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Thought for the weekend: Ego must be overcome in order to honour the Lord and each other

By Fr Patrick McCafferty, Parish of Kilmore and Killyleagh,Co Down

Published 22/10/2016

This weekend, many Christians will hear Our Lord's parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector which warns us about replacing God with our own ego.

The Pharisee comes into God's House and begins a soliloquy in praise of himself and his virtues. The Lord says, "the Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself". His "prayer", in fact, was a litany in honour of his own "goodness". The Lord goes on, "The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (Cf. Luke 18:9-14).

The Pharisees were highly respected, and paragons of virtue. The tax collectors were despised, dishonest, unjust and heartless - agents of the oppressive Roman regime. Shockingly, Jesus says the tax collector "went home again at rights with God - the other did not". Jesus adds, "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted."

This parable stands as a warning to people who pride themselves on being virtuous and despise everyone else. In fact, it is a warning from God to devoutly 'religious' people. The entire purpose of Christian faith is to make us humble before God and open our hearts to love. The realisation that we are nothing before God, yet, nevertheless, we are infinitely loved by Him, evokes from us gratitude expressed in lives lived in love.

Amazed at the utter graciousness of God, the unfathomable depths of His love and mercy towards us, moves us to live in such a way as to reflect goodness, kindness and love, to become channels of Divine grace to others. False religion is a perversion and distortion of the right relationship God desires us to have with Him and each other. Self-righteousness and the 'holier-than-thou' mindset are sins into which Christians can fall, if we let our guard down.

To be a Christian is to die to oneself, to "crucify the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24). This can be a daily struggle but there can be no relenting in the battle. Everything we are, our whole existence, is indebted to God's grace alone. We come before God, begging for His love and mercy, at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of everything.

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