In this parable, Jesus discusses with his disciples the fluting Pharisee who prides himself for following all the rules.
Luke 18: 10-14:
Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity--greedy, dishonest, adulterous-- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income. But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.' "I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
It's difficult to be Catholic.
Mass, after Mass, Sunday after Sunday, Rosary after Rosary, I am faced with how, if on my own, I really don't stand a chance.
It is impossible for me to look upon the crucifix without feeling remorse.
Jesus sets the bar just too high for self-righteousness.
The Pharisee's arrogance is so inflated that he doesn't recognize that his act of bragging shows not a lick of humility. It is like he believes in his own strength, as if he himself is a god. There seems to be no awareness that it is God who breathes life into his nostrils... in Him we live and move, and have our being.
My mind veers down a path, one that I struggle to find the way. Frank Sinatra comes to mind, "I did it my way..." "If only you did it this way, God."
Why does life have so many gaps, so many unanswered questions?
Why does the flesh desire the opposite of God's will?
I then realize, that is what is meant to 'exercise' our faith.
What is meant by, self-control.
That we direct our will to obey God, and without His grace, we are unable to do it.
We form our souls by the little decisions we make everyday.
And then our deacon nails it during the homily.
"Let's each one of us, evict the Pharisee within us, and revive the tax collector."
In it, I am assured that it isn't just me who struggles.
That the brave act of humility is difficult. If it were easy, everyone would be humble.
I wonder of the Pharisee, that being me. I do the right things, I do what I can.
But there is a shadow, within. There's the me that follows the rules but doesn't want to.
It is right there in front of me. I bow my head.
I feel as the tax collector, as the thief on the cross, begging for Jesus' mercy.
Our former priest would say often, "You become your actions."
So as I examine the behavior of the Pharisee,
I see that I must bend to those quiet obscure nudges of the interior life. I must reckon with my darkness.
For the decorated Pharisee, his sight was too dim to see the shadows. Did he ever once examine his conscience or look in the mirror? Did he ever judge himself instead of everyone else?
And that is what forces us to come to terms with what we believe. Who is really on the throne? Our doubts our failings, can lead to a crisis of faith. In a word, terror. I suddenly realize that I am but a twig snapped off the mighty trunk, on my own.
Yet, I've been here before. It isn't as scary as I realize it for the umpteenth time. In fact, there's sort of a resignation to it. It's okay. This is what is meant by the term, 'grace.'
In Spanish, the word for thank you is 'gracias.' Further, I read somewhere that it means 'graces'. Then, I think beyond, of the word, 'gratitude'. To be thankful is only possible if I've received something that I am unable to come up with by myself. It may be a gift, a gesture, a smile. The point is, it is offered to me from someone. I'm not entitled to take it, although it is mine to receive. Like Holy Communion, we don't take it, we receive Christ in body, blood, soul, and divinity.
My resolve must be each day to take a knee. To stoop down to where my base nature lives, to really see what I am. I don't mean to be pitiful, and my closest people tell me I'm too hard on myself. Yet even this is part of my lower nature. In fact, I don't know how not to be hard on myself! (Do you hear the frustration here?) It is habit. It is how I'm wired. But for as much as I critique myself, I also see the good in me. I don't like to linger too long on how great I am, (pride being a deadly sin and going before a fall and all.) I can live with the balance between self-deprecation and boasting.
When I see that I am weak, it is when God can work his creative effort in me. For when I am weak, He is made strong.
Once again, I take a knee.