Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent: to be Christians with Integrity, and Humility

Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent: to be Christians with Integrity, and Humility

Readings: Is 1:10, 16-20; Ps 49; Mt 23:1-12

“They preach but do not practise” [Mt 23:3] says Our Lord in today’s Gospel, describing the Pharisees. These words send a shiver down the spine as they remind us of the times in which we fall short of Christ’s teaching, which we proclaim to the world. But the sentiment is perhaps especially applicable to Bishops, Priests and Deacons who exercise both authority in the Church, and a teaching ministry. As St. Thomas Aquinas says in his commentary on this Gospel passage, “a prelate is given a position of authority so that he may teach not only by his doctrine, but also by his life”. If our lives do not reflect the values we preach, we lack integrity. If we lack integrity, we lose credibility.  If we lose credibility, people will not listen to us. So it is only when we practice what we preach that we become effective communicators of the Gospel. I once heard Gil Bailie, a thoughtful American scholar, put it this way: “The ultimate success of every effort to Christianise the world will be commensurate with the personal sanctity of those making the effort.” The way to avoid the example of the Pharisees is to have the integrity to put into practice that which we profess.

Our Lord has more to say than simply castigating the Pharisees, however. There is another element, linked to integrity, which he wants to put into the thoughts of his listeners: humility. Humility, according to St. Thomas , is a “restraining moral virtue” [ST II-II, Q. 161, Art. 1]. Humility stops us getting ahead of ourselves, and becoming proud. Christ’s example is one of perfect humility. His life and loving sacrifice places our own shortcomings in sharp relief. “If the greatest of all, Incarnate God, chooses to be the servant of all, who would wish to be the master?” as Malcolm Muggeridge once asked. Service is humility in action, which is incumbent upon “He who is greatest among you”, and, in fact, all of us who wish to follow Christ. In St. Augustine’s words, “We are leaders and servants: we lead when we serve [Sermones, 340a].

In these two sentiments, there is an echo of the Old Testament Prophet, Micah: “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” [Mic 6:8]. During Lent, we renew our efforts to serve God and man in our actions as well as our words; to live as authentic disciples; to be Christians with integrity, and humility.

Samuel Burke OP

Fr Samuel Burke is based in St Albert the Great in Edinburgh, where he serves as a university chaplain.