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Religion is not just about me

In his parable presented in the gospel reading of today’s Mass, Jesus sets out to shake the complacency of the people who think that following the rules is all they have to do in order to be his faithful follower, or lead a good life.

He points out to them that simply following the rules, even to the letter of the minutest directive, does not mean much except in the context of the manner in which they think and act towards others.

He pointed to the Pharisees, saying that they go wrong when they assume that a right relationship with God is something that we can craft for ourselves out of our own actions.

He notes that the Pharisee asks for nothing from God, living as if everything can be done and achieved solely within the power of the human mind and body.

The Pharisee is under the mistaken impression that he can fulfil all that is required of him by his own actions. That attitude inevitably leads to adopting religious regulations that are easy for us, pleasing to us, and assuming that by pleasing ourselves in this way we make ourselves pleasing to God.

This is a totally human-centric attitude towards life and God, which is not real and certainly has nothing to do with religion, or not the religion that Jesus was preaching.

Being in a right relationship with God comes as a result of God’s initiative, not ours. The tax collector, aware of his brokenness and opening himself to God, asks for mercy.

We cannot put ourselves in a right relationship with God. We are restored to a right relationship with God by God’s healing power working in our lives, not by our own efforts.

All we can do is humbly submit ourselves to this power of God, through prayer and a life devoted to love of God, dependence on God and, most of all, a life devoted to love of neighbour, even of those who are not particularly lovable.

If our prayers are to give us life, if we seek a right relationship with God, we cannot be like those to whom today’s story is directed.

We cannot trust in ourselves that we are righteous and view others with contempt. We must acknowledge that we, like all others, are sinners. We must view our neighbours with compassion and look daily for the saving help that can only come from God.

An unknown author once wrote, “I asked for riches that I might be happy; I was given poverty that I might be wise. I asked for all
things that I might enjoy life; I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

I was given nothing that I asked for, but everything that I had hoped for.”

This prayer from St. Ignatius Loyola is an appropriate one for the day.

“Teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labour and not to ask for reward, save that of knowing that I am doing your will.”


l Diocese of Sandhurst