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4 steps to a humble heart

"Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘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.’ But the tax collector 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.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted” Luke 18:9-14.

Sometimes in life, without consciously making a decision, we “drift” into an attitude in which we see ourselves as better than others. Our intellect and/or our talents are excellent and we tend to see ourselves as a “cut above” the rest of humankind. People praise us, we believe what they say and begin to think and act, quietly at first, as people of the “top tier.” “Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of men…”

Perhaps, it is not in academic accomplishments or sports or music or drama or art that we take pride, but in our spiritual “accomplishments.” I pray daily, I tithe, I go to confession and eucharistic adoration weekly, I am an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, I teach CCD, I work on the parish bazaar or minister to those in need. Doing these things is wonderful, and we are called to serve, but they can become millstones around our necks when we use them as a security blanket to feel good about ourselves – or as a way of taking out insurance that God will have to love me now because …

Do you get the idea?

That’s how the Pharisee thought. He prided himself on following every jot and tittle of the law – and then despised everyone who did not live up to his standards. Note: his standards.

When you look at yourself and others, whose standards do you use? Do you use yourself as the measuring stick to determine the “value” of others?

A lot of us have fallen into this trap. If we have, God wants us to use this Lent to change our thinking so that we can become more like him!

When I get on my “high horse,” as my father used to call it, I can be judgmental and critical of others. I can compare myself to others and according to my lights, see myself as so much better than those around me. God is not pleased!

In this parable, the tax collector knew that he had committed personal sin and he acknowledged it! He knew that, in his position as tax collector, he was working for the Romans and in some ways exploiting his own people. The Scripture does not tell us why he was a tax collector. We can’t hear his reasons and then judge him ourselves as having good reason to do so. We make so many judgments based on externals!     

But Jesus knows the heart and looks at the honesty of the tax collector who is asking God forgiveness for his sins. Jesus also sees the pride and the arrogance of the Pharisee in his “prayer.”

Which one is truly righteous?

When you and I stand before God, we will not be judged on our wealth, our power, our prestige; the judgment of God will not be based on the world’s criteria. None of that will have any eternal value.

What does have value is living my life, according to the Gospel, thanking God daily that he created me in order that I might be with him in eternal joy! God will never ask how many talents I had, but rather what I did with what he gave me.

Spiritual exercises – ask yourself these questions

1. How grateful are you for what you have been given?

2. Do you acknowledge God as the source of all that is good in your life?

3. Do you see him as the origin of all your blessings – however many or few they are?

4. Do you repent when you fail and daily ask his help to live a life pleasing to him?

In other words, as the prophet Micah tells us: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

If you live by these standards, you won’t have time to judge (and most often misjudge) others. Live honorably, act justly, be kind to all and acknowledge God daily as the source of all that is good in your life. As you practice these things you will “crowd out” the judgmentalism, the negativity toward others. Fear and doubt about yourself will lessen. As you walk simply and humbly with your God in these ways, you will know his delight in you and that joy, no one can take from you.