WE hear these words from the Gospel several times a year, and yet, do we really let them sink in?
I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven. (Today’s Gospel; readings here)
The outstanding feature of the Pharisees in Christ’s time was that they spoke the truth, but did not live it. “Therefore,” Jesus said…
…do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. (Matthew 23:3)
The warning of Jesus to you and me today is a stark one: if we are like the Pharisees, we will “not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.” The question we must carefully ask ourselves is “Am I obedient to the Lord?” Jesus gives a bit of an examination of conscience in His following remarks where He points particularly to our love of neighbour. Do you hold grudges, bitterness, and unforgiveness toward others, or do you let your anger win the day? If so, Jesus warns, you “will be liable to judgment” and to “fiery Gehenna.”
Moreover, what do we do in private when no one is watching? Are we still faithful to the Lord “who sees in secret”? Do we put on a kind and warm face when in public, but at home, are cold and selfish with our family? Do we speak pleasantly to one group of people, but unleash foul language and humour with another? Do we put on appearances or make arguments for the “Catholic crowd,” and yet, do not live what we preach?
If so, then we must soberly admit that our righteousness really does not surpass that of the Pharisees. In fact, it may not even surpass the pagan philanthropist next door.
What the Father asks of us today is actually no different than what He asked of Jesus: “the obedience of faith.” 
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered… (Hebrews 5:8)
God sends trials, not to harm us, but to purify and shake us from the clasp of sin and its destructive powers.
My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of adversity. Cling to him, do not leave him, that you may prosper in your last days. Accept whatever happens to you; in periods of humiliation be patient. For in fire gold is tested, and the chosen, in the crucible of humiliation. Trust in God, and he will help you; make your ways straight and hope in him. (Sirach 2:1-6)
If we have not been sincere of heart and steadfast; if we have been impetuous and rebellious; if we have not clung to Him or accepted our trials; if we have not been patient or humble; if we have not straightened our old ways and habits…. thanks be to God, we still can. Even if grey hair crowns your head, with God, we can always begin anew.
Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet… the greater the misery of a soul, the greater its right to My mercy… I cannot punish even the greatest sinner if he makes an appeal to My compassion, but on the contrary, I justify him in My unfathomable and inscrutable mercy… The flames of mercy are burning Me—clamoring to be spent; I want to keep pouring them out upon souls; souls just don’t want to believe in My goodness… A soul’s greatest wretchedness does not enkindle Me with wrath; but rather, My Heart is moved towards it with great mercy. —Jesus to St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, Diary, n. 699, 1182, 1146, 177, 1739
That is why Jesus gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation—that He may restore us even when we have gone terribly astray.
Were a soul like a decaying corpse so that from a human standpoint, there would be no [hope of] restoration and everything would already be lost, it is not so with God. The miracle of Divine Mercy restores that soul in full. Oh, how miserable are those who do not take advantage of the miracle of God’s mercy! —Jesus to St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, Diary, n. 1448
But then, we must also leave the confessional with a sincere heart and steadfast resolution: that our righteousness will, at last, surpass the Pharisees.
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