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A sermon on Matthew 23:1-12

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By Fr. Mike Paraniuk
St. Mary Catholic Church (Hillsboro)
St. Benignus Catholic Church (Greenfield)
Saint Mary Queen of Heaven Catholic Church (Peebles)
Holy Trinity Catholic Church (West Union)

Gandhi was a political leader from India who peacefully protested against segregation in his country. He grew up in the Hindu religion but was very much drawn to the teachings of Jesus. He even referred to Jesus as "Christ, the Messiah."

Gandhi went to visit a Christian church in Calcutta for worship. He walked through the church doors where he was immediately stopped by the ushers. They told him, "This church is only for the white, upper-class Indians. You are not welcome here." 

Being neither upper class nor white, they turned Gandhi away. This rejection so wounded Gandhi that he turned his back on Christianity for the rest of his life.  

He later remarked, "‘If it weren’t for Christians, I’d be a Christian."

Jesus called out the Pharisee for being hypocrites. 

"They do not practice what they preach." (Matthew 23:3.) 

Jesus is challenging His disciples today to "say what you mean, mean what you say and live what you believe." 

I can profess to be born again and proclaim that Jesus is my personal Savior, but if it ends up only being words on my lips, then I'm no better than the Pharisees. Jesus said in Matthew 15:8, "These people honor me with their lips; but their heart is far from me." 

When you give your heart to Jesus everything you "do" should be a witness of love for Him. The best way to witness your love for Jesus is by loving one another. "This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35.)

Jesus calls His disciples to witness to Him by giving good example. A good or bad example can have a profound effect of leading someone to Jesus or driving them away. When Jesus washed the feet of the apostles, He said, "For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you." (John 13:16.) 

One of my biggest fears is that I fail to live what I preach. I personally knew of a man who abandoned Jesus and the Church because of a bad example. Here is his story. 

As a child, my family lived next door to the Bologna family. Rosie and my mom were good friends. Rosie's father was Mr. Marsillio. Like many Italians, he was a practicing Catholic who went to Mass faithfully. Sadly, his faith was shattered by the bad example of a priest. 

Before 1966, it was a mortal sin for a Catholic to eat meat on a Friday. We gave up meat as a form of penance to show respect for Jesus, who died for our sins. One day Mr. Marsillio went to visit a priest who was having supper in the church Rectory. Mr. Marsillio went into the priest's kitchen to discover the priest was eating a steak on a Friday!  

He asked, "Father, why are you eating meat when it is forbidden?" 

The priest glibly answered, "Do as I say, not as I do." 

Mr. Marsillio was so scandalized he left the church never to return for the rest of his life – until when it mattered the most. 

Years later as an old man, Mr. Marsillio was burning some garbage in a barrel (permitted in Pennsylvania at the time). An aerosol can exploded, catching his clothing on fire. He suffered third-degree burns over most of his body. As death drew near, he summoned for a priest to give him the Last Rites. He died in the arms of Jesus. 

When I return to my hometown in Conway, Pa., I visit my grandparents' grave where I say a prayer. I then walk to the other side of the cemetery to visit Mr. Marsillio's grave. I ask forgiveness on behalf of the church for the scandal done to him. I thank God that Mr. Marsillio came back to Jesus.

St. Francis understood the power of good example when he said, "Remember when you leave this earth, you can take nothing that you have received – only what you have given.” 

Give Jesus by living Jesus, living His Love, His Mercy, His Kindness.

The one thing I remember about Mr. Marsillio is that he and his daughter, Rosie, gave me the best Italian spaghetti and meatballs I could ever eat. (I'm drooling just thinking about it). I look forward to tasting his wonderful tomato sauce at the heavenly banquet.  

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