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
There is a constant stream of condemnation these days coming from religious leaders because of society’s “opposition to our values.” More and more religious blogs, websites and pastoral letters decry “moral relativism” and “secularism.”
While most of what they say is true, I believe simple condemnation is a cheap way for designated spiritual leaders to feel good. If what they say is true, then we need to look at how we have failed our culture and quit blaming those we are called to lead.
Personally, I like to shift the focus from them to me. How can I improve my ability to influence the culture? How can I be more effective as a spiritual leader? Why is what I am doing, and the way I am doing it, not working? Why am I not able to sell our values and get people to buy into our message?
I have always been moved by the words of St. Gregory the Great who wrote in the classic On Pastoral Care, “Although those who have no knowledge of the power of drugs shrink from presenting themselves as physicians of the flesh, there are those who are utterly ignorant of spiritual precepts but not afraid of professing themselves to be physicians of the heart.”
If we claim to be serious spiritual leaders worth listening to, then we need to be able to deliver.
When I teach future priests, the next generation of spiritual leaders in the forefront of the church, I tell them over and over again that it is not good enough for them to be personally pious, they must be able to be effective as spiritual leaders if they are to influence today’s culture.
In other words, it is not enough for their parishioners to see to golden light coming out of their rectories, they must be able to drive through their parishes and see golden light coming out of the homes of their parishioners.
Instead of tedious and grating condemnations and criticisms of our culture, I think it would be more helpful for us to step back periodically and ask ourselves where we have failed.
What has allowed things to have gotten this bad? Why were we not able to influence the culture more effectively? If we have the “truth,” why do people not listen to us?
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche may have some advice for us. He wrote, “Let us stop thinking so much about punishing, criticizing and improving others. Instead, let us rather raise ourselves that much higher. Let us color our own example with ever more vividness.”
Maybe the bigger problem here is the failure of religious leadership and the absence of credible witnesses in our culture. Maybe we need to remove the beams in our own eyes, so that we can see better to remove the splinters in the eyes of those around us.
Father J. Ronald Knott