On the Pharisee and the Publican.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
On the Pharisee and the Publican.
Place before your mind’s eye the picture which the Gospel for the day presents to view. A Pharisee is standing in the temple, standing forward boldly in God’s sight as a just man, a devout man, but as our Lord says, not “justified.” Far behind him, just at the entrance of the temple, there stands a publican, who will not so much as lift up his eyes towards Heaven, who considers himself and confesses himself to be a sinner and unjust; yet according to the testimony of the omniscient Judge Himself, that man is “justified.”
1st. Consider the arrogance of the Pharisee. He stands before God, erect and unbending as if he were Lord, and God were his underling, and he imagines he can do nothing better than lift up his voice to praise and magnify not Him to whom all honor and glory is due but his own self. “God, I give Thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican. I fast twice in a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” (St. Luke xviii. 11, 12.) So runs this singular prayer that the Pharisee utters, in reference to which St. Basil cries: “A fine prayer that, a pretty thanksgiving! He condemns the world, he judges the world, he comes to this conclusion: I am not as the rest of men, I alone am just, all the others are ungodly. What revolting conceit, what disgusting boastfulness! Learn from this example to despise this fault from the bottom of your heart, and take good heed never to extol yourself, or justify yourself. Self-praise is no praise, says the proverb.” “Let another praise thee, and not thy own mouth, a stranger and not thy own lips.” (Prov. xxvii. 2.) Such is the counsel of the Wise Man; and St. Bonaventure says: “Know that it is hardly possible for you to possess some good quality without others being aware of it. If you never mention it, those who know you will love you all the better for your silence, and they will praise you doubly both on account of your estimable quality and also for your modesty. But if you call attention to it, you will only be ridiculed; instead of being an object of esteem, a source of edification to others, they will only dislike and despise you.” Lay to heart these words, which are worthy to be inscribed in letters of gold.
2d. Consider the humility of the publican. He regards himself as nothing in the sight of God. He only sees in himself sin and misery; he remains standing afar off; he strikes his breast, saying: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” (v. 13.) That is a prayer of a very different character. In it man speaks to God; it is a sincere acknowledgment of guilt, a confession well pleasing to the Most High. It is dictated by that humility which, as St. Chrysostom remarks, caused the publican to be saved rather than the Pharisee, and gained for the good thief admittance into paradise before the apostles. Learn to day, my soul, from the publican to ascend that first degree of humility, which, according to St. Albert the Great, requires us to make ourselves acquainted with our own frailty and poverty, and not merely to apprehend how weak, how impotent we are of ourselves, but also how deplorable would be our condition if Almighty God did not come to our assistance in seasons of temptation. “If God had given that thief as much grace as He has given me, he would be a better man than I am,” once said the great, the humble St. Francis, who valued himself as meanly as he valued divine grace highly. This opinion of oneself, this exercise of humility is pre-eminently to be recommended to those whom God has led from a sinful life in the world to the way of penance and perfection, and who often have cause to cry out with the prophet: “Unless the Lord had been my helper, my soul had almost dwelt in hell.” (Ps. xciii. 17.) Has such been your conduct hitherto, my soul? If not, be admonished by the words of the great ascetic: “Never think that thou hast made any progress till thou look upon thyself as inferior to all.” (Imit. B. ii. ch. 2.)
3d. Consider the sentence God passes upon the two men in the temple. “This man (the publican) went down into his house justified rather than the other.” (St. Luke xviii. 14.) That is what God says of them. St. Bernard asserts that the Pharisee went home destitute of grace, because he flattered himself that he possessed a plentitude of grace. The publican, on the other hand, went down to his house with gifts of grace all the more rich and abundant, because being devoid of self-conceit, he brought an empty vessel to the fount of heavenly mercy; “because every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” This is a truth which experience confirms a thousand times over. Listen to the eloquent words of St. Augustine on this subject, and meditate upon them. “sacred humility,” he exclaims, “how opposed thou art to pride! Pride, my brethren, caused Lucifer to fall from Heaven, while humility induced the Son of God to become man. Pride drove Adam out of the earthly paradise, while humility admitted the good thief into the celestial paradise. Pride brought about confusion of tongues in the days when there were giants upon the earth, while humility united into one the nations that were dispersed. Through pride Nabuchodonosor was degraded to the condition of a brute beast, while through humility Joseph became one of the princes of Egypt.” If, my soul, you desire to rise from this meditation “justified” like the publican, humble yourself, and reflect in what particular manner you will from this day forth practise the virtue of humility.
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
– Meditations on the Life, Teaching, and Passion of Jesus Christ
(Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur: New York, December 31, 1900)
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