23 August 2008

Practicing What We Preach

It can be very easy to observe the deeds of another person and begin to fix our scales for a weigh-in. Perhaps our thought process might tempt us to say, "Well, who is he to say that? He never does what he asks other people to do." Or, perhaps we see someone doing something and we may be tempted to think, "Gee, she's got a lot of nerve raising her voice at him ... after all, she's the one who is always reminding us not to lose our temper with our coworkers." It is almost impossible not to be tempted in this way when we observe the behaviors of those around us. There are, perhaps, a couple of practices which may help us to resist these temptations.

When we feel affection or sympathy for a person, we are much more likely to make excuses for behaviors which might provoke unkind remarks or thoughts when we observe them in another person. We cannot like everyone to the same degree. We are human and we are naturally going to be more attracted to some people than to others. Practice making excuses, in your mind, for everyone: friends, acquaintances, and even our "enemies" -- those people in our lives who disturb our sense of peace. This practice of "making excuses" -- or giving the benefit of the doubt -- does not mean that we have to condone or support things which may be wrong or harmful but only that we seek to curb our tendency to speculate about the motives of our neighbors.

The second practice which may help us to resist the temptation to judge the actions of others is to recall the many instances in our own lives when our actions and our words may not be as commensurate as we might wish they were. This may serve to remind us to be as gentle with our neighbors as we would like others to be when looking upon us.

In today's Gospel, Jesus warns people about the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. Let us take seriously the virtue of practicing what we preach. If we say that we are Christians who seek Lord's will for our lives we cannot help but to be aware that critical thoughts and a sharp tongue do not mix well with the exhortation that we do not judge our neighbor. Let us be attentive to the actions of those around us so that we may be aware of their needs but let us ask for the grace to develop the habit of not considering the motives for our neighbors' actions.

"Be who you are and be that well
that you may bring honor to the Master Craftsman whose handiwork you are."
St. Francis de Sales

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