Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
My parents recently completed some interior renovation work on their home. The house I grew up in looks very different as a result. As the renovation began, walls came down, floors were torn up, ceilings replaced. For a few months, my folks had no kitchen and could barely use the first floor. Along the way, they discovered places where insulation should have been, but had been missing for decades (explaining why one particular room always felt colder than others), a car exhaust pipe that had been rigged by a plumber to serve as a water pipe in a wall, and many other interesting things. They “suffered” through the construction (only in America could we call voluntary home renovation suffering), and the house looks great today.
In the Gospel Jesus tells us to remove the beam from our own eye if we want to help our brothers and sisters take the splinters out of their eyes. The truth is that the removal of a beam is no easy process, and it certainly is not without labor, pain, and adjustment. When we remove the beam from our own eyes, what will we find? We may find that insulation is missing – that something in our spiritual lives is lacking, that our moral life leaves something to be desired, that we need to do something to fix our relationship with the Lord. We may find that something is in a place it doesn’t belong, like an exhaust-pipe-turned-plumbing-apparatus. These are our mislabeled priorities, our assumptions, the false idols that take the place of God in our lives, whether it be work, power, money, addiction, or any other in a long list of vices and sins. Jesus challenges us to remove it. We will have to suffer when we do this because change is hard. Conversion of life and heart is a challenge because we must let go of what makes us most comfortable, what we have always done. Worst of all, we have to acknowledge that what we were doing or the way we were living was inadequate.
As I write this, I see the appointment on my calendar for my meeting with my spiritual director later this week. It is a chance for me to remove the beam from my eye, by seeking his counsel and guidance in my spiritual life, and by celebrating the sacrament of confession. As we prepare to begin the holy season of Lent, I encourage you to remove the beam from your eye, too. Go to confession! What a gift to have God’s mercy so abundantly available!
If the point of home renovation was to make a mess and deprive a family of part of their house, no one would do it. Likewise, if the point of the beam removal commanded by Jesus was just to cause us guilt and spiritual pain, we would never remove those beams. But of course that’s not the point. Rather, Jesus tells us that once we have removed the beam, we will be able to see clearly, and seeing clearly, we will be able to help our neighbor remove the splinter from their eye. We are called to help others reform their lives, too. The call to discipleship never stops at the individual, but sends the disciple out on a mission to others, to build up a community of believers, a community of saints.
While we seek to be a community of saints, we are painfully aware that we are also a community of sinners. Even sinners, though, can recognize sin when they see it. As we look at the scandals plaguing our Church, may today’s Gospel message resound for us. Yes, we must remove the beams from our own eyes. Having done so, Jesus asks us to help remove the splinters from the eyes of others, or, in this case, from the Church. That removal will be painful – we are going to hear and see things that shock and hurt. We have learned that this scandal includes the abuse of minors, abuse by priests or bishops in a position of authority, consensual relationships of a homo or heterosexual nature, and more. The transparency necessary to eradicate the scourge of sexual abuse and misconduct will be agonizing, but cannot be delayed. In addition to transparency and accountability, a whole-hearted recommitment to the promise of celibacy and the virtue of chastity is necessary for every priest and bishop. Just as infidelity in marriage wounds deeply, so infidelity to celibacy wounds the whole community of the Church, never more than in those situations when the word “infidelity” fails utterly to describe the horror of abuse or assault. This is a moment when all of us, priests and laity alike, can say firmly “Enough. We are taking the beam out of our eye, we see the splinter that is destroying our Church, and we will not rest until it is taken out.”