During Lent, God presents us with a fundamental choice. Will we choose to continue to live in our human illusions or will we allow God to reveal His reality to us? Will we cling to false pride or embrace true humility? All too often we think we are more humble than we really are, especially if we have been striving to grow spiritually for a long time.
The Pharisees were also earnest about their religious practices. As Christians, it is easy to denigrate the Jewish Pharisees, thinking we have risen above such behaviour because we live in New Testament times, no longer under the burden of the Old Testament Laws. However, before we judge these men too harshly, we should remember they were simply striving to be good, observant Jews. In their zeal, they inadvertently ended up seeking respect for themselves rather than inspiring love for God.
When Religious Duty Becomes a Burden Rather Than a Joy
The Gospel reading for February 23 is Matthew 23: 1-12. Jesus chides the scribes and Pharisees for their religious practices because their religious duty became a burden rather than a joy. It is also a mistake which most Catholics fall into when they first become serious about spirituality.
I know I did. Just like the Pharisees who slipped into the very human tendency to live an illusion, an illusion which stated they could be holy through their own efforts, Catholics can also fall into the mistake of living under the burden of expectations and rules, attempting to live up to them through their own strength of will. Unfortunately, it is difficult to catch ourselves falling into this ego trap because we are trying so hard to be humble, we are blinded to the fact that all our sacrificial actions and acts of service are in fact rooted in pride and illusion, not in reality.
Through My Own Efforts.
I had to struggle for years, reaching the end of my own strength before I realized I was trying to save myself through my own efforts. Even though I thought of myself as a humble, faithful servant of God, in reality, I was living in the centre of my own little kingdom. How many of us really live every day plugged into God’s Mystical Body, gazing at Christ, loving the One who is at the centre of the universe?
Even fewer Catholics can say with St. Paul, ” I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” ( Galatians 2:20). Yet this is the normal Christian life, a joyful, Christian reality which is available to all, not just the saintly few.
When we see ourselves, in reality, the way God sees us, we finally understand how desperately we need the power of Christ’s death and Ressurection to save us from ourselves.
Christ was a servant for our sake. He humbled himself, even to death on a cross. Humility is self-knowledge, seeing ourselves in reality as God sees us. The humble do not trust in themselves, but trust in God and in the power of His love and saving grace. True humility is living in reality, in joy and simplicity.
Jesus closes the passage in Matthew with strong words which reiterate the crux of His message to His disciples, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”