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‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees’

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It was quite a stinging statement Christ told his disciples once. “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees,” he said (Lk 12,1), referring to the Pharisees’ hypocrisy. It reminds me of what Pope Francis said to a group of new bishops sometime ago.

“The world is tired of charming liars, and I might say, of ‘trendy’ priests or ‘trendy’ bishops,” he said. “People can ‘smell’ it…when they see narcissists, manipulators, defenders of their own causes, and bandits of vain crusades.”

He instead urged them to make their ministry an “icon of mercy, the only force capable of permanently attracting man’s heart.” He said that “mercy should form and inform the pastoral structures of our Churches.”

Obviously, when I read those words, I immediately felt the need to examine myself if indeed I have become one of those “charming liars” and “trendy priests.” It can happen that even without intending it, one can fall through a certain conspiracy of circumstances into that notorious category. That has happened before. It can happen now.

It cannot be denied that if the Pope says there are such priests and bishops, then we need to look at oneself first and then to look around to see what can be done with this unfortunate phenomenon. I suppose the Pope himself is doing is own self-examination in this regard, and is precisely offering some ideas of how to avoid those dangers.

Perhaps the only mitigating consideration one can make out of these hard words of the Pope is that this class of charming liars is not exclusive only to priests and bishops. If priests and bishops can be such charming liars and manipulators, you can just imagine the field of politicians, lawyers, doctors, journalists, etc.

But, of course, when these charges are thrown to the clerics, they acquire a heavier and more serious gravity due to the very delicate ministry they carry out. That is why I think it is time to examine what kind of leaven, of motivation, is driving us in our work.

Remember Christ saying, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees,” (Mt 16,6) referring to their teaching and lifestyle. “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men…they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues…” (Mt 23,4-6)

We should see to it that we always rectify our intentions in doing whatever work we do. We should always do everything for the glory of God and in the service of all men. Our attitude should always be to serve and not to be served.

This was the attitude of Christ himself. He said once, “The Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10,45)

This is what love is all about, love in its most distilled form. It goes beyond merely wishing others well, or giving something and sharing things. This is love in action, in total self-giving even if nothing can be gained by doing so.

Besides, it is a love done in total obedience and availability to his loved ones, the Father and us. For love is true when done both at the instance of the loved ones and of one’s personal gratuitous initiative.*

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