To truly live the faith is to be strongly rooted in the love of God, over and above obeying His law and following external observances. As we live out our faith, we must be careful that it is not reduced to mere external expressions or appearances. Jesus warned His disciples against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees: “So then, you Pharisees, you clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside yourselves you are full of greed and evil…A curse is on you, teachers of the Law, for you have taken the key of knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you prevented others from entering” (Lk. 11:39; 52).
Where the “law of appearances” matters more than reality, it becomes easy to confuse the priorities. Or where people obey all rules and attend Mass regularly, they may think this suffices for the standard of goodness. While the external observances are good, they are not the sole measure of one’s goodness, especially if the underlying motive is pride or vanity, or to pretend to be what one is not. A saying goes, “Better to be than to impress.” God looks at the inner motive to please Him above self in the service of others, especially those in need. Thus the caution of Jesus to beware of the self-righteous path of the Pharisees.
The path of Jesus in self-sacrifice for others leads to self-purification and inner freedom. When one is preoccupied with impressing or surpassing others, one forgets the real source of any power or talent and to whom all glory belongs. The way to the kingdom goes beyond superficial appearances and points to an inner journey of the heart with Jesus, praying, reflecting, and discerning God’s will in our sinful lives. Let us listen to St. Paul’s plea: “I plead with you as a prisoner of the Lord, to live a life worthy of the calling you have received, with perfect humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another lovingly” (Eph. 4:1). As we go about our works of charity and mercy, may the external activity further deepen our quest for God and communion with His loving will. “May God strengthen you inwardly through the workings of His Spirit... so that you may attain to the fullness of God himself” (Eph. 3:16;18).