When St. Vincent de Paul was near death, a young apprentice asked him the best way to deal with the poor. His reply was to love them, so that they can forgive you for the bread you give them.
Jesus was not against works of piety. However, he warned against making a big show of those very works and if the intention was to be noticed, the person may as well not do them at all. Good works, acts of charity and public prayer should always be performed with great modesty and a sense of privacy. Your approval rating should come from God…not from great showmanship.
In the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 18 Verses 9-14, we are reminded of the Pharisee who boasted about what a great guy he was. He told everyone loudly that he lived a life of honor and virtue. He wasn’t greedy, didn’t lie, and did not commit adultery. He gave away more money than was expected and made sure others noticed when he fasted. When you think of it, this Pharisee’s attitude about himself and his qualities were a matter of public self-promotion. No humility there. He wasn’t praying, just giving God a laundry list of his lofty achievements.
Jesus reminds us repeatedly in the Gospels that humility is an essential characteristic of a Christian. When we boast about how righteous and good we are, how much we give to others, or how much we follow all the rules, we really miss the boat on what it means to follow Christ as a disciple.
Jesus used the lowly tax collector as his example of humble contrition. This fellow knew he was a sinner. He knew he did not deserve mercy or compassion, yet he humbly asked for it. Jesus is closest to us when we are authentic with him.
When we let down our disguises of self-seeking behavior and realize that God loves us no matter what, we can admit our failures without comparing ourselves to those we believe are “lesser” in our eyes.
In the end, the Pharisee, in his prideful nature, prayed to himself, making sure God was aware of his perfect attributes. The humble tax collector prayed to God. I guess it boils down to one thing…do we want an Oscar for performing our religious best, or do we hunger for a deeper relationship with God, always reminded of His unending love, mercy and forgiveness?
Blessings on your journey.