The Pharisee and the Publican

This last Sunday as I led Mass here at St. Aidan's I had much on my mind. Yes, I confess that I became distracted more than once. We in the parish are thinking often about the American Ordinariate being announced soon and it feels like we can almost taste it. I had Bishop Moyer and his "new" congregation come to mind more than once. I was thinking about my own people and their needs. I thought a few times about the fact that I have many things "on my plate" right now and it all came together and made me even more nervous than I usually am (which usually leads to chanting off-key, and it did once again). I am one of those who always feels a bit of terror before I step up to the altar, but this week it was more so.

Then right after the Gloria In Excelsis I prayed the Collect of the Day. "Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace, that we, running the way of thy commandments, may obtain thy gracious promises." Grace again; the only way that we are able to obtain the promises of God is by His grace. The promises are "gracious" and we need grace to attain them. As Scripture tells us more than once, it comes in different measures according to both our need and the mercy of God. There are parishes that are struggling in the final hours to decide if they want to join the Ordinariate. There are Christians who realize that their parish is joining but that they do not want to and they are now looking for another Church. There are clergymen who are trying to teach their people the fullness of the Catholic faith and hoping that none will resist the truth. And there is the CDF's small staff doing its utmost to fulfill its calling (while we in America murmur that it is too slow). Each of these people needs "a measure" of grace to be able to obey God's commandments.

The Gospel reading for the day was aptly suited to the collect. The "pharisee and the publican" who went up to the temple to pray (Luke 18:9ff) tell us about the difference between grace and self-confidence. The pharisee was prideful, but that was not the primary focus of Jesus' parable. Rather it was the fact that the pharisee "despised others". He saw himself as righteous because he was comparing himself to the publican, and yet the publican was the one who was justified by his actions and not the pharisee.

If we are trying to make ourselves look good, then we can always find someone else who is doing worse than we are. Looking with contempt at another because he is not doing as well as you are, is the exact problem that the pharisee had. He trusted in himself more than in God, and it showed in his attitude to others. Are we much better today? It is self-serving to assume that you are holy and humble like the publican because you know that you need God's mercy. To a certain degree, assuming that you are like the publican (humble and justified) is precisely the thing that Jesus is warning us against: "for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Luke 18:14).

Those of us who are petitioning for entrance into the Ordinariate can fall victim to the temptation to look down on those who have chosen not to. "I thank thee God that I am not like this Pope-rejecting, communion-hating, so-called-Anglo-Catholic". Those (whether already Catholic or soon to be so) who are staunch in their traditionalist views can give in to the temptation to look down on those who are more modernist or liberal. "I thank thee God that I am not like this compromising, contemporary-hymnody, westward-facing, so-called-Catholic". Those we look down on need grace, but so do we. Unfortunate for us, it is often those that we look down on that very well may need less a "measure of grace" than we do. This is why it is always bad to look down on someone else; only God knows their hearts. I need grace for what I am going through; you need grace for what you are going through; the guy that you are upset at needs grace for what he is going through.

Prayer should never be a last resort. We often treat prayer as though it is a hopeless endeavor. ("All we can do now is pray." "Oh, no; has it come to that?!") Yet, prayer is the most powerful work man can do. Pray for grace. Pray for each of us to have the "measure of grace" that we so desperately need right now. It is possible to look down on someone that you are praying for, but it takes a callous heart to do so. Pray for the parishes that are struggling. Pray for those whom you think have no worries (for we all do). Pray for those who write on the internet that they would realize Jesus reads what they are writing. Pray for the Anglican priests who are going to be going through preparation and formation for ordination. Pray for those who are confused and do not know what they should do right now (they are still out there). Pray for the future Ordinary of each Ordinariate that has not yet been established (you do not know his name, but God does). Pray for our Holy Father that he would stand firm and lead us to Jesus. We each need grace, and to assume we do not is to stand with the pharisee; unjustified and abased.

3 thoughts on “The Pharisee and the Publican”

  1. We continue to keep you and your parish in our morning Rosary and prayers. We also petition Our Lady of the Atonement to keep you close to Her and Her Son each morning. And we ask St. Michael to defend us ALL in battle. Teach me His Grace. GB john

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