Friday, May 11, 2012

Excessive Religiosity

Tissot: The Pharisee and the Publican

As human beings we have a tendency to cling to things with a tenacious grip. Whether it be people, objects, our viewpoints, or even our sins, we cling, cling, cling. Even to "religious stuff". We insist that people look at life through our eyes, blinded though these eyes may be. Though we read in the Bible that ALL have sinned, we may secretly harbor the thought that we don't sin all that much and surely God can see that. Like little robots we make sure we do everything precisely and correctly. Mass every day? Piece of cake! Four Rosaries? Done! A couple of Mercy Chaplets to top it off? No problem! Church committees, Eucharistic minister, Lector....anything for the Lord! Right?

No, not always. As a matter of fact? Unlikely. The things I mention above are very good things provided we understand that they are means and not ends in themselves. We are very good at fooling ourselves and thinking we are holier than we really are, especially if the outward "signs" look good.

Many of you who have walked through the desert (spiritually) for long periods of time know that God strips us of our own ideas of holiness. Often our thoughts on sanctity bear little resemblance to the Lord's. Excessive religiosity is often a symptom of  spiritual pride and is not an area that the Lord overlooks. It's often one of the first areas He works on after some of  the more "obvious" sins  are gone. This is an area in which we are purified and it can be difficult because we were often taught that the way we are doing things IS holy.  And it can be for some, if we are very, very, humble....which most of us are not.

It can be a tough road because we honestly believe we are doing something good; on the outside we make sure to act humbly before all, but inside we secretly think we just might be saints already. Despite clear warnings from the saints, not too long after my conversion I had a big problem in this area. Yes, St. Teresa warned me and warned me in her books but I thought, "Surely this doesn't apply to me." After all, I was being filled with spiritual consolations so I had to be doing something right, yes? Flooded with gifts, loaded with consolations. "Wow!" I thought.

Now I know why they call this period "the honeymoon".  I should have known there was much more to all this.

The truth is that I reeked to high heaven. (No doubt to the depths of hell, too.) Here I was hoping for the odor of sanctity and all I smelled like was a garbage pail.

 Sulphur even.

"Oh, c'mon Mary, surely you weren't dumb enough to fall for this?"

Heck, yes I was! Dumber even because I wallowed in it for a while! Needless to say, the "honeymoon" was quite short because the Lord wasn't going to allow this to go on for long.

I can still picture Satan laughing with glee, no doubt saying, "Let's get her to think she's a saint already, then our work will be so easy. (Satan is lazy and likes to take the shortest and quickest paths to destroying souls if he can.)

The Lord quickly began to disabuse me of my false notion of my own sanctity. And because I was so prideful I was devastated. Cut to the core!

 Embarrassed too.

But still... I mean:

Good grief!

I was only allowed to be a saint for six months?


Okay, I'm kidding.

The truth is: we really have to beware of this type of  "pseudo-transformation", the transformation of the outer person without the deep inner transformation that all of us so desperately need.  Understanding this is crucial to our spiritual progression. I think this is an area where many people get "stuck" and this is why the saints warn us so often about not getting caught in this particular trap.

When beginners become aware of their own fervor and diligence in their spiritual works and devotional exercises, this prosperity of theirs gives rise to secret pride - though holy things tend of their own nature to humility - because of their imperfections; and the issue is that they conceive a certain satisfaction in the contemplation of their works and of themselves. From the same source, too, proceeds that empty eagerness which they display in speaking of the spiritual life before others, and sometimes as teachers rather than learners. They condemn others in their heart when they see that they are not devout in their way. Sometimes also they say it in words, showing themselves herein to be like the Pharisee, who in the act of prayer boasted of his own works and despised the publican.                             St. John of the Cross

(For a good laugh you can read just how bad my problem with spiritual pride was: The First Cut is the Deepest.)


  1. Mary, your words have a way of bringing guilt to the fore of my attention. Thank you for not settling for complacency in your spiritual efforts and for showing others the error of their ways as well. You're sure tough! Just what I needed!

  2. Oh dear, I remember dragging everyone to Mass - every single day, rain or shine. And, also panicking if I missed Communion in a day. Then, there were the flattering comments from the lovely people who thought I was such a good mother :-/ What a fraud!!!

    I guess it's less about me, now.

    Thank you for another great post, Mary. It stirred up a lot of thoughts which don't translate well into words. I keep thinking I should stick to drawing - it's easier to avoid Satan's traps, that way! ;-)

    God bless :-)

  3. Hi Mary,

    You raise some very important and relevant points about Christianity and the way we should (or do) live it.

    Yes ... many think, and have been made to believe, that lots of prayers, attending Mass regularly, working in Church committees and so on is the right way to Heaven.

    These acts of devotion and love help ... but there's more to it than that.

