All of us have a Pharisee within. It is that part of us that wants to judge others and justify our actions. It is that part that wants to feel superior to others. It is that part which refuses to see the truth of the words of Jesus: "Without me you can do nothing" (John 15.5).
This interior disposition is classically known as spiritual pride. It is subtle and all too prevalent in our lives. It destroys us from within because it fails to see the simple truth that we all need Jesus.
We need him here and now, moment by moment, and we have no true life without him. Salvation is a gift that can only be received with humility. We can never justify or save ourselves.
We should never say like the Pharisee in this week's Gospel: "I thank you Lord that I am not like other people." This false disposition pollutes everything. Why? Because apart from the merciful grace of Jesus I am like other people. The old saying is true – "There but for the grace of God go I."
It is interesting to see how Pope Francis keeps hammering away at pharisaical attitudes in the Church. He will not let us off the hook. The pope calls us to see the error of elitism and spiritual pride.
He is not changing the doctrine of the Church but calling us to a new focus. He says, "The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant."
'All who humble themselves will be exalted.'
In choosing the name "Francis" he points us to the profound, awe-inspiring humility of St. Francis of Assisi. Does not the world long to see the simple truth of the Gospel? Does not the Church need to become more simple, humble and accessible to those in need? This is the path Pope Francis continually points out.
Long ago, St. Francis knelt in contemplation in a church called San Damiano. He heard the voice of Jesus calling: "Rebuild My Church."
He answered this call with one dynamic focus: He sought to live the Gospel passionately in a simple and straightforward way. He let Christ truly live in him. And the Church experienced a time of revolutionary renewal that still impacts us today.
Deep within you and me there is a call. We know it. We sense it. We hear it in the message of Pope Francis. It is a call to humble ourselves like St. Francis of Assisi and the tax collector in this Sunday's Gospel.
It is a call to authentic conversion. A call to use our time, talent and treasure to rebuild the Church of today. This will only happen when we are willing to surrender our lives and truly allow Jesus and his heart to live in us daily.
It is not always easy. We live in distracting times. We must make time to retreat and listen to the deep calling of God. As Blessed John Paul II reminded us – it is our call to be the saints of the new millennium.
This is a call to radical discipleship.
The Church is always rebuilt when we empty ourselves and let Jesus live in us. Renewal is not our work alone but the work of the Holy Spirit within.
Renewal flourishes when people humble themselves before the Lord and allow his spirit and truth to take control. Renewal is the result of deep, ongoing surrender. Renewal is the blessing that comes when we focus on the living Jesus in our midst.
When I think of St. Francis of Assisi, I can't help but smile. I smile because his witness to the Gospel continues to speak to us today. I smile because I know God is rebuilding his Church in our time.
St. Francis has inspired Pope Francis, and my prayer is that he will again inspire every one of us to humbly rebuild the Church. (For those who may never have read a good biography of St. Francis this could be a good place to start.)
Let the Gospel shine simply once again as it did through the witness of St. Francis of Assisi.
Jesus, we humble ourselves and surrender the Pharisee within. We give you all our spiritual pride, judgments and fear. Let your Spirit bring renewal, joy and compassion.