My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
In today’s Gospel we hear the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. This parable is appointed to be read and considered on this Sunday – the first of the four pre-Lenten Sundays – in order that we might be directed and prepared for the spiritual labours of Lent. For this reason this Sunday is called in Greek “the Sunday of proclamation,” because it heralds and proclaims the Lenten season which is coming in but a few weeks.
In the cultivation of virtue, repentance, conversion, and humility are the first steps we must all take. Contrariwise, virtue is greatly harmed by pride, vainglory, and haughtiness. Thus it is that our Lord Jesus Christ in today’s Gospel sets forth for us this parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, to stand as a warning to those of us who might trust in our own righteousness and look down on others.
In addition, the Lord teaches us how we ought to offer our prayers and supplications to God, lest by our own pride we make our prayer unprofitable. Nothing is more harmful than arrogance and pride, self-exaltation and vanity. For it was pride that cast angels from heaven to become devils. It was Adam’s pride that occasioned the disobedience that drove our first parents out of paradise.
Pride is the mother of all evils; and it swiftly and devastatingly cuts off any spiritual progress.
When we become sick with the disease of pride and self-exaltation, we reject the grace and assistance of God. Deprived of this supernatural help, we invariably will fall into all disgraceful passions. Pride wastes, corrupts and loses all the good treasure of virtue and good deeds we may do.
Pride not only leads us to vice, but pride will also entangle itself with the virtues themselves and causes great damage. Pride will compel us to endure pain and toil, yet denies us any reward.
For if a proud man fasts, or if he prays or gives alms, or if he keeps himself chaste and struggles against the passions, or if he practices all the virtues, on account of his pride he labours in vain.
By vainglory many households and even nations have been destroyed. All that is high is brought down by vainglory, and all affairs of church and of state are disturbed and defeated by it.
Nations in their pride and vainglory declare themselves free from the dominion of God; indeed some seek to place themselves in the very place of God, pretending to be the bestowers of all that is good and beneficial, arrogating to themselves all obeisance and fidelity.
Churchmen in their hubris have refused to provide for the spiritual children of the Church; they have placed their faith in themselves and their own speculation rather than in God and His revelation. They think themselves infallibly to know the thoughts and the will of God by the use of their very fallible human reason.
False theologians in their pride and vainglory trust in their own “lights” and their own ability to discern novel ideas, their own ability ostensibly to interpret Scripture, their own ability ostensibly to interpret law, their own ability ostensibly to interpret the mind of the Church, or even historical events, elevating themselves beyond the Fathers, beyond the Councils, beyond Apostolic Tradition itself, professing a faith in nothing but their own perception and their own whims.
There are others who have left the secular world, spurning worldly life with its wealth, its fame, its pleasure and everything else. Indeed they may even have further curbed the evil concupiscence which besets the body. Yet being possessed by the passion of vainglory, they ultimately lose all and are deprived of everything. They fall away from things divine along with those who are enslaved to the passions and subject to the cares of the world.
Like a terrible rot, or a disease that can pervade the entirety of an organism, so vainglory, allowed to grow unchecked, will soon be interwoven with every otherwise good undertaking. Indeed, it will reach down to the very root of one’s life and become the reason that all is done.
If vainglory is unchecked, I am vainglorious if I fast, and if I allow myself to eat so as not to seem to be some sort of sage, again I am vainglorious. If I dress in fine clothing, I am overcome by vanity, and if change into old rags, again I am vain. If I speak, there is vainglory, and if I keep silent, there is vainglory.
It seems hopeless, and with good reason. The end of vainglory is, ultimately, final despair. No matter how high our opinions of ourselves, no matter how well-developed our sense of vanity, in the end we will all fail. We will all pay the price that we must as mortal beings, and we will without exception pay the debt of death.
But if vainglory and pride are the path to hopelessness, and if we want to avoid hopelessness, then we must seek another path – one which does not lead in any way to the same places that vainglory does.
And we see today that path in the Gospel , in the person of the Publican: the path of repentance and humility. To the very same extent that vainglory and arrogance are evil, repentance and humility are good. Whatever is squandered by pride and vainglory is recovered by humility and repentance. While pride leads us headlong into despair and loss, humility lifts us up after we fall.
As the Scriptures attest: “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”
When the Publican prayed, he had no good deeds of which to boast as did the Pharisee. Rather, he struck his breast, afflicted his heart, and said with great contrition, great compunction: God be merciful to me a sinner. And because of this he found the mercy of the all-merciful God, Who is always well-disposed to hear the prayer of the humble.
Humility purges away all sins, whereas pride ruins all virtues.
The Publican, in taking the Pharisee’s condemnation with meekness and patience, found release from his sins, while the Pharisee fell from honour into the very pit of dishonour by justifying himself and condemning the publican and other people.
The Publican was exalted by humility, while the Pharisee was abased by his arrogance.
Therefore, my friends, let us love humility, for by it the publican was justified and relieved of the burden of his sins. Let us despise arrogance, because by it the Pharisee was brought down and lost the good works which he had done. For the Pharisee was judged, though he had done good, while the Publican was justified, because he renounced bad deeds. The Lord looked at the Publican’s sighs and his heartfelt contrition, and, accepting his words of compunction, justified him. But the offerings, the virtues, the good deeds of the Pharisee did the Lord reject as being prideful and boastful, and the Pharisee stands condemned.
If we do great deeds, let us not be puffed up with pride because of them. If we are kind, just, meek, and merciful, we should humble ourselves all the more, and not be vain and self-satisfied. For it is our obligation and our duty to render service to Almighty God.
It is the very essence of our life as Christians to offer the Lord humility, patience, submission, obedience, discretion, and gratitude; to glorify Him, to exalt Him and joyfully to do His most holy will. We must to grieve over the difficulties and humiliations which come to us from others, must not be downcast at injustices and trials, but rather we should rejoice when we are reviled, because thereby we acquire great benefit. A very tough lesson to learn, but so profitable: to rejoice when reviled.
By humility let us lay aside our sins in this life, that we may be clean and ready to enter the next life and to be received by the just Judge into His blessed and everlasting kingdom, that we may inherit the good things which are to come, incorruptible dwellings and boundless bliss unto all ages.