey quite loudly that nobody should dare to confront them with criticism, let alone judgment and condemnation.  

Perhaps we might want, through the help of Jesus, to avoid giving out the same message to people who care about us and who are pained to find a way to help us improve our performance without crushing us.

Jesus is the only one who really knows the true condition of our heart and the quality or poverty of our performance. Our fruits are carefully recorded by him because they are meant for the up-building and the enrichment of all members of his Mystical Body.  

Refreshed and strengthened by his Body and Blood we could then be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord (loving and serving) knowing that in the Lord our labor is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58)

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin

REVEREND DINO VANIN, PIME was born in Cendon di Silea, Province of Treviso, Italy in 1946. He entered the PIME Seminary at Treviso at the tender age of eleven. He came to the U.S. in 1968, studying Theology at Darlington Major Seminary in New Jersey. He has an MA in Secondary School Administration from Seton Hall University. Ordained in 1972, he served as an administrator, teacher, rector and principal at the PIME High School Seminary in Newark, Ohio before being sent to the missions of Thailand, where he served for six years. He is currently the Treasurer of the U.S. Region of PIME in Detroit. On December 16, 2018 he was installed as Pastor of San Francesco Catholic Church in Clinton Township, MI. Every week he takes some time off from his parish ministry to do some administrative work at PIME headquarters in Detroit. Due to his increased workload at the parish while continuing as Treasurer of the U. S. Region of PIME and as counselor and spiritual director, he spends any time left doing a little woodworking.

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Written by Fr Dino Vanin