The CAPG's Blog

Friday May 29, 2020

Ideals, False and True

" Unless your justice abound more than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" — Matt. v. 20.

At all times men have had ideals of goodness which they looked up to and admired, and which the best among them have had the ambition to imitate. The popular ideal of the Jews when Christ came, was represented by the Pharisees, — men orthodox in faith, correct in life, ardent in the love of country, strict in the observance of the Law. Such men could not fail to win influence and popularity; and they enjoyed both in a high degree. The people who gathered round Our Savior on the Mount did not conceive of any form of life higher or better than what they had hitherto looked up to in their accredited teachers; yet He tells them plainly that their qualities were entirely insufficient to secure admittance into His kingdom. What a shock it must have been to them to hear this for the first time! But if they will only wait, the divine Teacher will show them how incomplete, and in most cases how hollow, were the lives they so admired.

From the facts of the Gospel narrative, and still more from the unsparing denunciations of Our Lord himself (Matt, xxiii. 13, and foll., Luke xvi. 39, and foll.), we may easily gather what were the shortcomings and vices of the Pharisees. Their "formalism" first of all, their exaggerated concern for externals, for the minutiae of the law, united with a practical disregard for its fundamental principles. Next, "their pride" and self-importance, revealing itself at every step, and leading to hardness of heart, and contempt for others. Finally, " their ostentation " and constant display of whatever in their lives and actions could win them the admiration of the people.

The Gospel is the opposite of all this. It leads men back to fundamental things, to the indestructible principles of justice and of love. It teaches them to act righteously for righteousness' sake, to look to God for approval, not to man. It keeps their weaknesses before them, humbles them, and makes them think more of others than of themselves. In a word, the Christian type is the exact opposite of that of the Pharisee, and something incomparably nobler and higher, even in the most unpretending of those who follow it. 

Indeed, the Pharisaic type, in its crude, unmitigated form, has become unbearable to the modern mind, fashioned by Christian traditions. But because it is, after all, true to man's natural instincts, it has not entirely disappeared from the world. Something of it may be found even in the life of a priest. He may be good, faithful, zealous ; yet, at the same time, self-important, exacting, sedulous in cultivating public opinion, eager for praise. His composed demeanor and his devotional practices may conceal even from himself much that is mean and selfish. In his concern for minor objects, he may "neglect the weightier things of the law : judgment, and mercy, and faith ; " and while " cleansing the outside of the dish" overlook the impurities it may contain.

A priest, too, may select and follow false ideals; nor is the thing at all uncommon Thus he may not fully believe in the purely Christian virtues, — such as humility, gentleness, self-denial — or in the special requirements of the priestly character. He may not even believe in the higher forms of natural virtue, all based on self-sacrifice. His ideal may be practically that of the popular priest, the successful priest ; that is, successful in doing external work, or in reaching positions of honor or emolument. His principal ambition may be to secure what will lighten, and lengthen, and sweeten existence — just like any man of the world. And yet, " unless his justice abound more than that " of those men to whom he looks up with envy, he is unfit for the work of the  priesthood; and, if he has assumed its responsibilities and fails to bear them, he is unfit for the kingdom of heaven.

The truth is, the ideal of the priesthood is not an open question at all. What sort of man a priest ought to be, what is implied in his sacred character, what he is really pledged to by the reception of orders, is determined almost as precisely as the doctrines of faith, and has varied as little in the course of Christian ages. It can be gathered from the Gospel; it is found in St. Paul ; it is spread out in the pages of the Fathers, in the enactments of councils, in the teachings of the Saints ; and everywhere it is visibly and unmistakably the same.

Source: Daily thoughts for priests, Rev. Fr. John Hogan, 1899