The Holiness of the Pharisees and Occasions of Sin

Photography © by Andy Coan

Radio talk show hosts make a living on it.  Show after show, they bring before our eyes stupid, unjust and wasteful situations in order to incite outrage.  We love to listen and get ourselves all worked up.  Our indignation keeps us tuned in and raises the show’s ratings.

It’s easy to focus on the outrageous things that others do.  It’s easy to clamor that this intolerable situation must come to an end now.  For to say this requires little or nothing from us – our demand is that others do something about it, that others mobilize and take action, that others be set straight.

This is “holiness of the Pharisees” mentioned by Jesus in Mat 5:20.  They were so preoccupied with the splinter in the eye of others that they missed the log in their own.

When it comes to confronting our own sinfulness and foolishness, we, like the Pharisees, tend to lose the sense of urgency.  We procrastinate, rationalize, and change the subject.  That’s the very point of one of hardest sayings of this Sunday’s gospel.  “If your hand is your difficulty, cut it off!  Better for you to enter life maimed than to keep both hands and enter Gehenna” (Mat 5:30).

The Lord is not encouraging self-mutilation here.  He is rather calling for aggressive action, even action that hurts.  Of course, our hands, feet, and eyes are just bodily organs.  Of themselves, they can’t cause us to sin.  But some places that our feet take us, some things we do with our hands, some things we focus our eyes upon damage our relationship with God.  Going to a particular club may not be in itself sinful, but for me, it may be a near occasion of sin.  Every person is a child of God.  But hanging around with certain children of God may present an occasion of sin to me.

We tend to try to manage it.   “I’ll keep my cable subscription, but just not watch that channel.”  “I’ll keep surfing the web, but just won’t visit that site.”  “I’ll go the club, but stop after two drinks.”

If it works, great.  But when it doesn’t, many of us go on fooling ourselves that it will – the next time.  We keep trying half-measures, avoiding the necessary treatment because it will sting too much, cost too much.

Jesus says to wake up, get real, and take aggressive action.  If the internet is your problem, shut it down.  If TV is your problem, turn it off.  Better you go through life unplugged and offline than spend eternity in Satan’s lair.

However, to avoid taking aggressive action against our own personal compromises with the devil, we frequently change the subject and point out the sins of the liberals, the right-wingers, the Muslims, the politicians.

Persistently, the Lord brings us back to the real issue, the issue we want to avoid.  He bids us to forget about others’ issues and attend to our own . . . our own divided hearts, our own hidden hypocrisy, our own little compromises.

Fortitude, one of the four Cardinal Virtues, is not just about enduring evil and hardship for the sake of doing good.  It is also about taking aggressive action against evil.  If we see evil in our lives, we must not tolerate it, make excuses for it, and procrastinate.  We must pounce on it.


Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) — Sirach 15:15-20; Psalms 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-3; First Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37 or 5:20-22, 27-2

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.


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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this. It is so easy to forget that, when pointing the finger, there are three pointed back at me. Lord, help me with my shortcomings, my sinfulness.

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