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Posts Tagged ‘pride’

“God be merciful to me a sinner.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

 

“The Sin of Presumption”

 

Christ’s story of the Pharisee and the publican is not a contrast between hypocrisy and humility, but between presumption and humility.  The Pharisee was not a hypocrite.  He genuinely believed what he was saying.  He genuinely lived out the life he professed to live.

However, the Pharisee did presume to know the mind of God.  The Pharisee presumed to judge with the judgement of God.  And he did not know the mind of God.  He wrongly judged what was worthy and what was not.  And so he walked away unjustified, not set right with God.

Presumption is a form of pride.  The Pharisee judged himself compared to his fellow man.  That is not the true measurement of a man.  The true measurement of a man is in the sight of his creator.  The Pharisee’s preening missed the point of what he was attempting to do.  And by being so sure he was doing what he was supposed to do, he thereby dismissed the publican who saw reality correctly; the reality that he was a sinner before a righteous God.  All that a sinner before a righteous God can say is, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

As Bishop Mortimer says of the magnanimous man who judges rightly:

This is the heart of humility.  He does not exalt himself, neither does he despise his fellows.  He honours God, and he honors his fellows as God’s creatures.  He honours every man truly in proportion as he finds him honourable in the sight of God.  He rightly and properly honours and prefers good men above bad men.  But he is not thereby proud, because he knows that both he and they owe what goodness they possess to God; the evil which they share with evil men is of themselves.

This is one way which the Apostle Paul does not fall into the sin of the Pharisee.  St. Paul does not presume the goodness of God for himself.  Instead he sees himself for who he truly is, and it is not pretty:

For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

He does not even claim the great labors for the Gospel of Christ which he has done, for they, understood rightly, are due to “grace of God which was with me.”  His persecution of the Church of God is on him; his abundant labours exceeding all others are due to the God alone.  St. Paul merely cooperated with the grace of God; he did not generate the grace of God.

And thus that is another way which the Apostle Paul does not fall into the sin of presumption.  St. Paul does not sleep in late, eat iced cream, and count on God’s grace.  St. Paul “labored more abundantly than they all:”  For if thinking that your good works are due to you alone and that you can successfully work your salvation before God is wrong, so is thinking that God’s grace is coming to you no matter what you do and that you don’t need to do a thing.  Both count on things which are not true, and things that are not true will do you no good before the dread judgement seat of Christ our Lord on the Day of Doom, the Day of Judgement.

So we must steer a middle course between presuming that we can work out our salvation through our shoddy works alone and presuming that we can sit back and let God work his saving magic on us.  Both ways leave us unjustified.  And we cannot live forever with God if we are not justified.

 

So how do we steer this middle course between the two ways to commit the sin of presumption?  After all, the Pharisee tithed, fasted, and prayed at the Temple and still got left out.  How do we live out our faith and good works in the sight of God here in Christ’s Church?

Like so many times before, we should look at Bishop Mortimer’s Six Duties of Churchmen.  Worshipping, receiving Holy Communion, fasting, tithing, confessing, and remaining chaste are the bare minimum level of acceptable Christian service.  My dear children, no less will do.  Receiving Holy Communion, tithing, and chastity are not optional.  Worshipping every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, fasting, and confessing your sins are not optional.

Yet they are not sufficient.  They are the bare minimum of our Christian Duty.  But we do not win Heaven by them alone.  They are not enough by themselves.  For without the grace of God, they are worth nothing.

They are no substitute for faith.  Faith is trusting in that which is unseen.  There is no behavior we can enact that makes us right with God.  God makes us right with him based on our faith, which itself is a gift from God.  Faith is the basis upon which we make our decisions to act in a Christian manner, and faith is the likely outcome of behaving in a Christian manner.  Faith in God and good works go hand in hand.

 

So how did the publican get justified?  He stood afar off, the lowered his eyes, he beat his chest, and he prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

This is the most needful prayer in Scripture.  It is right up there with the Lord’s Prayer.  In fact, this is probably more important.  Like the Summary of the Law is superior to the Ten Commandments even though it is shorter, this Publican’s Prayer is short and sweet, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

We trust God when we do our best and tell the Lord that we are spent, we are through; we can do no more.  And we know that what we have done is nothing without him.  Knowing in faith that all our actions are insufficient for our eternal life, we turn to God and say, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”  We say it knowing that it is true, that we have no hope for good, no hope for Heaven, no hope for eternal life except God the Father.

