Sunday, September 30, 2012

The ‘Politics’ of the Prophets

John the Baptist confronting King Herod

(Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on September 30, 2012, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Numbers 11: 25-29.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-sixthSunday 2012]


This morning I’d like to speak to you briefly about the ‘politics’ of the prophets (a rather timely topic to deal with during an election year, wouldn’t you say?).

Now, there’s always a danger in mentioning politics of any kind from the pulpit—at least there’s a danger if you’re an orthodox Catholic who believes in the natural law and the Ten Commandments.  Then, you had better watch it!  On the other hand, if you’re a cleric of a more liberal persuasion when it comes to abortion and other social issues, then you can say whatever you want about political topics and not a word of protest is uttered in most secular media outlets.

I find it interesting, for example, that a certain Baptist minister—who proudly uses the title, “Reverend” in public—has his own TV show on one of the cable news networks: a show that’s almost completely political in its focus!

Whatever happened to the so-called “separation of church and state,” Reverend Sharpton?

Oh well, I guess that only applies to some of us.

I, of course, never tell anyone from the pulpit whom they should vote for—although I’ve been accused of doing that by some people.  I’ll never forget, several years ago, just before a presidential election, an irate elderly woman came to the rectory one afternoon demanding to talk with me.  So I took her into the sun room, we sat down, and she immediately pointed her finger at me and shouted, “I’m very upset with you!  You want us to vote for so-and-so!”

I said, “Well, that’s interesting.  But tell me, have I ever said in one of my homilies, ‘In this election you should vote for so-and-so’?  Have I ever said anything like that?”

She said, “Well, no. . . . BUT I KNOW YOU—AND YOU WANT US TO VOTE FOR SO-AND-SO!!!”

Now I will give that woman credit for one thing: she was making “connections”—very important connections: connections between what I did say in my homilies and the circumstances of her daily life.

And I make no apologies for that occurrence, because that’s exactly what a preacher is supposed to help people do!  He’s supposed to help men and women to connect the timeless message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with their everyday experience.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this in paragraph 2246: “It is part of the Church’s mission to pass moral judgments even in matters related to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it.”

So when a priest says something like, “It’s wrong for a politician to support and promote the destruction of innocent human life through abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem-cell research,” or, “It’s wrong for a politician to directly attack the religious freedom and conscience rights of others,” that priest is simply doing what he was ordained to do!  He’s highlighting truths that should guide Catholics—and all men and women of good will—in choosing the best possible people to be their leaders.  Now if those listening to him at Mass on a given Sunday make direct connections in their minds between these truths and certain individual politicians, that’s their business.  The priest can’t help that.  The fault actually lies with the politicians who advocate those evil public policies.  The policies are evil because they violate basic, fundamental human rights, like the right to life and the right to religious freedom (rights, incidentally, upon which this nation was founded!).

Politicians can differ on the best way to fix the economy and the health care system, but not on basic human rights.

Human rights are non-negotiable.

Now if you still have an objection to priests addressing subjects like this in their homilies, I do ask that you try to be thankful: Be thankful that you have to listen to someone like Fr. Ray every weekend and not Samuel, or Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or Elijah, or Amos, or John the Baptist, or any of the great biblical prophets.  I say, “Be thankful,” because, compared to all those guys, I’m a veritable pussycat!

Biblically speaking, who were the prophets?  Well, very simply, the prophets were people who proclaimed God’s word—God’s sacred truth—to others.  They were not fortune-tellers (that’s a common misunderstanding).  Yes, it’s true, they did talk at times about the future, but always in relation to what was happening in the present moment!  For example, they often said things like, “Reform your lives, so that something bad will not happen to you.” 

Notice: that message points to the future, but it’s designed to get people to change their lives in a positive way in the present moment.

That’s typical of prophetic utterances in the Bible.

Actually, we’re all called to be prophets in the world today because of the fact that we’re baptized!  We’re called to be the fulfillment of the desire of Moses that he expressed to Joshua in today’s first reading—in that line where he says, “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!  Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!”

