You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye – Matthew 7:5
Ever experience the feeling of proceeding with some task or project and you stop to ask yourself, “Is this what I should be focusing on?” This passage is always a key reminder for me, and should be for us all, as to what our priority in life needs to be. I thought I would just reflect on this single line from scripture which is just unbelievably powerful.
I have noted an interesting observation. We as a people, not only the Catholic Church but those outside of it, have a desire to solve the problems of other people. You see this all over the news with these mega-wealthy philanthropists giving all sort of supplies to third world countries in order to aid them in some problem. Sometimes this aid is good and necessary such as food and water, other times not so much like anything at all related to contraception. I think even the regular 8-5PM worker feels the same too. We are very focused and excited to assist in solving other people’s problems. There are some who are absolutely uninterested in that of course, but I feel that this is a fair generalization. I think there is a sense that if we do something “good” for our fellow-man then we are doing good for ourselves and the world.
Any dangers you see in above? From a secular, non-religious point of view, there isn’t any. From a Catholic point of view there is a big danger, and this is what the passage from Matthew is trying to highlight to us. Before we are able to do good and remove the evil from the lives of others, we first must ensure that the evil in our life is removed FIRST before we begin aid our brother. I think this is very challenging and scary for many people. Some might say, “You want me to remove the wooden beam in my eye first? Mind your own business!” What is the danger of this? The danger here is that it is foolish to try to solve the spiritual problems of another individual if we ourselves are riddled with even more problems. We see this clearly in scripture:
And he told them a parable, “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? – Luke 6:39
In our attempt to do good for our fellow-man by trying to remove his splinter but leaving behind our wooden beam, we both will fall into the pit. It is foolish to think that a man who is struggling with alcoholism would be able to lead another alcoholic out of his problem. Only one who has conquered this demon is than able to lead others in a like manner. This is the same for any spiritual ailment.
The focus of this passage for me, like most of my posts, ties right back into the priority of the interior life in our spiritual journey. It is through grace, which we obtain from the sacraments and the interior life, that we ourselves will be purified of our sins and become a reservoir for grace. Once we have established this balance in our life, then we can cautiously undertake some active work that is for the good of our fellow-man, both temporal and spiritual. If we fail to do this, we run the risk of trying to save another person, at the expense of our own soul, for it is foolish to think that one can save oneself merely by trying to save another.
Some of you may think that this is selfish or not loving, but it is the opposite. We are more useful to the world and the church if we are saints FIRST. If we can become this type of individual in our lifetime here on earth, this is the most selfless thing we can do for the world and our fellow-man. Take a look at any saint. St. John Vianney was able to bring back thousands of souls ONLY because he had made it a priority in his life to be a saint first. This always goes back to the folly that active, good works will be sufficient for salvation and that grace, the sacraments and the interior life are secondary to that. This is false. Active works that spring from an overflow of grace that we obtain from the sacraments and the interior life are the most fruitful works, as opposed to those that spring from natural fervor and that have no supernatural start or end.
This passage is a very good one for myself in particular. At times my mind is booming with a ton of ideas of how we can finally start addressing the evil in the world or how to bring back the interior life to the church but before I get to far ahead I have to stop and think about this passage. Depending on your temperament, this could be a big challenge for you as it is for me. Part of my choleric nature wishes to create, take down, rebuild new systems and structures and I have desire/energy to do that. However, any and all of these efforts are useless if it means that I am not actively working towards perfection in my own life. If I leave the wooden beam in my eye and try to eagerly solve the problems of the world, both myself and my work will fail. I would have sealed my own destruction and all the works that I would have wrought would be fruitless.
It isn’t selfish to make sure we are saints first, it is the best thing we can do for everyone. Now, you may ask (as I always do internally) at what point is safe or appropriate to do some sort of active work? If we just spend our lives focusing on the interior life, are we ever to do any active work? As we can see in the starting passage, Jesus Christ says that once you removed the wooden beam, PROCEED to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. Spiritually speaking, is there some magical point where you know the wooden beam is removed and you are ready to go? This is a mystery but I will give you some advice that I live by to ensure I stay on track. So as long as you give priority to the Eucharistic and interior life, which includes frequent reception of the sacraments, the practice of mental prayer, spiritual reading, Marian devotion, Divine Office, etc. then you can safely proceed with some initiative. As you proceed with this effort and you notice that the above practices begin to fall off, you have to stop your initiative and regain focus on your interior life. This is something I live by and found very fruitful. One of the requirements I gave myself prior to starting this blog was this exact test. As I found out, I was able to do this work and at the same time maintain my spiritual practices. This enables me to safely proceed with active work and in the meantime, continue to grow in the interior life.
That is all for today. Hope this post helped a bit. Keep the line from Matthew in the front of your thoughts. It will aid you greatly when you start drifting from the path and will give you the direction you need in your spiritual life. Blessed Mother, pray for us!