Practise is worth more than mere preaching

The challenge comes when what we say does not match what we do. Sometimes, we say things in order to look good in front of others but in reality, we do not even care whether we act out what we say.

Nov 03, 2023

Reflecting on our Sunday Readings with Fr Philip Tay, OCD

31st Sunday in
Ordinary Time (A)
Readings: Malachi 1:14 — 2:2, 8-10
1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13
Gospel: Matthew 22:1-12

I am sure that all of us are familiar with the expression “I have eaten salt more than you have taken rice.” This is something that we always hear from our elders. As we go through life, we learn and experience many things and we use this knowledge to live better lives. However, these experiences will not be helpful if we do not apply them to ourselves. Some of us may have encountered people whose “mission” in this life, is to “help” others. Granted, accumulated wisdom can help others in living better lives but when it is done in a condescending way, this will only put people off.

Pope Francis remarked that, “The need to advise, admonish and teach should not make us feel superior to others, but first of all obliges us to return to ourselves to see if we are consistent with what we ask of others. Do not forget the words of Jesus from Luke chapter six, he said: ‘Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?’”

The challenge comes when what we say does not match what we do. Sometimes, we say things in order to look good in front of others but in reality, we do not even care whether we act out what we say. The question we need to ask ourselves is this — do I do things because it matches what I say or do I do it out of consideration for others? In other words, I do things because I want people to praise me. If that is the case, then we would have lost our reward.

This is the situation that we find ourselves in, especially in the current era of social media. For those who still use Facebook, we will find many people sharing about the good deeds that they have done. Of course, we cannot deny that there are a lot of good people out there who are doing a lot of good deeds without getting preachy and self-righteous.

However, there are also people who have been exposed for not practising what they preach. A good example is a YouTuber called Dhar Mann who puts out videos that contain moral values. All his videos talk about treating people better and making this world a better place. Unfortunately, he was exposed as not being true to what he says. People who worked for him exposed him for not treating people well and for being nasty to his workers. For a person who has touched the world with his videos, his real-life action certainly did not match his virtual message.

This is something that is becoming increasingly common. People who create content often have two different personas. It is a sad reality when a person is not who he seems to be. I am not saying that all content creators are like that but I think many of them do not live out what they preach. Most of us ordinary people are not content creators nor are we “influencers” but in our everyday living, we have the choice to either make a person’s life better or worse. In the words of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, we don’t have to do great things, we only have to do small things with great love. When we do things with love, we will not be preachy. Instead, we will just do things quietly without attracting attention. Imagine a world where everyone acts out of love for one another instead of looking for praise and glory for themselves.

Unfortunately, we are not living in an ideal world and there are many people who either consciously or subconsciously seek praise for their actions. This is why Jesus warns us in today’s Gospel not to be like the Pharisees who do things to be noticed. Sometimes, when we are not noticed, we try to get people to notice what we do or to try and solicit praise from others. When we do this, we become no better than the Pharisees. Ultimately, we are all called to lead by example.

We either practise what we preach or we don’t preach it at all because people watch what we do more than they listen to what we say. We are all called to inspire and encourage others to be their best and we can only do that if we ourselves do the best that we can in our lives. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “an ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”

Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to lead us to act out what we preach, not just preach for the sake of preaching.

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