 

Our incomparable Anglican liturgy includes a robust confession of sins in each of the three major services of the Church, Mattins, Mass, and Evensong.  If you focus during this prayer of confession, offer yourself up to it to the best of your ability, and firmly intend to turn away from your sins and do better next time, then this prayer is efficacious, it is effective in obtaining what you desire.

When we attach ourselves to Christ’s offering of Himself up as a living sacrifice to God the Father in the Holy Mass, then we participate in Christ’s death and Resurrection again.  When we eat the Body of Christ and drink His holy Blood in faith, we join ourselves mystically and sacramentally into the guaranteed streams of grace pouring from the side of Christ in Heaven upon us here down on earth.

We do our good works in conjunction with our living faith in Christ, knowing that all that we have is not good enough.  But we know from the Gospels that Christ came to us on His own; we did not have to beg and cajole Him down here.  He saved us on the Cross before we were born.  He loved us first.  We can count on Him.

 

“God be merciful to me a sinner.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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“ALL of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Clothed with Humility”

“Humility is a virtue all preach, none practise, and yet everybody is content to hear. The master thinks it good doctrine for his servant, the laity for the clergy, and the clergy for the laity.” – John Selden

Several years ago, my eyesight increasingly did not serve me as well as it had.  For my entire life until then, I had excellent eyesight.  Then, I didn’t.  With my wife’s urging, I submitted myself to the eye doctor, who did strange things with my eyes.  She then handed me a slip of paper with odd numbers on it.  I then handed this paper to another lady, picked out some frames, and left.  Days later, I came back to receive a new pair of glasses.  Putting them on, I could see well again.  I did nothing.  But I went to the people that did this well.  The same is true for the veterinarian, the tailor, and the auto mechanic.  They do that which I cannot do.  I must submit myself to their expertise in order to receive their help.  If I act proudly and insist I know what I’m doing even when I don’t, then I cannot see, have a sick animal, an ill-fitting pair of pants, and a car that won’t run.

Humility involves knowing:  Knowing that I am incapable, that I cannot do some things.  Humility also involves action:  Acting in submission to those who can do what I cannot do.  For example:  I need saving.  But, I cannot save myself.  So, I submit myself to Christ, Who can save me.

 

God in his Holy Scripture commands us to be humble if we are to truly follow God the Father and Christ our Lord.

The prophetess Huldah says in 2 Chronicles xxxiv.27 – “Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the LORD.”

The prophet Isaiah writes in lvii.15 – “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”

The prophet Micah writes in vi.8 – “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

Christ Himself says in St. Luke xiv.11 – “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

St. Paul writes in Philippians ii.3 – “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”

St. James writes in iv.6 – “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”

Keeping with the Holy Writ, the saints and Fathers of the Church admonish us to humility.  St. Benedict is the father of western monasticism and founder of the Benedictine Order of monks.  A brief biography of him appears on the back of today’s bulletin.  Here is a section of Chapter 7 of the Holy Rule of St. Benedict, On Humility:

“The first degree of humility, then, is that a man always have the fear of God before his eyes, shunning all forgetfulness and that he be ever mindful of all that God hath commanded, that he always considereth in his mind how those who despise God will burn in hell for their sins, and that life everlasting is prepared for those who fear God. And whilst he guardeth himself evermore against sin and vices of thought, word, deed, and self-will, let him also hasten to cut off the desires of the flesh.

Let a man consider that God always seeth him from Heaven, that the eye of God beholdeth his works everywhere, and that the angels report them to Him every hour. The Prophet telleth us this when he showeth God thus ever present in our thoughts, saying: “The searcher of hearts and reins is God”.

We are thus forbidden to do our own will, since the Scripture saith to us: “And turn away from thy evil will”. And thus, too, we ask God in prayer that His will may be done in us.”

 

Not only does God desire us to be humble, but humility is the only realistic way of looking at the world, for it alone leads to truth.  Pride always leads us into warped perceptions of reality, similar to bad eyesight.  Pride leads us to think that we are more powerful than we are.  Pride leads us to act as if we were God.  And “God resisteth the proud.”

