Religious pride

GOD'S WORD TODAY - Manuel V. Francisco, S.J. -

For centuries in the past, our institutional Holy Roman Catholic Church had been suffering from a position of self-righteousness, with the best of intentions. We were taught then that our Church was the one and only true Church. Other religions and religious denominations were man-made. Ours was God-given. This was taught in our Catholic schools. No wonder, religion became a source of disunity rather than unity. Other religious denominations reacted in defense of their own faith. My deepest conscience tells me that if God’s plan was for all mankind to be baptized Catholics, by now this would have come to pass, after so many centuries since the birth of Christ.

Thank God that in more recent times, the hearts and minds of our religious leaders have become spiritually aware that there are many ways to God, and that there is only one Creator of all mankind, breaking through the barriers of culture, race, and institutional religion. This is the meaning of the COSMIC, UNIVERSAL CHRIST OF LOVE, JUSTICE, AND PEACE. An interfaith, inter-religious collaboration and mutual respect is now the mission of our God-inspired religious leaders from different religions and denominations.

But it will take much, much time and process for this to fully succeed, starting from the personal, individual level of religious conversion. There are still many well-meaning Catholics who tend to be more like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel parable (Lk. 18: 9-14). “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.” (vv. 11-12).

Today, for instance, we are commemorating Prison Awareness Sunday. In God’s eyes and heart, the prisoners and we are equal in human worth and dignity. Many of our prison inmates have humbled themselves before God, asked for His forgiveness, and promised to live by the ways of God. They are more like that tax collector in today’s parable. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” (v.13). And yet, many of us may tend to look down on them, ignore them, and fail to include them in our prayers.

We may not be in prison ourselves, literally speaking, but spiritually, some or many of us may precisely be imprisoned in our self-righteousness, egocentrism, and religious arrogance. No less than present-day Pharisees. Take this lay-leader of a Parish Pastoral Council. He goes to Mass and Communion every Sunday and holyday of obligation. He is very faithful in observing days of fasting and abstinence, and is very masipag in serving the parish. But he is not able to work with the other members of the council. He looks down on them. He is always right, unable to listen to others’ ideas and opinions that are different from his own. He is judgmental. He succeeds in following the letter of the law, but fails to follow the spirit of the law.

Again, we thank God that there are many more lay-leaders who are the opposite of the above-mentioned one. They are more like that tax collector in today’s Gospel reading. In responding to God’s grace and calling, they serve the parish and the community with quiet simplicity, humility, and a constant focus on God as the source of forgiveness and love. Like that tax collector, they are interiorly aware that they are prone to sin and human imperfection.

Take this couple with their three children in their expensive BMW car as they are driving home from Sunday Mass, after receiving Holy Communion. At an intersection, they are stopped by the traffic light, and a couple of beggars are knocking at their window. The mother whispers to her children: “Mga anak, ipikit ninyo ang inyong mga mata at magpasalamat kayo sa Diyos na hindi tayo katulad nila, madumi at nagpapalimos.” The father drives the beggars away without giving them anything. Upon reaching home, the father starts shouting at their househelpers to hurry with the preparation of lunch because they are already hungry. Incidentally, those househelpers are terribly underpaid and could hardly afford to go home for Christmas. All this and more are the role-modelling that this couple are giving to their children.

What about you, gentle readers? In raising your children or in the job or profession that you are engaged in, are you more like that Pharisee or more like that tax collector in today’s Gospel parable? Before you sleep tonight, quiet down and listen to what the Lord may be saying to you.

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (v. 14).

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