In today’s Gospel reading from the Gospel of Luke:
"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."
I found it interesting that the words used to describe the Pharisee’s prayer was "prayed thus with himself." That his prayer was not offered to God in humility and thankfulness but was a prayer to himself for moral superiority. On the other had the publican did not boast but only asked for mercy. The word contrition comes from the Latin contritio–a breaking of something hardened. When I first found the source of the word contrition I saw just how apt this was. That this breaking of something hard into pieces is usually our pride. The Council of Trent defined contrition as "a sorrow of soul and a hatred of sin committed, with a firm purpose of not sinning in the future." The movie Love story had the most twisted definition of love with its tag line “Love means never having to say your sorry.” This one is straight out of the Devil’s cathechism where charity only means self-love.
Even when at times during our conversions when God removes some large rocks of sins we start to notice something else. Sometimes when you go outside and remove a large rock what you find revealed underneath a swarm of maggots and worms. It is the same thing with ourselves that when big sins are repented of and removed through God’s grace that we notice (for sometime first time) many other sins, faults, and imperfections. Sometimes these sins seem harder to dispatch then maybe there more serous predecessors. That we try to stamp them out but they squiggle away just our of reach. As in the garden when we try to dispose of these maggots we don’t try to remove them all at once but to stomp they out individually till they are gone. Again through God’s grace and perseverance we need to do the same thing to our own garden of faults.
We also can walk away justified like the publican when we remember our faults and put our trust in God’s mercy and not self-appointed righteousness. The good the the Pharisee had to boast of was through grace and instead he should have been deep in thankfulness and prayer for those who were not yet in God’s grace. Being a Catholic I can sometimes catch myself displaying the attitude of the Pharisee when reading about the Anglican communion and especially the whole Bishop Gene Robinson debacle. "Lord I am glad I am in your Church and not the church of other men, I fast, pray the rosary, and give to the poor." While I fully believe the the Catholic Church is the Church that Jesus established on earth it is not through personal merit that I wound up in his Church. So I try to remember to be greatly thankful for being a Catholic and pray with Jesus in his high priestly prayer "that they may be one."