Each and every one of is called to speak God’s truth to other people in love (as St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4: 15).  That’s our common Christian mandate. 

And yet, as we all know, throughout history God has appointed certain people to be prophets in a more formal sense.

I mentioned some of these individuals a few moments ago: Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, etc.

And what I realized when I was preparing this homily the other day is that these men, whom we read about in the Sacred Scriptures, were extremely political when they spoke and wrote their prophecies.

At least they were political by our standards, and according to our definition of the term.

That’s something that had never struck me before—at least not in the way it did the other day.

But it’s so true!  Think, for example, of how often the prophets verbally attacked the wicked kings of Israel and Judah. 

They did it constantly—on almost every page of their writings!  They didn’t just mention principles, like we priests do.  They also named names!

The great prophet Samuel, for example, said to Saul (the very first king of Israel), “Because you did not obey God in dealing with the Amalekites, your kingship is over!  It’s finished!—and there’s nothing you can do to change that fact!”

That’s typical of how the prophets confronted their leaders when their leaders disobeyed God.

The prophets also meddled in what we would refer to today as “foreign policy.”  Jeremiah, for example, gave King Zedekiah advice on how to deal with the Babylonians and the Egyptians at a crucial moment in the history of Judah.  It was great advice; but, unfortunately, Zedekiah didn’t listen.

Even a good king like David was reprimanded by a prophet—the prophet Nathan.  It happened (as you will recall) after David had his little “fling” with Bathsheba.

So even the personal lives of the rulers were considered to be fair game for the prophets of Sacred Scripture!  Remember what John the Baptist used to tell Herod?  He used to say to him, “Herodias—the woman you’re living with—is the lawful wife of your brother Philip!  You stole her, Herod!  You’re committing adultery!”

And John never made any apologies for his words.

Needless to say, the prophets were really, really serious about their politics.  And they were never shy about expressing themselves on political matters.

Here, in the United  States, in 2012, they’d probably all end up in jail.

So it’s really a great blessing that you have us priests (and bishops and deacons) to simply remind you of the truths—the principles—that should guide you in the voting booth and in every other aspect of life.

More about that—from a special guest priest—in late October.

I’ll bet you can’t wait.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Why a Priest Will Mention Purgatory in a Funeral Homily

(Twenty-fifth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on September 23, 2012 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Mark 9:30-37.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-fifth Sunday 2012]


After a recent funeral, a couple of people asked me why I mentioned purgatory in my homily.  Now please do not misunderstand, these post-funeral questioners were not angry or combative; they were simply curious—and somewhat confused.  You see, in their minds their recently-deceased friend was a good, caring, faith-filled person; consequently they thought that I should have focused my remarks exclusively on heaven.

They really didn’t see the need to mention purgatory, since, from their perspective, their deceased friend couldn’t possibly be anywhere other than in God’s eternal kingdom.

Now there were several problems with their line of reasoning, not the least of which was that it violated a command of Jesus Christ: the command not to judge!

When we hear Jesus say, “Stop judging, that you may not be judged,” we usually interpret that to mean, “Don’t condemn another person to hell in your mind or heart.”  And that’s right; that’s definitely a valid way to interpret our Lord’s words.   But it’s also only half the story.  Jesus is also warning us here against “judging” others in the opposite way, by personally declaring them to be in the kingdom of heaven.  No, we should never condemn another person to hell, but neither should we presume that they’re going to heaven immediately when they die; nor should we presume that our deceased relatives and friends have already passed through the pearly gates.

The Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has the power to canonize people; we, as individuals, do not.

We can speak of our hope that our deceased relatives and friends have already arrived; we can express a very confident hope that they’ve already made it into the kingdom of heaven.  But we must never say “we know,” because we don’t (unless, of course, they’ve been canonized; then we do know).

