Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Pharisee in All of Us

If I were going to be completely honest, I would have to confess this: I have erroneously identified with the humble tax collector and not the Pharisee. It would take a marvelous effort on my part, aided by the Divine hand of God, to ever make it possible for me to burn every Pharisiacal tendency I have once and for all.

If we feel inclined to look smugly at other Catholics of any ilk, we're guilty. I don't get off the hook because I admit my faults and someone else doesn't. The moment we make a judgment about someone else or their motives, we've blown it. Time to get on our knees and plead for mercy. I wonder when I will ever learn.

Sometimes I want to ask God to take away my ability to see, hear and speak.   That way I'd never sin again. But what merit would there be in that if I never had to choose to do the right thing?

There is, I believe, another lesson to be learned from the tax collector and that was also the Psalm response at Mass today.  God desires mercy, not sacrifice.   If we are separated from Him by mortal sin, He cannot reside within our souls. But He will wait unceasingly for us to beg for His loving mercy.

There seem to be two polar opposite versions of mercy and each depends on which extreme political wing you ask. On the far left, mercy is patting a sinner on the head and assuring him that God understands and accepts all behavior unless it involves murder. Confession is for the overly-scrupulous and charity is working in a soup kitchen. On the far right are those pre-occupied with the letter of the law, all the while violating the heart of it. Charity is ripping your brother a new one - in plain sight of everyone. And -  getting your hands dirty to care for the under-privileged is nothing more than surrender to pangs of liberal guilt and not necessary in the plan of salvation. 

Somewhere in the middle of those opposing views is the truth. The key to getting it is humility. We need to practice it in every aspect of our lives.  None of us will ever be worthy. More importantly, we will never be denied. The more we look within, the more we will see our own faults and realize where we need to improve.  Jesus eagerly desires that we should come to Him as often as possible to seek His mercy. Then He expects us to extend it to others. If you leave the judgment to Him and extend only the invitation, He will do the rest. 

I think it was Mother Angelica who said that it is a kind of sin against God to believe that there is a sin greater than His mercy.  We must never condemn Him by rendering judgment on another member of His Body. And we must never condemn Him by assuming another member of His body is beyond His salvation. 

As St Faustina wrote of Jesus in her diary: I do not reward for good results but for the labor and suffering undertaken for My sake. 

And as St Monica said: No one is far from God. 

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