How the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector renewed my desire to make good confessions and pursue daily growth in virtue.
The humble, familiar voice of the pastor read the even more familiar story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Without warning, the story suddenly hit me at a new level.
I sat up straight, my mind began racing, and the church faded from sight as a new thought took root inside my head. Father’s words became background noise the startled voice-in-my-head proclaimed:
That’s me. I’m the Pharisee.
Lord, please guide my meditation today and convict me of my pride.
The Pharisee enters the temple
He begins to pray to himself. Not to You, my God. No, his prayer is directed towards his own thoughts. Despite appearances, he’s not lifting his heart up to You.
And what does he pray? His “prayer” is a list of good deeds. He checks off every righteous thing he’s done!
But he doesn’t stop there – he also takes the opportunity to compare himself to others and proclaim how much better he is.
And he throws in a thank you, too… but if I think about who he was praying to in the first place, he’s not thanking You, Lord! He’s thanking himself! He’s the stereotypical proud guy.
Along comes the Tax Collector
He doesn’t even deem himself worthy to enter the temple, so he stands off at a distance. He bows himself down.
His prayer is a heartfelt cry to You… he actually lists his sins – he acknowledges his faults and takes responsibility for them. He begs You to have mercy on him, a sinner. He legitimately wants to do better, to reform his life.
But he knows he needs Your grace to change… and You don’t disappoint, my God.
This notorious sinner received a ray of light straight from heaven while You remained silent towards the righteous man. You looked with favor on the Tax Collector because of his repentance, his faith in You, his love for You, his desire to do better.
I can feel his relief as he leaves Your Presence – so free, so lighthearted. He is forgiven!
Which One Am I?
My God, how often do I approach the Sacrament of Confession like the Pharisee? I treat my examination of conscience as an opportunity to check off all the bad things I did not do… all the ways I’m not like those sinners…
- Go to Mass on Sunday? Check.
- Don’t Kill? Check.
- Don’t Steal? Check.
- Don’t Commit Adultery? Check.
And then of course, I confess all my usual, habitual sins in the vaguest of ways…
- I was impatient.
- I was lazy about praying.
- I was proud.
And still I leave confession like the Pharisee: feeling great about myself… ready to slide into the next month just the same as the last: with my life on cruise control until my next confession.
I’ll spend another five minutes on my examination of conscience, “satisfy” my monthly “contrition requirement,” and walk away again to do it all the same.
I Need To Do More
But, my Jesus, I know that just going to confession doesn’t make me a good Catholic. You are waiting there with all the graces I need to be a good Catholic, but I need to do more!
I need to uncover the truth of my many sins and failings.
I need to humble myself before Your greatness instead of exalting myself compared to “that notorious sinner.”
I need to beg for Your grace and forgiveness, and resolve to do better.
Only then will Your favor shine on me like the Tax Collector!
Called To Be a Saint
When I walk away from the confessional, I still need to do the work required of me daily to grow in holiness.
My God, You call all Your children to be saints! But saints don’t get a free ride to heaven. Saints are saints because they knew and understood the importance of striving for holiness daily!
I need to learn from their example. I resolve to make a renewed daily effort to grow in holiness, to take the Sacrament of Confession seriously – to actually try, every day, to cultivate virtue and my life and to remove sinfulness and vice.
God, I Cannot Do It Without You
I know I cannot do this without Your grace. I cannot grow by my own strength.
The good news is: Your grace is there for me. At every confession, You wipe the slate clean.
You carry me to the top of the mountain. But concupiscence is a landslide just waiting to pull me down.
If I only ask, You will give me the grace I need to fight against temptation. You throw me the line to hang on to, to keep myself from slipping, and to climb back up towards the top of the mountain after times that I do fall.
Help me remember the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
Remind me that many who place themselves first will be last, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Let me humble myself before Your majesty. Bring me back up to the top of that mountain…
Do You Need an Examination of Conscience Boost?
For all us checklist confess-ers:
Let’s let the voice-in-our-head convict us of our all-too-routine confessions.
Let’s take the opportunity to rise above the familiar, to start to climb out of the landslide, to be less of a Pharisee and more of a Tax Collector!
(Figuratively, of course… let’s not even start with the IRS….)
In an effort to take Confession more seriously, I did some research and found a few examinations of conscience that can help boost our sincerity. But…
If want to go even deeper, I have exciting news for you!
If you want to expand your fight against sin further than the confessional…
If you want to focus daily on growing in virtue and eliminating vice…
I have a great monthly resource just for you!
Check out the Monthly Virtue Challenge! I pulled the best ideas from different resources, and combined them to create a new approach.
Each month, we focus on one virtue. We learn about this virtue, ideas for how to practice it, and how to avoid sins against it. This is an opportunity to really put in the work on our end of the bargain. It inclueds a detailed examination of conscience, plus daily helps and reminders (and free printables!).
We’re going to do our best to cooperate with the grace of God, to grow in holiness, and to become saints!
I can’t wait to grow in virtue with you!
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