And this is precisely why we pray for the dead!  We pray for the dead because we realize that some people die in the state of grace—in friendship with God—but are not quite ready to see the Lord face to face.  They don’t have any mortal sins on their souls when they leave this life, but they may still have some venial sins that they need to be forgiven for, and they may still have some sinful attitudes that they need to get rid of.

Or they may need to make reparation for some of their already-forgiven sins.

It says in the Book of Revelation, chapter 21, that “nothing unclean will enter [heaven].”  NOTHING!  That means you’re not ready for heaven, even if you have just one, little, unforgiven venial sin on your soul—or just a teeny, tiny bit of anger or pride or lust or some other sinful attitude in your heart.

In Hebrews, chapter 12, we are told to “Strive for that holiness . . . without which no one can see the Lord”—indicating that we need to attain a certain level of holiness before we can experience the beatific vision.  Basically, that holiness needs to be attained in this life (meaning that we need to die in Christ, in the state of grace); but some of that holiness can be attained after death, which is what Jesus was getting at when he said in Matthew 12: 32 that some sins can be forgiven “in the age to come.”

So even though—as many Protestants like to tell us—the word “purgatory” is not found in the Bible, the truth about purgatory and about the need for a final purification after death is clearly present in the Sacred Scriptures.  One of the most important passages in this regard is found in 1 Corinthians 3, where St. Paul says that some people who have lived mediocre Christian lives will be saved, but they will first need to pass through “fire”—hence one of the ways purgatory is sometimes described is as a “holy fire.”

It’s not the destructive fire of hell; rather, it’s a fire that purifies us and cleanses us and makes us radiant with God’s grace.

The need for purgatory is illustrated quite well by the apostles in today’s gospel story from Matthew 9.  It says there that when they arrived at their destination in Capernaum Jesus asked them a question.  He said, “What were you arguing about on the way?”

They were fighting, of course, about who was the greatest; about who was “numero uno” among them.

Now I ask you, if these men had died of natural causes at that precise moment, would they have been ready to pass through the pearly gates of heaven?

I don’t think so!  They clearly had some pride in their hearts—and perhaps a little arrogance and self-centeredness as well.

All of that would have needed to have been washed away, before they could have entered the Lord’s eternal kingdom.

And so it is for many—perhaps most—souls after death.

Which is why I mention purgatory in every funeral homily I preach!  Every deacon, priest or bishop should. 

I think that some people react negatively when purgatory is mentioned because they think that purgatory is a bad thing, and that the priest is implying something negative about their deceased relative or friend by making reference to it.

But it’s not a bad thing!  It’s a great thing.  Remember, the people in purgatory are saved; their salvation is secured;  they’re on their way to heaven, and there’s no possibility of them ever going to hell.

They just need to be cleaned up a bit before they meet the King of kings and the Lord of lords!  And the good news is that we can help them to pass through their purification process more quickly by our prayers, and sacrifices—and especially by having Masses offered for the repose of their souls (since the Mass is the most powerful prayer of all, given the fact that it’s the prayer of Christ himself).

Many of you I’m sure remember Monsignor Struck, who helped out here in his retirement years until he passed way in 1997.  Monsignor Jack Struck was one of the holiest people I’ve ever met in my life, but he always used to say, “When I die, all I want is to get through the back door of purgatory.”

He said that because he was holy and humble—and because he knew that if he got through the “back door” he was eventually going out the “front door” and into the eternal kingdom of heaven!

Let me conclude today by reading to you a small part of the Church’s official teaching about purgatory, which is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, beginning in paragraph 1030.  There we are told:  

All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. . . . The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire . . .

This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture [in the Old Testament Second Book of Maccabees].

From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.  The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.

So if I mention purgatory at the funeral Mass of one of your relatives or friends sometime in the near or distant future, please do not be confused or offended.  Remember, saying that they might be in purgatory is just another way of saying that they’re on their way to heaven.

But do remember to pray for them!—because if our loved ones are indeed in purgatory that’s what they want from us most!  Not words of praise, but rather prayers and sacrifices and Masses for their souls, so that they can get to that “front door of purgatory” more quickly.

