Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, La.
Sunday, October 23, 2016
“O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity.” Luke 18:11
Those words are spoken by a Pharisee in the temple area as a form of prayer. It is arrogant, conceited, disdainful, and self-congratulatory. And for this reason, in the words of our Lord, the Pharisee returned home unjustified (Luke 18:14). We risk condemnation when we strive to justify ourselves, and this is exactly what the Pharisee has done.
The tax collector, on the other hand, knew his sins. He stood far off and “beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner’” (Luke 18:13). The contrast between the two individuals is startling and drives home the lesson of the Gospel which is “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). Hubris and humility stand at opposite ends, and the example of the tax collector in the parable is so compelling that one wonders why we do not follow its example more.
When is the last time you went to confession? When is the last time you admitted you were wrong about anything? We live in a world of conceit. And what is conceit? It is an excessively favorable opinion of one’s own importance.
We are preoccupied at the moment with concerns over the election. There is much to disappoint us, if we have placed our confidence “in mere mortals” in whom there is no salvation (Psalm 146:3). There is much that risks being lost if we lose sight of reality. And if we lose sight of reality, we will lose sight of God.
Reality is based on truth, and truth is found in reality. At the heart of this admission and, I might add our survival, is being grounded in God. This is the lesson of the tax collector in the parable as well. He knows that his actions deserve condemnation for corruption and theft. He has no doubt engaged in these himself. So he humbles himself, steps back and grasps for reality, which reveals to him the truth. God is his master and he must admit his sinfulness and dependence completely on the mercy of God.
A secular world cannot make this humble admission. Therefore, it cannot fulfill its promises. It is simply comes across as self-absorbed, impotent, and sterile. Recently I commented on how some termed Catholicism a “middle ages dictatorship.” [My article appeared in Friday’s Catholic Calendar and is posted on our diocesan website.] I maintain that progressive secularism makes a pretense of tolerance which masks a pursuit of power and ambition to neutralize any opposition and marginalize any voice contrary to its own. The difficulty for the Pharisee in the Gospel is that he has justified himself. One might say that he is a classic relativist. He defines all of his actions as just. If he does it, it must be right because he is the arbiter of correctness. The Pharisee can then condemn the tax collector because he does not see his own faults. The antidote for this self-destruction is humility before God.
Speaking of the Gospel and its implications for the society of our great country, I recently read a reflection on democracy by one of our founding fathers, John Adams. He understood very well that for an institution to survive its adherents must look honestly and truthfully at their own faults. He wrote:
There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.
It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less
selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or
monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history.
Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple
government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of
fraud, violence, and cruelty.
And to that our Lord would add, “[E]veryone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
Bishop Glen John Provost