King Canute was king of England before the Norman Invasion almost one full millennia ago.  Here is a story of Canute according to the Historia Anglorum of Henry, archdeacon of Huntingdon in 1154 (The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon, pp 198-199):

“…at the summit of his power, [King Canute] ordered a seat to be placed for him on the sea-shore when the tide was coming in. Then, before a large group of his flattering courtiers, he spoke to the rising sea, saying, “Thou, too, art subject to my command, for the land on which I am seated is mine, and no one has ever resisted my commands with impunity. I command you, then, o waters, not to flow over my land, nor presume to wet the feet and the robe of your lord.”  The tide, however, continued to rise as usual, dashing over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person.  Then the King leaped backwards, saying: “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.”

The king himself knew that pretending to rule over the waves and sea was sheer foolishness.  Humility knows truth and spurns silliness and confusion.

Bishop Mortimer of Essex wrote a lovely little book on the Six Duties of Churchmen.  He also wrote a wise and solid tome called Elements of Moral Theology.  In that work, he writes:

“[The humble man] is ever judging himself as in the eyes of God, not in comparison with his fellow man.  Having a true judgement of himself, he recognizes that all his virtues are themselves the gift of God.  This is the heart of humility.  He does not exalt himself, neither does he despise his fellows.  He honors God and he honors his fellows as God’s creatures.  He honors every man truly in proportion as he finds him honorable in the sight of God.  He rightly and properly honors and prefers good men above bad men.  But he is not thereby proud, because he knows that both he and they owe what goodness they possess to God; the evil which they share with evil men is of themselves.”

Wishful thinking is the enemy of truth and humility.  God knows perfectly how things truly are in his creation.  He would have us know our true condition, so that we may rightly turn to him for help.  The teachings of Holy Scripture and the worship of Holy Church help us to become truly humble.

 

Clothing ourselves with the humility of Christ, we do not resist but rather accept His supernatural blessing and great might against sin and death.  Besides God’s grace and loving-kindness, humility is our greatest defense against sin of all kinds, the world, the flesh, and the devil.

The world teaches us to envy those who have what we lack.  Modern politics tells us that we must resent those who have more than we have, even if we have enough.  Today’s fashion tells us that our clothes and personal products are outdated and make us look old, so we must buy, buy, buy more, newer, expensive things to keep up lest we fall behind.  Popular arts and music tell us that the beautiful things of yesterday are decidedly inferior to what is popular today.

In essence, the world tells us that what we have, no matter how virtuous, how beautiful, and how good, is inferior to what drives the crowds mad today.  And heaven forbid that a follower of new things takes offense at you for sticking with your hard-fought-for understanding of the Gospel and what is good.  The world puts the burden on you to not offend those who follow popular unwholesome ways!

St. Paul uses the word ‘flesh’ to mean our sinful nature.   In older times, people understood that their problems were first and foremost problems with themselves.  Instead of encouraging suspicion towards our own thoughts and action, today’s thought celebrates whatever distortions and perversions lie within our sinful soul.

Therefore, politics must be the reason I do not have that which I am entitled.  God forbid, people today understand that their personal barriers to wholeness are actually the things which God has given them and define them!  So instead of recognizing that I have personal interests which, if indulged, will take me further from God and righteousness, I am to let my lusts and passions drive me into an understanding of myself as good just the way I am.  Since I am therefore okay, then whatever problems I have are of my environment and not myself.  If I am lustful, I thus perceive that I have the right to pursue sexual conquests.  If I am envious, I thus perceive that I have the right to judge others and whisper against them.  If I am angry, I thus perceive that I have the right to hold others to a standard to which I do not hold myself.

Holy Church teaches us that humility is the opposite virtue of one of the seven deadly sins:  Pride.  Instead of reveling in pride, we are to reject pride in all its forms.  This means that we must change the way we live.  Our sinful nature will fight to prevent the grace of God from washing our souls clean of it.  We must be strong and follow Christ’s example.

The third source of sin in our lives is Satan.  His Satanic Majesty is not an impersonal force; he is real and he is out to get us.  Satan is much more like a roaring lion, lurking around “seeking whom he may devour”.  Satan seeks to undo the restorative work of Christ our Lord.