“But, Fr. Ray, what if my relative or friend is already in heaven?”

Well, then the prayers you offer will go to help another needy soul.

No prayer for the dead is ever wasted.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Incredible Humility of St. Peter

(Twenty-fourth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on September 16, 2012 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Mark 8: 27-35.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-fourth Sunday 2012]


Would you have left it in, or would you have taken it out?

If you were telling the story about yourself, would you have left that part of the story in, or would you have taken it out—like Peter did?

That’s the question that I believe God wants each of us to reflect on today.

And he wants us to reflect on it HONESTLY!

Let me now help you to understand the question more completely.

The story we just heard in this gospel reading is one of the best known in the New Testament.  Jesus says to his 12 Apostles at Caesarea Philippi, “Who do you say that I am?”—“You’ve just told me who everybody else says that I am—you’ve just told me what the current ‘polling data’ is concerning me and my identity; but what about you?  Where do you gentlemen stand on the matter?  If someone said to you, ‘Who is Jesus of Nazareth?’ how would you respond?”

Peter immediately gives the answer that every Christian echoes in his or her heart: “You are the Christ.” 

Here it’s important for us to remember that “Christ” was not Jesus’ last name (as I mentioned in a homily I gave several months ago).  The word “Christ” is from the Greek word “Christos,” which means, “Anointed”.  It translates the Hebrew word for “Messiah.”

So Peter was actually saying, “Jesus, I say that you are the Messiah—the Anointed one of God—the one our people have been waiting for for centuries!”

Then Jesus begins to tell Peter and the others what kind of Messiah he will be—which was definitely NOT the kind of Messiah they were expecting!  The Jews thought that their Messiah would be a great earthly king like King David, who would bring back the glory days of Israel by restoring the nation to its former greatness.

They thought the Messiah was coming to establish an earthly kingdom for one small country.

Given the way that kingdoms and empires come and go, I think that was a pretty small expectation.

But Jesus indicates to them that he’s come not just to save Israel; he’s come to save the whole world, by offering his life as a sacrifice for sin—all sin.

Jesus indicates, in other words, that the true mission of the Messiah is to establish a kingdom for all people that will never end!

But only his death—and his resurrection—will be able to establish that kind of eternal kingdom.  This is the idea that he tries to get across to his apostles in this scene.  And so, as the text says, “[Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.”

To which Peter responds, “Jesus, this does not compute!”  Or, as St. Mark puts it, “Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”—“No way, Jesus, this can’t happen to you!  You’re the Messiah; you’re the Son of David who’s going to rise to power, and assume your throne, and get rid of the Romans, and make us the number one nation in the world again!”

At that moment Jesus turns on Peter—the man he would someday make the leader of his Church—and says, “Get behind me, Satan!”

Why Satan?

Because at that moment, without realizing it, Peter was saying to Jesus exactly what Satan would have wanted him to say!

Satan knew that without the cross there would be no resurrection—and consequently no salvation for the human race!

He knew that without the death of Jesus we could not be forgiven for our sins; he knew that without the death of Jesus we could not be reconciled to God the Father. So he used the words of Peter at Caesarea Philippi to try to tempt Jesus to give up his mission of dying on the cross to save the world—which, by the way, is also what he had tried to do at the very beginning of our Lord’s ministry, with the 3 temptations he threw at Jesus in the desert.  Those 3 temptations were all attempts to get Jesus to avoid the cross.

Thankfully Jesus resisted at Caesarea Philippi just like he resisted in the desert.

Now that’s pretty much where the story ends in St. Mark’s Gospel.

Of course, since you are all highly intelligent and well-informed readers of the Bible, I know exactly what you’re thinking right now.  Each of you is thinking, “But Fr. Ray, there is something missing here; there’s a part of the story that for some reason St. Mark left out!”

To which I say, “Ah yes, O wise one, you are indeed correct!”

