“It was pride that changed angels into devils. It is humility that makes men as angels.” ~ Saint Augustine
“I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” These are the words of Saint Paul in today’s 2nd Reading (2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18), familiar words to those who immerse themselves in Sacred Scripture. In fact these words have at times even made their way into pop culture, as those of you who have seen the Movie The Book of Eli may recall that these were the poignant sentiments of Denzel Washington in the penultimate final scene.
Paul knows that he is in the waning moments of his life, and I know that whenever I hear these words I am overjoyed for him. A long and tough journey home to the Father’s House is about to be completed and the crown of righteousness (2 Tm 4:7) awaits him, for he did indeed fight the good fight.
But Paul also had full and total confidence in the mercy of Jesus. His was a redemption story for the ages, a Christian Terrorist responsible for among other things the stoning of Saint Stephen https://discover.hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/Merry-Christmas-Now-Brace-Yourself who nonetheless went on to become the disciple to the Gentiles. We hear from him virtually every Sunday at Mass by way of his prolific letters and many times throughout the week during the celebration of Daily Mass.
Paul was a fighter, make no mistake about it. God harnessed his fighting spirit, which in turn was used to evangelize and subsequently glorify the Heavenly Kingdom. The crown of righteousness that Paul speaks of is the place prepared for him by Jesus in the Heavenly dwelling place (John 14:1-3). Heaven, now and forever. Yes, the Kingdom of God is at hand and to come. This is the great paradox of the Christian faith. One of them anyway. Cardinal George once said “The only things we take to heaven are those things that we give away on Earth.” In the case of Saint Paul, he imitated his Savior, pouring himself out, giving himself away for the Gospel.
In today’s Gospel (Luke 18:9-14), Jesus tells the story of two men who went to the temple to pray, each with a completely different disposition. One man, a Pharisee, essentially prayed and gave worship to himself. He said “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.”
The second man, who happened to be the tax collector that the Pharisee berated during his self-congratulatory soliloquy, 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.” This gesture is of course replicated during the celebration of every Mass during the Penitential Act. “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” It’s an admission of our imperfection, our concupiscence, and we go on to ask for prayers from our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ because we know that without the grace from God they we receive by way of prayer, the Sacraments too, we will forever remain mired in our sinfulness.
As Father Paul Scalia points out regarding the Pharisee in today’s parable, “Pride breeds a mindset of competition. The Pharisee, and every proud person, draws his self-worth not from a relationship with God but from comparison to others. Indeed, he regards others only as competitors.” Father Scalia goes on to say that “Pride is the original sin in the sense of setting the pattern for all others. There is no sin, from the pettiest to the most wicked, that doesn’t trace its origins to the raising of our intellect and will over God’s. Or, better, pride acts as a kind of spiritual disease, passed down from our first parents, that infects the entirety of the soul, corrupting even our acts of virtue.”
The path to Heaven is lined with the virtues of holiness, purity, obedience, and humility. As I reflect upon the prayer of the tax collector in today’s Gospel I’m reminded of the words of Saint John Chrysostom who points out that “The Church is a hospital ~ and not a courtroom ~ for souls. She does not condemn on behalf of sins, but grants remission of sins.” The tax collector clearly knew this and he wisely chose to wash himself in the ocean of Jesus’ mercy https://discover.hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/Divine-Mercy-Sunday-But-First-a-Riddle.
I found it interesting but certainly not coincidental that we remembered another Saint Paul earlier this week, Saint Paul of the Cross https://discover.hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/For-Live-of-the-Cross. Saint Paul of the Cross was a self-professed “Hunter of Souls.” He believed that Christ’s passion and death was the greatest sign of God’s love, and he never missed an opportunity to tell others about it. “Immerse yourself in the sea of God's love,” he would tell people, and he would urge them to go to Confession, where he knew God would transform them in the same way that he had been transformed. He knew that the prayer of the tax collector was powerful.
Thank be to God for the fighters and soul hunters in our midst, past, present and future. Let us pray that God sends us more of them. I invite you today to step up to the challenge of being one yourself. Scripture reminds us that the path to salvation is a narrow one https://discover.hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/The-Narrow-Gate-and-the-Patron-Saint-of-Bracket-Busters. We must be vigilant. Saint Louie de Montfort believed that the path to sanctification lies in emptying ourselves of that which defiles and corrupts. Pride and hypocrisy fall into that category https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/Hypocrisys-Anecdote. They lead to spiritual blindness https://discover.hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/Daily-Mass-Reflections-828 and hinder our ability to cultivate a pure and humble heart
We must stand tall in the face of Satan’s lies and the culture today, a culture that the Evil One has clearly hi-jacked. Souls are at stake and it Is our job to go to battle for them, both for our own and those we encounter. Satan can and will work with anything, even taking the life of a person who is devoted to God and twisting it. The Pharisees in today’s Gospel is an unfortunate example of this. This was a man who had good intentions but ultimately fell victim to judgmentalism, vanity, narcissism and the idea that he was own Savior. Better to take the advice of Saint Paul of the Cross when he says “Entrust yourself entirely to God. He is a Father and a most loving Father at that, who would rather let heaven and earth collapse than abandon anyone who trusted in him.” The tax collector in today’s parable knew that Jesus in his mercy would never abandon him.
The devil is defeated and he knows it. Yet he continues to fight. Given the insidious depths of his depravity, you can be certain that he will continue to fight. Will you?