We are in grave danger if we lack humility, for we push God’s grace away from ourselves.  And we need God’s grace to protect us, for the wicked accuser of souls, Satan, roams right outside our door, waiting for us to slip and leave ourselves defenseless.  He is an angry, hungry, old, fallen archangel, a devourer of souls.  He is an intelligence beyond genius, with thousands upon thousands of years of experience in foiling man.  And he wants to eat you up.

Whenever we push God away and declare we don’t need the presence of the Holy Ghost in our lives, Satan is waiting right there with his mighty jaws open to snatch us away and take off with us into perdition.  We need humility if we wish our souls to be saved.  We need humility if we wish to escape the fires of Hell, where “the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”

 

Each of us faces temptation from the world and the devil.  And each of us faces our own sinful nature, our unique and tumultuous inner distortions of soul which confuse us as to what is right and what is wrong.  We lie to ourselves even when we think we are telling ourselves the truth.  We agree with what other people tell us when we like what they say, and we disagree with what other people tell us when we don’t like what they say.  We constantly try to cut deals with God.

But God’s truth is not what we like and dislike.  God’s truth stands fast forever.  He will make no deal with us.  We must accept Christ as our savior and lord of our life or not accept him.

We must kneel down in our hearts and offer up our petulancy and willfulness and accept the teaching of Almighty God in Holy Scripture and Holy Church.  We must strive to grow in humility.  We must acknowledge that we are incapable and follow Christ and Him alone.

 

“ALL of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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“…Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Fr. F. P. Harton, Dean of Wells in the Church of England and great scholar and believer wrote:  “Humility consists in seeing oneself truly, as one is in the sight of God, nothing more nor less, realizing that one’s whole being, with whatever is good in it, is God’s though defiled by one’s own sin; and in desiring that place and those things only which God wills for us, loving His will above all things and one’s own not at all.”

Humility is not a popular virtue, but a necessary one for the Christian soul.  Why?  Because God loves humility.

–        In the Magnificat, the wonderful song of St. Mary:  “For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”

–        In St. Luke xviii.13-14:  “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

–        Also, the same in today’s Gospel:  “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

–        St. Augustine, that great Doctor of the Church, prayed:  “Diffidam mihi, fidam in Te.”  Let me distrust myself and put my trust in Thee.

Our prayers are not magic.  They are not incantations that effect a change in the world.  Instead, our prayers are conversation with the great Creator and Redeemer of the world.  The only way our prayers are efficacious and effect change in the world is when we come to God as we are, without pretense, without deceit, and without pride.  If we come to God to seek his face, but spend our time preening in front of a spiritual mirror, looking only at ourselves, then our time is wasted.  We must see who and what we are and then let go of ourselves to reach out and cling to safety to the great sovereign Lord of the universe.

Philippians ii.3:  “In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”  If I think that I am better than another person, then I fundamentally misconstrue that person’s relationship with God, God’s relationship with me, and my relationship with that person.  If I think that I am better than another person, then I am wrongly and sinfully giving myself higher honor than another.  And what does Christ say of this in today’s Gospel?  “Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest place.”

When we sin, when we see that sin in ourselves, let us humbly turn to the Lord our God, and seeing his great love for us, confess our sin and turn from it entirely.

Fr. Bede Frost said:  “Humility … consists in a true knowledge and acknowledgement of what one is….”  Humility lies in accepting that we are so very weak and God is so very strong, that we are so very wicked and God is so very good, that we are so very thoughtless and God is so very mindful of us, that we are so very weak and unable to help ourselves and God is so very powerful and ready to help us.  We act in humility when we behold ourselves as we truly are in right relation with each other.

Any way we act towards our neighbors which is not grounded in love is foolish, for it is not building us treasure in heaven.  Our default position regarding others is to use them to get us what we want, whether we want recognition and respect, whether we want advancement and profit, whether we want good feelings, or whether we want darker things.  Christ did not come to us for His Own sake, for Christ needed nothing, for Christ is God.  No, Christ came to us to save us from the mess we have made.  Christ did not come to profit from us, but to give us blessings upon blessings, to save our lives for all eternity, to show us loving-kindness and heavenly grace.  If we walk in the way of the Cross, then we too will suffer and die, but we will live in love and live for all eternity.