And here are those missing lines—which are preserved for us in St. Matthew’s Gospel, in Matthew’s account of this same event.  They come immediately after Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah, but before our Lord begins to speak about his suffering and death.  Matthew writes:

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?  Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’  Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.  And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.   Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

That section of the story in which Peter is extolled for his God-inspired insight; and given universal authority in the Church; and made, in effect, the very first pope—that section of the story which makes Peter look really good is completely eliminated from Mark’s account!

Was that just a coincidence?  Did Mark forget that part of it?  Did Mark dislike Peter and want to make him look bad?

I would say No—on all counts!  No, it was not a coincidence; no, Mark didn’t forget that part of the story; and no, Mark did not dislike Peter, nor did he want to make Peter look bad (the two men, after all, were very close friends!).

I believe—and so do many others—that this was all Peter’s doing!  He (believe it or not) is the one responsible for the omission! 

You see, many Scripture scholars are convinced that St. Mark was Peter’s scribe—which means that the Gospel which bears Mark’s name is actually the Gospel that St. Peter preached in Rome.  He either dictated it directly to Mark, or he had Mark follow him around and take notes while he preached.

So apparently this is the way Peter told the story—or at least it’s the way he wanted the story to be told.

Now you might say, “But, Fr. Ray, that makes no sense.  Why, oh why, would St. Peter leave out that part—the one part that makes him look really, really good?”

And I would respond, “That’s precisely the reason he left it out!”  Peter was a man of deep and profound humility, who wanted the focus to be always on Jesus Christ and his saving work, and not on himself.  So, in all likelihood, he either didn’t mention that part of the story when he preached about the event—consequently Mark never wrote it down in the first place; or Mark did write it down initially when he took notes, but Peter had him remove it from the final version of the text.

Which brings us back to the question I posed at the beginning of my homily:

Would you have left it in, or would you have taken it out?

If you were telling this story about yourself, would you have left that particular part of the story in—the part that made you look great—or would you have removed it like Peter did?

We live in a world right now where many people are filled with pride.  They long for their “15 minutes of fame.”  They want people to tell them how intelligent or talented or great they are.  They want to be noticed, even if they have to compromise their morals and engage in perverse activities to get others to notice them (just think of what goes on in some of those so-called “reality TV shows”).  Politicians and other public figures are often obsessed with their legacies—and their egos.  (They’re more concerned with those things than they are with governing!)  On that note, I read about a national politician the other day who attended a fundraiser recently with NBA stars—among them Michael Jordan and Carmelo Anthony; and during the event he said (and here I quote): “It is very rare that I come to an event where I’m like the fifth or sixth most interesting person.”

Somehow I don’t think St. Peter ever said anything like that about himself.  He was much too humble.

That politician needs to remember these words of Jesus, as we all do (words which St. Peter obviously lived his life by): “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Sunday, September 09, 2012

The Sin of Partiality and How to Deal with It

Dick and Tom Smothers

(Twenty-third Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on September 9, 2012 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read James 2: 1-5.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-third Sunday 2012]


“Mom always liked you best!”

If you watched television in the late 1960s, you probably remember that line from the old Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.  At some point in almost every show, Tom Smothers would say those words to his younger brother, Dick.

“Mom always liked you best!”

And it almost always got a laugh.

But real-life favoritism—as St. James indicates in our second reading today—is anything but funny!

Just ask some of our Olympic athletes from 30 or 40 years ago.  They know this, unfortunately, by their own experience.  Now it’s true, in every Olympics a few athletes will complain about the scores given to them by the judges in their respective events.  But nothing in the recent past compares with the scoring injustices that took place 3 or 4 decades ago—when communism was alive and well in Eastern Europe!

Remember those days?  You’d have an American athlete, for example, perform a great gymnastics’ routine, and the U.S. judge would give him a 9.8 out of 10; the French judge would give a 9.7; the Canadian judge a 9.5; but the judges from the Soviet Union and the other Soviet bloc countries would give scores in the 7s!

