Friday, October 25, 2013

Spiritual Snobbery

Reflections on the Readings
October 27, 2013 - 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Spiritual Snobbery

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.' (Luke 18:11, 12)

Beating our own Drum

This Pharisee has some qualities that might make him a welcomed member of any parish or congregation. People don't call him a cheater. And he's a faithful husband and family man. Neither does he tip the scales in his favor - equal justice across the board. Who wouldn't want this man sitting on the front row on Sunday morning? When the offering plate comes around, he faithfully supports the ministry of his local Synagogue by giving tithes of all that he earns. Wow! And his prayer life is worthy of imitation; fasting twice a week just like the Rabbi teaches. This Pharisee doesn't have a spot on him. 

Well, almost no spot. Did I fail to mention that he's a spiritual snob? That's right. While he does all of these good things he looks down his nose at everyone else while standing before God beating his own drum. It's a holier-than-thou attitude that all of us have to guard against. I've met Catholics who are more Catholic than the Pope. And then I've met Protestants who didn't believe for a minute that there is truly a Christian Catholic. Even when I was growing up in the Pentecostal church there were folks who believed themselves to be more Pentecostal, more holy, more spiritual than other Pentecostals - and certainly saw themselves more in touch with God than their brothers and sisters in the main line denominations. But is God looking for braggarts or beggars? Does the Father look more favorably on those who beat their own drum or on those who strike their breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner?"

The Confiteor - The Way of Humilty

We often begin Mass with the Confiteor - that is, a confession. It's a good way to pray about any venial hindrances such as a haughty attitude or self rewarding thoughts. The word confiteor means: I confess. Here's that prayer: 

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done
and in what I have failed to do,
[All strike their breast]
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

Striking the breast recalls the tax collector in today's Gospel. It puts the worshipper in a more humble frame of mind. This simple act is a profound reminder that even in my Sunday best, I've not always been who I'm supposed to be. So it's mercy, and lots of it that I need. In that moment I leave behind my spiritual snobbiness and remember that you and I stand together on level ground at the foot of the cross. The Pharisee left his prayers the way he came - full of himself. This confession helps me to leave my worship time on Sunday with less of me and more of Jesus. And that means going into the new week as a better witness and evangelizer.

The Christian Act of Libation

In today's second reading, Paul writes of the culmination of his life and ministry. The end is near. And his final moment will be one last effort to give himself, his life's blood for the sake of the kingdom. He's fought a good fight. He's stayed on course and the race is almost finished. The winner's circle is in view. His faith is now at its highest fervency. He sees his approaching martyrdom as a libation; a worshipful act of pouring out his blood for the furtherance of the message in its fulness. He has no desire to take anything with him; he will leave it all on the field.

Football is big here in Knoxville. Our team is in the SEC and some of the best football and basketball in the country is played in the SEC. One of the things I continually hear from Coach Butch Jones and his staff is how they want everyone on the Team to leave it on the field. They want every player to reach down in the middle of his belly and leave his heart out there on the field. Isn't that what we are supposed to do as Christians? We who live in the service of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords have a destiny that is infinitely bigger than any SEC contest. I know that may be a stretch for some, but I'm going to stick to it anyway. Doesn't Jesus ask us to leave no effort undone, no love unspent, no prayer not prayed? Have all the hungry been fed? Have all the thirsty had a drink? Have all the prisoners heard of the freedom in Christ? When we come to the end of our lives don't we want to say like Paul that we're ready to leave it all on the field as an act of Christian love and sacrifice? Until our last breath we are called to be a spiritual libation of self-giving for the sake of the gospel and the salvation of souls.  

Not all of us are called to martyrdom. But all of us are called to live in the deepness of our faith. All of us are called to let the Holy Spirit lead us every day in a way of life that can only be described as Christian libation. A pouring out of ourselves with every effort and word and deed to make Christ known. We don't have time for the pettiness of spiritual superiority. Spiritual snobbery and arrogance is not the way of Christ. Embracing the true meaning of Christian humility is to bear one another's burden; seeing the other better than ourself. That takes away living for an agenda to living for a higher cause. Following Christ means taking to heart his way - loving with a life poured out not for our selves but for our families and friends. Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted. We can grow closer to Christ and to each other on our knees. And if we arrive at heaven's gates still on our knees, then a reward awaits us - a crown of righteousness. Now to him who humbled himself and loved us for love's sake be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at:   

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