Do you ever get frustrated with politicians? Does it seem as if they are completely remote and have no understanding of the regular person? It does feel like that very often when you read the latest articles in the news. One almost gets the sense like they are completely out of touch with the modern citizen, and are developing policies and laws to serve their own personal interests, rather than the people’s interests.
I had a discussion with someone on this item and how this same sort of toxic behavior can occur within the Church as well. We can just look directly at scripture and observe how the pharisees behaved. There almost seems to be a tendency that when a person or a group of people of the same mindset band up, there is a constant danger that an elitist mindset will develop. Overtime, this elitist mindset can be very hard to undo as it becomes pretty hard wired into the person. I would assume that this phenomena rarely is the desire of an individual at the onset, rather, it is a mindset that can develop overtime when an individual or a group spend too much time in the clouds and not enough time in the trenches. If one was to surround themselves with pharisees, and only pharisees, I think it would be fair to assume that one would develop some of their more, unsavory qualities. Now, a pharisee may have not desired to end up that way in the beginning, but overtime they became that way by living a life detached from the regular Jew of the time.
Let us look at our perfect example, Jesus Christ. Jesus was always intermingling with sinners, publicans, prostitutes, lepers, and so forth. This passage sums up the differences between Jesus Christ and the pharisee:
While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” – Matthew 9:10-13
Based on the comment made by the pharisees, you can see the point I was developing above. The pharisees distant themselves from sinners, and yet Jesus Christ embraced them. Whereby Jesus being God, who in many regards should be entitled to being remote and distant from the people, is with them in the trenches. The pharisees are stunned by this. Why? Again, they have become so detached from their neighbor that their obsession at this point was to follow the law for the sake of the law at the expense of leading and loving the least in society.
I think our Lord is trying to highlight a danger for us modern Catholics. If we, in our personal desire and ambition, get caught up too much ideals, the laws, and traditions of the Church, we like the pharisees can quickly lose track of our goal. Our goal is to bring Jesus Christ to the least in society, and not just reserve it for those who share our idealistic views of how the Church ought to be. This condition, if untreated, can also create this elitist mindset within us as well. We see this in many aspects of the Church today, especially in some particular circles.
As always, let’s take a step back. What I am not trying to say is that the laws and traditions of the Church are useless. Of course not, for these come from God and are good. Rather, if our end goal is not the love of God AND our neighbor, we are failing to understand the most basic teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:36-40
It would be fair to say that most people are easily drawn to the love of God vs their neighbor. Why? God does not often irritate or annoy us as the rest of the world so we can easily say that we love God (though that love is likely very imperfect). Whis was an error on the part of the pharisees. Love of God alone does not necessarily mean love of neighbor, and if we cannot love our neighbor, we surely cannot love God:
If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. – 1 John 4:20
This is the danger of what an elitist mindset can do. For the politician, perhaps it is a love and ideological view, for the Catholic, it is perhaps the love of the law, the traditions of the Church, etc.. St. John here stipulates that if you cannot love the neighbor who you can see, how can you love God who you cannot see? If you criticize your brother or sister for not following the law perfectly, are you not just like the pharisee? And if you are not in the trenches with your fellow brother and sister as Christ was with all sinners, how can you say you love your neighbor? Every individual, by the grace of God, can live this in vary degrees in their lives. From the cloister nun all the way to St. Teresa of Calcutta. Some will do this more heroically, others perhaps heroically but not in a visible way.
Be weary of being caught up too much in the clouds. I must admit, I enjoy being there3 myself but the interaction with the regular person, the sinner, is absolutely essential in our journey towards salvation. One needs to be on guard constantly for this elitist mindset, lest you fall into the same sin as the pharisees. By God’s grace, we can surely do this, and Jesus Christ is the model by which we ought to live and regulate our lives. It can be challenging but this is the requirement of every Christian. Let us do all things out of charity. Love God and your neighbor.
Blessed Mother, pray for us sinners!