Now, to be fair, it sometimes worked the other way around as well: great performances by Soviet athletes were sometimes purposely under-scored by U.S. judges (and judges from other free, western nations).

Which only serves to illustrate how difficult it is for human beings to be impartial!  Unfortunately, the problem of showing partiality was not unique to the mother of Tom and Dick Smothers and to judges at the Olympic Games during the Cold War years.  The temptation to show partiality is a temptation that every human being faces—constantly!

The words of St. James in today’s second reading are a challenge to us in this regard: they challenge us to acknowledge this temptation and deal with it!  Listen again to his words:  “My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Sit here, please,’ while you say to the poor one, ‘Stand there,’ or ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?”

Now speaking of distinctions, I think we need to make an important one at this point between partiality and preference.  Every human being has certain preferences in life with respect to other people—and there’s nothing wrong with that.  We all have certain people in our lives whom we like more than others; people we are closer to; people with whom we have special relationships.  There’s nothing wrong with having such preferences; it’s a normal part of life on planet earth.  The problem comes, however, when others suffer specifically because of these preferences!

That’s partiality!  For example, in the situation that St. James describes in this text, the problem was NOT that the rich man was treated so nicely; the problem was that the poor man was treated badly precisely because the rich man was treated so nicely!

Because we are weak human beings who are tainted by the effects of original sin, it’s very hard for us to be impartial at every moment of every day, in every circumstance of life.  In fact, I would say that only God is perfectly impartial; we, on the other hand, can be very easily influenced (whether we choose to admit it or not) by things like money and power and fame and social status, etc.

St. Peter came to understand God’s perfect impartiality during the controversy in the early Church over whether or not Gentile men could become Christians without first being circumcised.  And so he said in Acts 10: “I begin to see how true it is that God shows no partiality.  Rather, the man of any nation who fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”

St. Paul came to the same conclusion, and so he wrote in Romans 2:11: “With God there is no favoritism.”

For the Lord, impartiality is the norm; for us, sad to say, it’s often the exception, not the rule.

Which means that for us it always needs to be a goal!  It needs to be a goal that we strive to attain each and every day—if we’re really serious about living our Catholic Christian faith.

And one of the keys to reaching the goal of impartiality (or at least coming close to it) is to try to see other people as God sees them.

Why is God totally impartial?

It’s because he sees each of us—all of us—from the same perspective and through the very same “lens.”   It doesn’t matter if we’re rich or poor, powerful or weak, famous or infamous: when the Lord looks at a human being—any human being, beginning at the moment of conception—he sees someone created in his image and likeness; he sees someone that his Son, Jesus Christ suffered and died for; he sees someone that he loves with a perfect and eternal love.

Our tendency is to have a much less positive perspective on people—and especially on those who aggravate us, or cheat us, or mistreat us; or who aren’t very important in the eyes of the world, or who aren’t very smart or well-dressed or clean; or who lack some other personal quality that we place a high value on.

We tend to see these people in a negative light, which, of course, leads us to show partiality to others whom we find more appealing.

Obviously, therefore, overcoming the sin of partiality is not easy!  It takes prayer, and practice—and a lot of effort.  It involves training ourselves to look at every person we meet and think, “This is a person created in the image and likeness of Almighty God; this is a person Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior suffered and died for; this is someone whom the Creator of the universe loves with a perfect and eternal love.”

If Mrs. Smothers had had those thoughts when she looked at her two sons, Tom and Dick, she certainly wouldn’t have liked her son, Dick, best (presuming that she really did favor Dick over Tom).  If Olympic judges 30 or 40 years ago had had those thoughts when they evaluated athletes from other countries, they certainly would have been fairer in their scoring.  And if the Christian mentioned in this passage from St. James’ letter had had those thoughts when he looked at the poor man who came into his church that day, I’m sure he would have treated that poor man with a lot more dignity and respect.

“Dear Lord, help each and every one us to succeed where these others failed.  Help us to see everyone—even our worst enemy—as you see them, and thereby avoid the sin of partiality.”