Our primary responsibility to God is to love him; likewise, our primary responsibility to our fellow man is to love him.  And if we love like Christ, then we love our fellow man even, or especially, when he is not lovable, when he hates us, when he mocks us, when he insults us, when he lies to others about us, when he sins against us – all these things in no wise bar us from loving him, but indeed show that he needs our love more than ever.  In all humility, we see that we, too, are sinners and have done others wrong, have done God wrong.  We have no superior standing to answer insult with insult, hate with hate, sin with sin.  Seeing ourselves as we really are, sinners who have hurt our neighbors and hurt our good God, we humbly love one another as Christ has loved us.

Once we have taken our blinders off and taken a long hard look at ourselves, and knowing what we know about ourselves, we are to always treat ourselves harsher than we treat others.  All the great saints have done the same.  The holiest teachers of Christian morality throughout the ages – St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, St. Alphonsus – have applied exceptional rigor to their own spiritual lives while acknowledging the weak humanity in the lives of others.  We should all pull a breath, give our neighbor a break, and come down on ourselves doubly hard.  Examine your conscience so carefully and regularly so never to let those who hate you truly condemn you of something you have not condemned in yourself already.

I understand that a couple of weeks ago that Fr. Rosenkranz said that anxiety and prayerful living were contradictory.  Let me add to that:  Anxiety and humble living are contradictory.  St. Luke xii.27-28:  “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?”  The Lord will provide for us; do not worry, he loves us and sends us good things.

Yet our anxiety comes from a perception of ourselves in the world which is wrong and leads us to desiring things we ought not to desire, to expecting things which never come, and to feeling dissatisfied with the lot the Lord has given us.  Our anxiety betrays our mistrust of the providence of God the Father.  This is not accurate; this is a false view of God and his creation; this is no good.

There are two ways to gain humility:  Following Christ and accepting humiliations.

To follow Christ means, after having taken a good look at oneself and learning of our profound and utter poverty of soul, and then moving on from there, that we behold Christ as He is in the Scriptures and in the Sacraments, in His infinite Being, and in His unimaginable goodness and reaching a profound feeling of Him or a deepened faith in Him.

To accept humiliations means to practice humility in the best and foremost way of practicing it:  Not only to experience, not only to acknowledge, but to embrace and to accept the humiliations which come your way during the course of your life.

To accept a rebuke is one of the most powerful spiritual acts you can commit.  To truly thank another for his criticism of you frees your soul.  Taking responsibility for one’s own actions is something I hope that we learn in the process of growing up, but many an adult try to slip out of bad consequences.  It is no lie that priests ought not to grant absolution to a criminal who is unwilling to answer for his crimes.  If we resist the humiliation or make light of the slight, then we are not accepting the humiliation.

Accept your humiliations and learn from them.  Learn that you are fallible.  Trust not in your own righteousness.  Accept that you have only one savior, and you are not him.  You cannot truly trust in Christ, to lean on Him for salvation, if you really think in the back of your mind that you can pull this off by yourself.  You can’t.  He can.

When we seek to avoid humiliations and deep time with Christ and wish to find our own way to humility and loving-kindness, we err again.  We will not find our own special way to quick and easy humility.  One of the great benefits that older converts to Christianity bring us is an ignorance of the childish faith we passed through to become adults.  They convert to Christianity, wait for virtues to spring up everywhere, and realize that saying “I believe” does not finish their Christian walk.

I will be dead honest with you:  The Christian walk is very difficult.  Many do not make it.  They fall out along the way.  The devil tempts them away.  The world tempts them away.  Their own vices and flesh tempt them away.  Christ’s walk led Him to death on Golgotha, and you can expect the same.  Oh, you might die in your sleep, but that doesn’t make walking the walk instead of talking the talk any less difficult.

Pride is a deadly sin, and its antidote is humility.  Our society thinks very little of humility, and humility is often portrayed as self-abasing untruths.  A lady will put on a grand party, the food, the music, the company will be all excellent, everyone will be impressed, and when complimented she will say, “Oh, I know it’s nothing, but it’s the little bit I could do.”  That’s a lie.  It was a grand party, and everyone had a grand time.  Pictures from it made the newspaper.  It may not advance your salvation a whit, it may mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, but feigning incapacity when excellence has been witnessed is false and self-flattering.

The antidote to the sin of pride is neither more lies nor more sin, but rather more truth – truth told from God’s perspective.

 

“…Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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