Saturday, March 18, 2023

Acknowledging That I am “the Pharisee”

Sometimes I feel like a hypocrite, doing all this writing about God.

Like most "religious people," I have an inner Pharisee with whom I must struggle. It's especially hard for someone whose profession is teaching and writing about religion, its history, and how everything else is related ultimately to religious questions and searching. Moreover, I “know the answer,” because I have been given the gift of faith in God’s revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ who dwells among us in His Church. Yes, I am a Catholic. I have the fullness of the faith that God wants for everyone. Uh huh! “Thank God that I am not like the rest of men!” I have the Truth! (It’s so much easier and self-satisfying to say “I have the Truth” than to say, and to recognize, that “the Truth has me.”) It’s so easy to forget that being Christian is not about “status” but about service; that it means following Jesus, taking the lowest place, witnessing to His love not only in words but by pouring out one’s self in love, being the servant of all in Him who emptied Himself and took the form of a slave to save us and reveal to us the mystery of Love as gift of self

Clearly, I’m a long way from the wisdom of God (which is “foolishness” to the world). One thing I know as a Catholic Christian—and can properly claim “for myself”—is that I am a sinner. I need to beg for His mercy. 

But I also need to do my work. My work—to which I gave many years of my life to professional training in order to be academically certified, and which has led to my obtaining the title of “Professor”—is to talk about God, or write about God. I have to work, don’t I?

And it’s only natural to look for affirmation in the execution of one's profession, and to "feel good about one's self” in one’s achievements. One enjoys recognition and honor for the excellence of one’s work. 

But then one remembers that one is teaching and writing words about God.

Nevertheless, I have some measure of human ambition about my work. And I am indeed very much “like the rest of men [and women]”—my life has all the elements that go into the average person's professional and social interaction, including all the hypocrisy, self-promotion, dissimulation, cunning and self-seeking...and it's all wrapped up in teaching and writing about God! This is a psychologically complicated fact of my life. 

I love the first places at banquets, and being called "rabbi"! Woe unto me!

What can I do other than throw myself upon the mercy of God? I have been given the gift of expressing myself. I know that words are straw, but there is a place for straw in life and the task of making straw has been given to me. I have made tons of straw, and I shall continue to make more straw until I can’t do it anymore. Straw is necessary in a world populated by… ummm… “donkeys.”

See how humble I am? (“Oh, he’s so humble,” they say…)
Hah, don't be fooled by this humility routine. The inner Christian Pharisee loves when people recognize and admire his humility—his ego just eats it right up: “Thank God that I am not like the rest of theologians and religious thinkers. I am humble, not like those proud, divisive, arrogant, fundamentalist, revisionist, or just plain weird people back there…etc.” You see the problem here? 

Anyway, don’t be fooled by me. I an not much in the way of being humble. Rather, I am a struggling, divided heart. I am a Scribe. It comes with the profession. "I see," I say, and therefore I am blind. 

Yet I am also the blind man in the process of being healed, of beginning to see His face.

I am a human being but I am not just a religion professor. I am a human being who cries out in my helplessness to the Mystery who makes me and sustains me. I am a radical need that I cannot fulfill by myself. I am often stumbling in the dark, not knowing where my next steps may lead. 

But I am also a human being who—without in any way deserving it—has met the man Jesus Christ. For reasons that overwhelm me—but that I can only call “absolute gratuitous love”—He wants to accompany me and stay with me.

Mixed up with all my mashup of complicated self-serving motivations there is something else; there is a desire that He has placed in my heart because He wants to meet you and stay with you too.

This changes the meaning of my work, even if I am still trying to express His humanity in words, inadequate words, big intellectual words or sentimental, pious words; words that make it sound too easy, and that give me the false appearance of being "wise" as I toy with mysteries. 

All these words. All this straw. Use it for your bed. Throw it in your fire and be warmed. Let it dry up the damp ground under your feet. Find something in it.

From my own struggle, what I want you to see is that Mercy is at work. In all my efforts and words the great hope is that you might see His mercy. Because of Him, I have the audacity to hope that you might find it, even in me, in the midst of my many poor words.

Look for Him. Discover the beauty of His face. I know it's not as easy as it sounds. I know that. But still, He is here, and He is real.