Your Mommy and Your Kindergarten Teacher Were Wrong: You Are Not Special.
Lessons from cycle II of the feria, according to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite:
Ephesians 4: 7-16.
Psalm 122: 1-5.
Luke 13: 1-9.
The Twenty-Ninth Saturday of Ordinary Time.
A Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturday.
Return to ByzantineCatholicPriest.com.
1:43 PM 10/25/2014 — In the film Lawrence of Arabia there is a scene where Lawrence, played by Peter O'Toole, has been summoned to the office of his commanding general, played by Jack Hawkins, and a reporter, played by Arthur Kennedy, asks Claude Rains' character, “Is the man in trouble?” and Rains responds, “I assume so. We all have troubles”; which, of course, is not an answer, but is profoundly true. There are very few of us who can say that our journey through this valley of tears—as the “Hail, Holy Queen” puts it—is a happy-go-lucky waltz through life. The temptation, of course, is that we personalize our troubles and presume that they are directed personally against us because of some sin or some failure on our part, and if we could only identify it and deal with it all our troubles would go away.
This presumption, of course, is an exercise in the sin of pride, and our Lord challenges it in the first half of today's Gospel lesson:
Do you suppose, because this befell them, that these men were worse sinners than all else in Galilee? I tell you it is not so; you will all perish as they did, if you do not repent. …do you suppose that there was a heavier account against them, than against any others who then dwelt at Jerusalem? I tell you it was not so; you will all perish as they did, if you do not repent (Luke 13: 2, 4-5 Knox).
In other words, while it is true that all suffering in this earthly life is the result of sin, this does not mean that our own sufferings are the results of our own sins; and, I say that this is an exercise in the sin of pride because it's based on the presumption that the negative effects of God's permissive will are so personalized that what we do in this life effects us and us alone, without reckoning upon the Communion of the Saints or our participation in the effects of Original Sin.
Life in this world is hard, but not because of anything we've done personally, but because of the effects of our fallen nature and the concupiscence that goes with it. As our Lord points out, the Galileans and the people at Siloam were punished, yes, but not because of each of their individual sins, but because of the sins of all Galileans and all Siloamites; and, the repentance he exhorts upon them is a repentance that must take place within the whole of those societies. It only becomes personal when we realize that the conversion of a society is linked to the personal conversion of each and every soul within it; and, we contribute to the conversion of society by, first of all, converting ourselves.
The second half of the Gospel lesson is a parable, and a rather simple one: the fig tree that doesn't bear fruit is cut down and thrown away; not a lot of mental gymnastics to figure that one out. But the important part of this lesson is how dangerous it can be to become too introspective. It's an exercise in pride because it presumes that everything that happens to me is because of me. It's an exercise in a lack of understanding of Catholic dogma because it denies the effects of Original Sin and our link to the Communion of the Saints. I suffer in this world not because I am a sinner, but because I happen to live in a sinful world. We chafe at that because it isn't fair: why should I have to participate in the negative effects of the sins of others? Because that's the way it is.
We often betray our sin of pride and our lack of understanding of Original Sin in the manner in which we sometimes make our confessions: we start crying to the priest about how hard our life is and how difficult it is to cope, either because we have mistaken the priest for some kind of psychologist or counselor who can help us get in touch with the roots of our unhappiness, or—which I think is more likely—we're just obsessed with ourselves and presume that everything that's gone wrong with our lives has to do with us.
We shouldn't go to confession to get practical advice on how to cope with our problems, we should go to confession to be absolved of our sins; and, all the priest has to know to do that is what we did and how many times we did it, as far as we can remember. And I sometimes suspect that the reason so many people wait so long to go to confession or avoid going to confession is because they don't really understand what they're supposed to do there, or what they're supposed to be there to receive. It's purpose is not practical or psychological, it's sacramental; it's not theaputic, it's salvific; it's not there to give healing to our emotions, it's there to give Grace. Use it as some sort of free counseling session, and you rob it of it's grace.
While it should be consoling to know that our problems are not directed at us personally, the sin of pride is a persistent monster: we all want to think that we're special, and to learn that our personal problems have less to do with ourselves and what we've done than they do with a fallen nature we share with everyone else takes that away from us. The question is: do we have the humility to accept the fact that it really isn't all about us?