Illusion or Reality? Pride or Humility?

Frank - crucifix

Frank - crucifix

During Lent, God presents us with a fundamental choice. Will we choose to continue to live in our human illusions or will we allow God to reveal His reality to us? Will we cling to false pride or embrace true humility? All too often we think we are more humble than we really are, especially if we have been striving to grow spiritually for a long time.

The Pharisees were also earnest about their religious practices. As Christians, it is easy to denigrate the Jewish Pharisees, thinking we have risen above such behaviour because we live in New Testament times, no longer under the burden of the Old Testament Laws. However, before we judge these men too harshly, we should remember they were simply striving to be good, observant Jews. In their zeal, they inadvertently ended up seeking respect for themselves rather than inspiring love for God.


When Religious Duty Becomes a Burden Rather Than a Joy

The Gospel reading for February 23 is Matthew 23: 1-12. Jesus chides the scribes and Pharisees for their religious practices because their religious duty became a burden rather than a joy. It is also a mistake which most Catholics fall into when they first become serious about spirituality. I know I did.  Just like the Pharisees who slipped into the very human tendency to live an illusion, an illusion which stated they could be holy through their own efforts, Catholics can also fall into the mistake of living under the burden of expectations and rules, attempting to live up to them through their own strength of will. Unfortunately, it is difficult to catch ourselves falling into this ego trap because we are trying so hard to be humble, we are blinded to the fact that all our sacrificial actions and acts of service are in fact rooted in pride and illusion, not in reality.

Through My Own Efforts.

I had to struggle for years, reaching the end of my own strength before I realized I was trying to save myself through my own efforts. Even though I thought of myself as a humble, faithful servant of God, in reality, I was living in the centre of my own little kingdom. How many of us really live every day plugged into God’s Mystical Body, gazing at Christ, loving the One who is at the centre of the universe? Even fewer Catholics can say with St. Paul, ” I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” ( Galatians 2:20). Yet this is the normal Christian life,  a joyful, Christian reality which is available to all, not just the saintly few.


When we see ourselves, in reality, the way God sees us, we finally understand how desperately we need the power of Christ’s death and Ressurection to save us from ourselves. Christ was a servant for our sake. He humbled himself, even to death on a cross. Humility is self-knowledge, seeing ourselves in reality as God sees us. The humble do not trust in themselves, but trust in God and in the power of His love and saving grace. True humility is living in reality, in joy and simplicity. Jesus closes the passage in Matthew with strong words which reiterate the crux of His message to His disciples, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Lent is Not an Excuse for Dramatic Acts

The Church shows us exactly how God wants us to pray, fast, serve His people and worship Him. The words from Isaiah 58:1-9 are like brilliant beams of light, cutting through any false notions we might have about this season of repentance we call Lent. Often we tend to think of Lent as a time to share in the suffering of Christ yet when we do so, we become morose and end up centring more on our own sacrificial devotions than on God.

Lent is a time to get rid of the flub in our lives but only so we are able to connect more to the Heart of our Beloved, more on the people around us who are in need. Lent is not an excuse for dramatic acts of fasting by wearing sackcloth and ashes, figuratively or literally. As Isaiah says:

Is this the manner of fasting I wish,

of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?

God answers this rhetorical question with a resounding, “NO”.

Our Father is not interested in such spectacles which simply focus on ourselves and our sins.  As mortals. we are all the same. As St. Paul says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans: 3:23). This fact is a given. The truly repentant man, the sort of man who is acceptable to God, has a contrite heart.


True Humility

A repentant man is contrite, humbly acknowledging his sin in simplicity, trusting more in God’s mercy than any of his own heroic acts of supposed repentance. It is God alone who washes us from guilt, who cleanses us from sin. He is not concerned with mere outer actions of repentance like sacrifices but on our inner attitude. Only  a humble and contrite heart will do.

Not only is God looking for an attitude of true humility but He desires positive actions.

We all fall into the dubious habit of asking, ” So, what are you giving up for Lent this year?” Wrong question folks. Isaiah is quite clear,

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.


Reality is Joyful

Scripture promises the children of God will experience glorious joy, inspiring hope in all of us mere humans. Our small acts of mercy, love and concern will shine like beacons of light in this world of ours. God will forgive us and vindicate us. He will answer our prayers with mercy because we have shown mercy in positive acts of love and concern to those in need. We are no longer the centre of our little universe. We have plunged ourselves into the Mystical Body of Christ and are filled with His light, joy, and most of all we are filled with His love. This is the Christian reality.


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6 thoughts on “Illusion or Reality? Pride or Humility?”

  1. Dan Ruf in indiana

    makes me think of the first few chapters of ‘dark night of the soul’ by St John of the Cross, mistakes we beginners all make

  2. It would seem then that the numerous religious orders practicing austere penance from simple to extreme would fall into the category of ” God answer(ing) this rhetorical question with a resounding, “NO”.

    1. From where I stand now, I would have to agree. The only way austere penance or any suffering has any validity is IF the person is suffering in LOVE, completely united with Love. Then they are experiencing redemptive suffering, in union with Christ. Most often my suffering is an attempt to earn salvation.

      However, denying pleasure does reduce us, making us realize how weak we are and that we need Christ. St. Paul says,
      Romans 7:
      “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do ….24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

  3. “Small acts”: “The best portion of a good man’s life: his little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love.”William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads. Melanie, thank you. Why does it seem as I get older I realize I really didn’t achieve squat – but that any good I did was thanks to my Father, and any bad I did was mine alone? When I was yournger I really believed all that stuff on my resume was of my doing. I guess pride is easy when your are young and goin’ and blowin’. So when I aged, I realized:


    The gifts He gave me,

    I thought were me.

    I was them, they were mine.

    I used them, enjoyed them,

    Ignored, and wasted them.

    Some I squandered.

    A gift that blossomed,

    It was my planting!

    A gift that bore fruit,

    It was my growing!

    No thought of giving them.

    No thought of sharing them

    With anyone in His image, or

    With someone in His likeness.

    Giving even now,

    He gives this gift of

    Letting me know

    He gave and

    He is still the Giver.

    And prodigal, returning,

    I ask for one last gift,

    Time to give His gifts away.

    GM 2015

    1. It seems we understand each other. I was beaming with joy as I read your poem of the heart. It is simple. It is true. It is of the Spirit. Yes, as we grow older and wiser we finally understand that in the Face of the Almighty, we can only do small acts of love in, with and through Him

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