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He spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being upright and despised everyone else,
‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like everyone else, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.”
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.” This man, I tell you, went home again justified; the other did not. For everyone who raises himself up will be humbled, but anyone who humbles himself will be raised up.’

Luke 18:9-14

Another well-known Gospel reading at Mass today, but also a very significant one. At first glance it reminds us not to be boastful, not to pride ourselves on things at the expense of others.

The pharisee may well speak the truth above: he may indeed by generous, just and faithful, fasting and paying his tithes. But to whom does he compare himself? To the Lord God, of whom his life should be a reflection? No, he compares himself to those who, in his own perception, are not as generous, just and faithful as he is. What this incorrect direction of comparison leads to is rather beautifully shown in the line, “The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself”. He doesn’t pray to God, he speaks his boastful words to himself.

When we compare ourselves to others and then boast about how much better we are than they, we become the arbiter of how things should be. Rather than looking up to God who can lift us up into a more perfect life with Him, we stop at ourselves. When we do something that is good in our own perception, then it must be good, for we decide that for ourselves.

But we are imperfect beings, living in an imperfect world. We are eternally called to improve ourselves, to strive for a life in imitation of Christ. That means that we follow someone who is above and outside ourselves, someone more perfect.

Does that mean we can’t take pride in our achievements? No, we can, but we must make the clear distinction between what we ourselves are able to do, and what has been given us. And we must certainly not take that pride as a reason to look down upon others. In the eyes of God we are all sinners, as the tax collector recognises. We also rarely have the complete picture, so taking pride over the expense of others is ultimately unjust.

In our imitation of Christ, we should make use of the talents that have been given us, and we should appreciate them. But they are tools and do not make us better people in themselves. It’s how we use them that matters most.

Art credit: “The Pharisee and the Publican,” by James Tissot

About this blog

I am a Dutch Catholic from the north of the Netherlands. In this blog I wish to provide accurate information on current affairs in the Church and the relation with society. It is important for Catholics to have knowledge about their own faith and Church, especially since these are frequently misrepresented in many places. My blog has two directions, although I use only English in my writings: on the one hand, I want to inform Dutch faithful - hence the presence of a page with Dutch translations of texts which I consider interesting or important -, and on the other hand, I want to inform the wider world of what is going on in the Church in the Netherlands.

It is sometimes tempting to be too negative about such topics. I don't want to do that: my approach is an inherently positive one, and loyal to the Magisterium of the Church. In many quarters this is an unfamiliar idea: criticism is often the standard approach to the Church, her bishops and priests and other representatives. I will be critical when that is warranted, but it is not my standard approach.

For a personal account about my reasons for becoming and remaining Catholic, go read my story: Why am I Catholic?

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Latest translations added:

4 April: [English] Pope Francis - Interview with Belgian youth.

25 February: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Brief aan de Gezinnen.

24 February: [Dutch] Raymond Kardinaal Burke - De radicale oproep van de paus tot de nieuwe evangelisatie.
De focus van Paus Franciscus op liefde en praktische pastorale zorg in de grotere context van de Schrift en de leer van de Kerk.

21 February: [Dutch] Aartsbisschop Angelo Becciu - Brief aan de Nederlandse studenten.
Namens paus Franciscus reageert de Substituut van het Staatsecretariaat op pausgroet.tk.

20 February: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Welkomstwoord op het Consistorie.
De paus begroet de kardinalen voor het 11e Buitengewone Consistorie, en vat de doelstellingen kort samen.

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Sancta Maria, hortus conclusus, ora pro nobis!

Sancte Ramon de Peñafort, ora pro nobis!

Pope Francis

Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of Rome, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God

Bishop Gerard de Korte

Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

Willem Cardinal Eijk

Cardinal-Priest of San Callisto, Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht

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