The Gospel reading for Mass this past Tuesday was the following passage from the Gospel of Matthew:

Jesus said:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.

You pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin,
and have neglected the weightier things of the law:
judgment and mercy and fidelity.
But these you should have done, without neglecting the others.
Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You cleanse the outside of cup and dish,
but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence.
Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup,
so that the outside also may be clean.”   (Matthew 23:23-36)

As I was praying over the passage I had a funny memory from my first pastorate in the early days of my priesthood.  I was pastor of a small church in rural West Virginia.  My first week there I took on the task of getting to know all the elderly parishioners who were no longer able to attend Mass.  One such parishioner was a dear old lady named Julia.  

Julia lived in one of a row of 4 or 5 houses that comprised the Italian "section" of town.  I was fascinated by the old brick ovens each home had in the back yard for baking Italian bread.  Julia was quite frail by the time I got to know her.  Her glasses were as thick as the proverbial bottom of an old glass coke bottle.  Her dentures were just a sneeze away from escaping her mouth.  She always kept one finger on them to keep them in place.  She was a hoot--a true character--and I LOVE hoots!  Julia and I became good friends during the 5 years I was her pastor.  She has since gone to her reward, and I pray for her still.

The reading about the blind Pharisee reminded me of my very first visit with her.  In the course of the visit, Julia offered me a cup of coffee.  Not wanting to reject her hospitality, I accepted.  It was good, strong Italian roast.  My favorite!  But I got quite a surprise when I got to the bottom of the cup.  There was a critter of some sort, long dead and petrified into a substance that might have been a very old cup of dried coffee.  Of course I didn't say a thing.  Other than a a slight yuk factor, there was no harm done.  Before I left I washed out her cup and mine, gave her a kiss, and never spoke of it until now.  

The funny thing was, the next day one of my parishioners warned me not to drink from Julia's cups because she was nearly blind and couldn't tell a clean cup from a dirty one.  

So now, when I read that passage I always pray for clean dishes and a clean heart.

Dear Julia.  May she rest in peace.