27th February, 2022

Statue of St. Nicholas Owen

‘Take the plank out of your own eye first,
and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter that is in your brother’s eye’.

 Homily for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, C

‘Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own?’ I think that Jesus’ question in today’s Gospel – although it is not easy to answer – can be a very valuable and useful lesson and inspiration for us. However, I would like to start today’s reflection with a rather funny story that allegedly happened in reality.

One of the bishops of New York – whose name I do not remember – travelled from America to Europe in a huge ocean-going ship. It was many years ago, so the journey took him at least a few weeks in not very comfortable and pleasant conditions. It so happened that the bishop had to share his tiny cabin with another passenger whom he had never met before. When he entered that little room with two suitcases in his hands, he looked around slightly disappointed with the modest conditions he met, then looked at his companion very carefully, said ‘Hello’ to him, and then immediately went to the reception desk to ask the staff for a very unusual favor. He very politely explained to the receptionist that – although he usually never leaves his valuables at the reception desk when he travels, but this time, judging by the appearance of his companion, he had the impression that he was not an honest and trustworthy person. Just for the sake of security, he did not want to keep his valuables in a room that he shared with someone who did not seem like a good and honest person. The receptionist understood the bishop’s unusual request, put all his valuables in the safe – according to his wish – without asking any additional questions, then told him something very interesting: ‘You know what? It seems to me that what I am going to tell you now may surprise you a bit. Your companion with whom you share a cabin on our ship came here to the reception just a few minutes before you. He brought with him all the valuables that belonged to him and asked me to put them in the safe – he wanted to leave them in our safe for the same reason as yours.’ I think you can imagine the bishop’s reaction when he heard these words.

It seems to me that each of us – to a greater or lesser extent – may have the same problem – or more specifically – the same tendency to judge other people easily and hastily. Each of us has experienced how difficult it is to see the plank in our own eye, and how easy it is to see the splinter in our brother’s eye. And that is why today Jesus wants to tell us something extremely important today: Please look carefully at your own life first before judging, criticizing or condemning other people’s weaknesses. And going further, Jesus wants to ask each of us: What exactly is the plank or splinter that is in your eye that prevents you from seeing the world as it should be seen? What is the splinter or plank that prevents me and you from being a good, kind and honest person, a good father, a good mother, a good priest, parishioner or friend? What prevents me and you personally from seeing our own sins, faults and weaknesses? And finally: What prevents us from being a mature and credible witness to the Gospel and disciple of Jesus? It might be our pride, selfishness, stubbornness or perhaps our subjective belief that we are always perfect and holy like no one else.

To give you a different and more positive example of a good and wise bishop who became a saint, I would like to mention Karol Wojtyła, who – as you may know – was the Bishop of Krakow before he became Pope John Paul II. Many priests of this particular diocese in Poland remember that Archbishop Wojtyła used to teach and sometimes admonish his priests in a very interesting and peculiar way. Once, one of the youngest priests in his diocese did something wrong in the parish where he lived and worked, and made his parishioners very angry and upset. It was about something he said at Mass in one of his sermons that had offended quite badly many decent people in the parish. Anyway, everyone was outraged by his attitude, and all the parishioners blamed and complained about this particular priest. The situation was very tense and difficult. When Archbishop Wojtyła found out about the situation, he immediately called the priest to him, and in very sharp and unambiguous words told him what he thought about his bad attitude. He was very angry with him. But this is not the end of this story and of this difficult meeting between the bishop and his priest. After that, Archbishop Wojtyła took him to the chapel in the bishop’s house and said: Actually, I have already told you everything I had to say, and I have nothing more to add. ‘Can I ask you for one favor now?’ After a moment of silence, Wojtyła asked him: ‘Could you please hear my confession?’

I think that this episode in the life of the Pope can be a wonderful inspiration for us, as to how we can implement this challenging Gospel in our daily lives. May these two stories encourage us to live wisely and to judge wisely, first ourselves and our own weaknesses, and only then other people whom we meet every day in various places, situations and in various circumstances of our lives.

I think Saint Nicholas Owen would like to leave us a very similar message on the occasion of our Golden Jubilee, since as you can see, he is holding a plank in his hand, a very solid one! As if he wanted to remind us once again us how important and precious this particular teaching of Jesus in today’s Gospel is. ‘Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter that is in your brother’s eye’. May Saint Nicholas intercede for us in heaven and help us to implement this beautiful and very challenging Word of God into our daily lives.

Happy Anniversary!

Fr Gregory