Thanks to the fallenness that is ours due to the Original Fall, our human nature wants to continually put our own selves first, consider our own desires first, make sure we are taken care of first (St. Augustine says sin makes us incurvatus in se: curled in on ourselves). Without grace, we are almost hopelessly selfward, but Jesus calls us to something more.
The Pharisees took this selfwardness a step “up” by masking their self-love in religious trappings: broad phylacteries, long tassels, honoraria, and places of honor, under a guise of uprightness and righteousness veiled with false humility. These men were all about themselves, using religion as a way to advance themselves and pat themselves on the back. Jesus himself called them a brood of vipers.
Jesus expresses this to the crowds not to teach them to judge others and shame them, but for their spiritual benefit. He wants them to learn to separate the office from the person who holds the office; those “on the chair of Moses,” in authority over the people of God, should be obeyed but not imitated. They tell people what God wants, but they miss the point themselves.
How can this be? How can people who study the word of God, spend much time in prayer, and follow God’s law with exactitude fail to grow in holiness? It happens all the time, and Jesus’ final words in today’s Gospel tell us the precise reason: a lack of humility.
Are all these “right” things done for the wrong intention? Are these “good” things done to build a positive image of me, for myself or for others? There can be a lot of “self” in our apparent selflessness; if so, I am the recipient of my own “gift,” and it becomes no gift at all.
The key to getting it right is loving HUMILITY. If what we give we give for the benefit of the other, if we pour ourselves out with the intention of really helping others and glorifying God (and not ourselves), then we give truly. If we pray to worship God and not to make ourselves feel like we deserve what we want, then we pray truly.
We need to examine our conscience with some objectivity to know ourselves in the light of the Holy Spirit. We might be “ok” on the surface, but what about the next level?
Am I more concerned with how I look or how I live? Is my primary concern what I like or what I truly love? Am I eager to be recognized, to receive credit for what I do? Am I able to give of myself without any attention, and sometimes even without any gratitude?
It is natural to desire affirmation and acknowledgment; but God calls us to a SUPERnatural attitude that offers our whole self in service to the Gospel and gives HIM all the glory. And He will be true to His promise that “whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Kathryn is married to Robert, mother of seven, grandmother to two, and a lay Carmelite. She has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE, and also as a writer and voice talent for Holy Family Radio. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and presenter, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Faith Formation, individual parishes, and Catholic ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Learn more at www.kathryntherese.com or on Facebook @summapax.