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The Painful Path to Humility: Dealing with our Inner Pharisee
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I thought to myself, - How could a man get to this point? How could he fail to see the Light of the World before him? I sensed the Lord prompting a response in my heart as I looked more deeply into the eyes of the High Priest (whom I thought was a Pharisee) and the eyes of Jesus as depicted in that painting. The response I heard in my heart was - You have become that man.
ORLANDO, FL (Catholic Online) - In the Gospel set aside for Holy Mass today St. Luke offers the parable which Jesus used to communicate this "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." (Luke 18:9-14)
Which person are we in this story?
I have a priest friend who reminds me that not ALL the Pharisees were so blinded by their self righteousness that they failed to recognize that the One whom they so often sought to correct was God Incarnate. And, he is correct. They were a genuine religious reform movement which sought to bring faithful Jews back to living the fullness of the Law of Moses in order to witness to the truth.
However, the ones which the evangelists who penned the four Gospels use to communicate a danger which can afflict all of us were certainly blinded by their own self righteousness. They are given to us as tutors, to point us away from succumbing to the danger which so often tempt believers, the temptation toward self righteousness.
The Publican stands for anyone of us who succumb to that temptation. They prided themselves on their strict adherence to the Law - and believed they were being devout. Yet, they had become incapable of seeing the Source and Fulfillment of the Law as He lived in their midst. We can easily become those kind of men and women, if we fail to stay in a fresh and ongoing intimate communion with the Lord.
This seems to be a particularly dangerous temptation for those who consider themselves devout. It is an easy trap to fall into. A trap we need to always be on the lookout for in our own lives. And, fall is the operative word. The real crux of the problem is we may not know it is even happening before we find ourselves awakened to its corrosive effects through the bad fruit within and around us.
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Decades ago I was an early responder in one of what have now been collectively called the ecclesial movements in the Catholic Church. I became a lay leader in a group which was enthusiastic in its sincere desire to live the fullness of the Catholic Christian Life and bring others into the same experience. Over time, some of us fell into the trap.
By God's grace, I had my eyes opened in a way which now visibly informs my daily life.
I had been convicted by the Holy Spirit of my failings in leadership - and my own pride. I asked to take some time away from lay leadership to reflect on the entire experience. A dear friend, unaware of my own inner journey, gave me a print of a famous painting by an artist named Gerrit van Honthorst (1590-1656) which hangs in the London Museum of Art. It is entitled Christ Before the High Priest .
I was quite young and knew nothing of the artist or the painting. However, it was beautifully framed and fit well in the room in the basement where I always took my morning prayer. During an intense period of prayer and reflection one particular morning, the scene in the painting burst off the page, as good art can do - and entered into my heart.
It depicts Jesus, standing before the High priest with His holy hands bound. The Priest, who at the time I thought was a Pharisee, is looking up with an arrogant demeanor and a pointed finger. Before him on the table appears to be the Torah, opened up as though he were truly reading it, and he was ready to correct.
Yet, standing right in front of him is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Incarnate Word, Jesus the Christ, the One greater than the Temple, the One who is the Lord of the Sabbath, the One who fulfills every promise in that Book.
I thought to myself, "How could a man get to this point? How could he fail to see the Light of the World before him?" I sensed the Lord prompting a response in my heart as I looked more deeply into the eyes of the High Priest (whom I thought was a Pharisee) and the eyes of Jesus as depicted in that painting.
The response I heard in my heart was , "You have become that man".
The experience shook me to the core and literally changed my life. I also pledged to hang that print in every office I ever had for the rest of my life as a steady and sure guide, and loving warning, to watch over my own prayer and relationship with the Lord.
I asked the Lord for the grace to avoid becoming stale and relying on yesterday's bread. I have tried to follow through on that pledge.
We are invited to begin, and begin again, and again - every day - with fresh new grace. Perhaps that is one of the lessons we can learn this morning. We are called to deal with our own inner Pharisee.
When we do, the whole world begins to look different. And we become very different. We see Jesus with the eyes of living faith. Then, we can seek to participate with Him in His redemptive mission by being members of His Body, the Church, as she spreads His light and love.
Deacon Keith A. Fournier is Founder and Chairman of Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance. A married Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, he and his wife Laurine have five grown children and seven grandchildren. He is a human rights lawyer and public policy advocate who served as the first and founding Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice in the nineteen nineties and has long been active at the intersection of faith and culture. He serves as Special Counsel to Liberty Counsel. He is a senior contributing writer to The Stream.
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