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Pride Goes before a Fall
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “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 his 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 whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Opening Prayer: Lord, open my mind as I settle down to pray. Help me to enter your holy presence and remain with you throughout my time of prayer so that my soul may be nourished.
- Despising Others?: There were people in the crowd that day to whom Jesus was speaking directly. They believed in their own superiority over others. Despite our best intentions, all of us, at times, are guilty of this sin of pride. Manifestations of pride might include stubbornness, impatience, self-reliance, fear of failure, distrust of others, critical speech or thoughts, or self-pity. In every instance, we place our will above the Lord’s, taking credit for our good deeds instead of offering them to God for his glory, as did the Pharisee who said, “I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.” Thomas á Kempis advised, “Do not think yourself better than others lest, perhaps, you be accounted worse before God who knows what is in man. Do not take pride in your good deeds, for God’s judgments differ from those of men and what pleases them often displeases him.” The Catechism teaches, “Man’s merit…itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit. (CCC 2008).
- Both Needed Justification: Pharisees were leaders with political and religious clout among the Jews. Tax collectors were hated by the Jews because they extorted their own people on behalf of the Romans. Observers at the time might have expected the Pharisees to pray humbly and the tax collector to beg for mercy. The tax collector was the greater sinner in the eyes of the Jews. In fact, however, both needed justification. We all need justification! How blessed we are that “Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men” (CCC 1992). Our justification is an ongoing process that requires obedience to the Commandments and church teachings as we “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Church Father St. Ignatius of Antioch advises, “Let your baptism be your armament, your faith your helmet, your love your spear, your endurance your full suit of armor. Let your works be as your deposited withholdings, so that you may receive the back pay which has accrued to you.”
- The Power of Humility: Humility has been called the mother of all virtues and the gateway to Christ. St. Augustine said, “The way to Christ is first through humility, second through humility, third through humility” (Letters 118:22). But how does one grow in humility? We strive to understand the virtue and to pray for the grace to live it well. According to St. Thomas Acquinas, “Humility means seeing ourselves as God sees us: knowing every good we have comes from him as pure gift” (Summa Q161). This “divine insight” can be acquired by praying fervently for the grace to see as God sees us. As a self-examination and a powerful prayer resource, the Litany of Humility can be recited as a novena, or as part of a regular daily prayer routine. Humble hearts are drawn ever closer to Jesus as we cooperate with his grace, and he promised that the humble will be exalted, “lifted up,” taken one day to Heaven to be united forever with the Holy Trinity.
Conversing with Christ: Lord, these lines of Scripture challenge me to recognize my need for repentance and ongoing conversion. I know that by growing in humility I grow closer to you. Please infuse me with grace as I strive to see myself the way you see me and remember that every good thing comes from you as a freely given gift.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will say the Litany of Humility as an examination of conscience and pray for the grace to overcome my faults.
For Further Reflection: Reflect on two verses of Open the Eyes of My Heart, by Michael W. Smith
Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
Open the eyes of my heart
I want to see you
I want to see you
To see you high and lifted up
Shinin’ in the light of your glory
Pour out your power and love
As we sing holy, holy, holy
Maribeth Harper celebrated paying the last tuition bill for her kids’ college by writing a book for moms who have college-aged young adults, And So We Pray, Guidance for Moms with College-Aged Young Adults. She is a wife of thirty-five years, mother of four, and grandmother of ten and counting.