The danger of becoming holier-than-thou

HINTS AND TRACES - Fr. Roy Cimagala - The Freeman

We have to be most careful with this danger which can easily afflict especially those who desire to be good, holy, and a firm believer of God. The devil, who can appear to be an angel of light, can with a most subtle deception trip us in our pursuit of holiness.

Thus, in the gospel of Friday of the 1st Week of Lent, (cfr. Mt 5,20-26) we hear Christ saying, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees (who were the leading religious people of that time), you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.”

Christ even spelled it our further: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…”

To be holier-than-thou is to be like those scribes and Pharisees whom Christ reprimanded with some strong words. (cfr. Mt 23) They were quick to judge others and make final, condemnatory judgments of others who did not agree with them. They were hypocrites who were good at preaching but were not practicing what they preached.

They paid exaggerated attention to little, not-so-significant details while ignoring the most essential part of an issue --what Christ referred to as straining a gnat while swallowing a camel. They regarded themselves as having the exclusive possession of what was right and true. They were rigid in their ways and so literal in their interpretation of laws that they miss the proper spirit behind those laws.

They thought of themselves as living already in a perfect world, already in heaven, and anything that disturbed that world aroused their final condemnatory judgments. Everything was black and white with them. Tolerance, offering of understanding, compassion and mercy were not known. The gradual struggle to uphold and defend what was right and true was hardly known.

What Christ rather taught was to love everyone, including the enemies. He never taught us to hate anyone, because hatred only belongs to the devil. The moment we hate, we start playing the game of the devil who can easily take advantage of it to lead us to worse conditions. When we reject the temptations of the devil, it should not be an act of hatred but of prudence.

Remember Christ telling his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well…” (Mt 5,38-40)

It’s definitely a hard teaching to follow, but that is what Christ is telling us. We just have to learn how to be generous and magnanimous in our consideration of the others, no matter how wrong they may be. Christ is showing us what true love is. Love becomes more authentic the more tested it is, the more unlovable the object of our love is!

Christ showed it himself when he bore all the sins of men by going through his passion and death on the cross and conquering all those sins with his resurrection. It’s in the very essence of love to give oneself without measure, without calculation, without expecting any return.

It just gives and gives, even if along the way it encounters difficulties, rejection, suffering. It embraces them, not flee from them. By its nature, it is given gratuitously.

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