|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.
"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!
But still... I mean:
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.)