Legitimate Pretension

14 October 2008 Tuesday of the 28th Week in Ordinary Time
Galatians 5, 1-6; Psalm 119; Luke 11, 37-41

In the Gospel today, the host of the party was surprised that Jesus did not perform the ritual ablutions. The washing before meals was a Pharisaic practice not required by law. His puzzlement provoked a reply from Jesus that was more than what he asked for: it led to a condemnation of a general religious attitude associated with Pharisees. In the pericope today, Jesus accused the Pharisees of emphasizing the externals in religion while overlooking in their own conduct the failure of the essentials. Jesus mentioned the prescription of religiously cleaning the outside of a cup while the inside was full of dirt and grime. If our insides were greedy, the antidote was to give away one’s money or possessions in alms. The ideal was that we cleanse both our insides and our externals, that what one sees outside mirrored one’s interior countenance.

We can also be afflicted by the Pharisaic attitude, often not done out of malice. There are those who are obsessed by the externals that they become disturbed at mass: when the liturgical color is wrong, when there are no flowers on the altar, when they would prefer the priest to kneel than bow. Some of them has acquired this habit from their specific ministry at church. They may be members of the Mother Butler’s Guild or the Liturgical Environment Committee in charge of decorations or liturgical art. Or, they may be old people who have been so used to certain customs that they cannot stand changes, even though these changes are legitimate. For example, with the growing appreciation of the correct performance of liturgy, we implement contemporary liturgical gestures like bowing instead of genuflecting as allowed by the Federation of Asian Bishops Conference as a cultural custom of respect. These concerns are also important, but they are not substantially more important than the mass itself. I guess the trouble is that we are disturbed by these trivial concerns that we lose our focus on worship.

Let’s stretch this reflection to some aspects of our lives. Again, the ideal is that what we are on the outside is a reflection of our true selves. However, this is not true all the time. There are jobs that require an external image, no matter what happens in the interior. This is true especially for those who are in the hospitality business like those who run restaurants, hotels, and spas. In daily life, there are times when we should rather keep things to ourselves. When we are having trouble at home, we cannot let our bad moods affect the office or else it would affect our relationship with our co-workers and our clientele. These, to me, are times when we have to keep our ‘outside cup’ clean, despite our filthy insides. Sometimes we have to smile to fellow workers when we are seething with rage for our wives or husbands or children or friends. These fellow workers have nothing to do with our personal issues, and so do not deserve the brunt of our anger. These are “legitimate pretensions”.

The danger is living a lie. That means, we have lost our real self because we become our pretension. That means, we are still acting when we do not have to, like when we are in the privacy of our homes with our family and friends who accept us for what we truly are — warts and all. We have to find people whom we can be true to ourselves. And in order not to lose what we are, we have to find time to reflect on our interior lives so that we can move closer to our ideal of cleansing the inside and the outside as well.

During semestral breaks, let us take time to reflect on ourselves. As we pushed our brains to its limits, we now set academic life aside and look closely in our hearts. Or for those who are working, you might want to take a few minutes for reflection and prayer. So that we won’t lose the essentials to the trivial.

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