    The problem is, many have just not been taught what it means to be a Christian. Christianity is not a badge or a title. It's a way of life. But many don't understand that. They believe what they are doing is enough.

    I sometimes wonder: WHAT DOES GOD REALLY WANT?

    It's often very difficult being a Christian. Having to love and forgive those who have wronged you and continue to do so. Having to do goods deeds when you'd really want to do something else. Having to care for others more than for yourself.

    Good Lord ... It is just not possible to be and love like Christ because quite simply we are not Him.

    As I sit here and write these words, I can feel the Guardian Angel tapping me on the shoulder and saying: "Hey ... who do you think you are? Preaching like a know-all. You're worse than most of them!"

    So I'd better stop.

    Thank you Mary for a well written post. God bless.

  4. Mary,

    You were a saint for 6 months? I was deceived just a little longer. Oh I had everything worked out perfectly - I was pretty good... until I fell way down off my throne when Thomas was diagnosed with his abnormality. How could God do that to me who was doing everything so perfectly?

    I learnt after Thomas died that we can do all the religious practices possible and look good in our own eyes and in that of other people, but this doesn't necessarily involve doing God's will. What is far, far more difficult and valuable is accepting whatever God sends us and trusting Him regardless of the suffering we may experience. I am not saying I did that perfectly either but at least while I was suffering I was aware of how little I was and not all puffed up thinking I was only a short hop away from being a saint!

    I must admit there are still many times when I think I've got it all worked out and then boom! I make the same mistake again!

    I love St Teresa! I've been thinking a lot about her words recently.

    Great post, Mary. God bless you.

  5. Anne,
    According to the saints we all suffer from spiritual pride from one degree to another. I guess it can be expected but mine was over the top as you'll see in my next post. I was blind to this :) I seem to have to learn everything the hard way.

    Plus, I would have burnt myself out in no time had I kept going the way I was heading. I can remember a number of times when I went to Mass both in the morning and evening. I think part of me was trying to make up for lost years but I directed my attention at the things I was doing and was patting myself on the back for being a "super Christian". Lol.

  6. Vicky,
    I would panic if I missed Communion too. I use to go to Mass sick! Now how uncharitable is that?

    I guess it's our motives that are of concern when it comes to spiritual things. Sometimes we have to let go a bit so the Lord can show us what He wants. I still go to Mass often but not for the same reasons.

    God bless :)

  7. Victor,
    Actually, despite the tapping of your guardian angel, this was very well said. I love your comment about Christianity not being a badge or a title. And you are right about it not being easy at times. We struggle and will likely struggle until we die.

    Thanks for commenting!

  8. Sue,
    Well said, my friend. There is so much more to being a saint than outward signs of "holiness". Your comment would make a great post, you know. Looking good in our own eyes and the eyes of others can be a big problem if the inner person doesn't match the outer. It can make us complacent and that is dangerous.

    Yeah, I make the same mistakes over and over :) I sound like a broken record in the Confessional, constantly confessing the same sins.

  9. Wow Mary powerful post. Yes, God strips us to our bear essentials of brokenness. Blessings to you my favorite guesser. How is poopydoggie?

  10. Thanks, Grace! May God bless you too :)

    The poopster is still doing his duty everywhere and anywhere! It's driving me batty! It just makes no sense because he can hold both all night easily but during the day I'll let him out and half the time he holds it until he gets in. Why? I don't know. It's weird - I actually had to buy him "doggy diapers". Lol!

  11. Happy Mother's Day Mary! Blessings and hugs!

  12. Standing in the Guilty Line right next to you.

    In front of you actually.

    Thanks for this.

    God Bless you.

  13. Thank you, Grace! Sending you a great big hug!!

  14. Michael,
    I think we all suffer from this to some extent. It's part of our fallen nature. I suppose there may be some who are born humble (yeah, right). I can think of only one though(not counting Jesus) and that's Our Lady.

    God bless you, too!

  15. Sigh. Been there. Done that. I guess we all do this. In our desire to be with God, and to think we can do it all ourselves, we forget that we are NOT the Master of the Universe. Thank goodness!

  16. It's nice to know I'm in good company, Colleen :)

    Thank goodness is right!!

    It's pretty humorous though. I got to be a saint for half a year!(Ugh)

  17. Mary,

    Thank you for you comment on my comment! Maybe I will write a post. Thanks for the suggestion!

  18. That would be great! Your comment got to the heart of the matter and would make an excellent post!

  19. Wonderful post. Thank you for keeping me spiritually "alert". My pastor often says that the way to know we are "doing it right" is if we are being hounded by the enemy and suffering much mocking/persecution/rejection, etc...interesting to ponder the relationship of the two.

  20. Hi Judy,
    I've heard this too. The enemy doesn't harass people when he has them where he wants them. What would be the point? Thanks for commenting! I hope you and your family are well!