I would like to offer a different way of reading this gospel… What if it were to go like this: Dear God, I give thanks to you because I’m not like the liberals. I go to adoration, I pray the rosary everyday, I go to the Latin Mass and I sing Gregorian Chant … Or what if it went like this: Dear God, I give thanks to you because I’m not like the conservatives. I help the poor, I care for the environment, I’m involved in my community, I go to daily Mass … Isn’t true that on either end of the spectrum of Catholicism we can all be a bit pharisaical? Isn’t it true that we tend to think that my way of Catholicism is better? … that I’m doing it right and you’re doing it wrong … Commenting on this gospel St. John Henry Newman notes that in this sort of attitude, a person is content on knowing nothing of the moral law, content to know nothing of sanctity – of what it means to be holy. In this way, a person, rather than pleasing the Lord, succeeds in pleasing oneself …
What is missing?? A real sense of humility… Defined as a modest or low view of one’s own self-importance. It is not to be confused with humiliate – which means to make someone feel ashamed of who they are, of their dignity and worth in a public way. It is also not be confused with low self-esteem, as if to think less of oneself… Simply put – humility is to think of oneself less. It comes from the Latin: humus… which means grounded. St. Augustine notes that humility is the foundation of all other virtues … why? Because it grounds us … Humility grounds us in what which is real … that which true … that which is right and good. If we think about this – the reality of faith is that God only expects one thing from us … to be faithful… faithful in all circumstances … faithful in times of great joy and happiness… faithful in times of difficulty… faithful in times of confusion – faithful in all circumstances … to His teachings, to His liturgy, to His way and not ours… how difficult it is to be faithful without humility … it is the foundation of faith… and as such… the foundation of repentance. As Newman notes … if such a person could see the image of Almighty God right before their eyes only then will one ask – what is it that You desire, Lord? Only then would one seek pardon for wrongdoing and ask for the grace to do better … This is why the tax collector wins Jesus’ favor in the gospel reading – humility.
The common denominator here between these 2 figures is the Temple. The Temple was the place of encounter with God …. The Pharisee was inviting himself to be present to God rather than asking God to be present to him … He didn’t seek the Lord … whereas the tax collector laid himself out, he opened his heart and begged for mercy. He was humble and as a result had a real encounter with God … That’s our church, this is our place, the Eucharist, the Mass, adoration, confession … this is our means of encounter with God and we need to be open to receive… we need to have hearts that are contrite and humble because it softens us … we come here not to be affirmed but to receive… we come here not to assert ourselves but to be changed and transformed by the grace of God … and we can’t do that without humility. And it is in this place of encounter that grounds us in that reality – the reality of God’s presence among us that sets the tone for day, our week, our lives … As Pope St. John Paul II once noted:
“Do not be afraid to be holy! Have the courage and humility to present yourselves to the world determined to be holy, since full, true freedom is born from holiness.”