The Virtue Trap

I generally identify with the tax collector in today’s Gospel reading: Luke 18:914.

That’s okay, since emulating “those who were convinced of their own righteousness,” despising everyone else, is a bad idea.

The problem wasn’t what the Pharisee was doing.

Fasting, within reason, is a good idea. It can be part of penance. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1434, 1438, 2043)

Along with tithing, it’s part of being a Catholic. (Catechism, 1387, 1969)

It’s part of being a Catholic for most of us, that is. Code of Canon Law, IV, III, II, II, 1251 says it’s part of being Catholic for folks age 15 through 59, and there are some other exceptions.1

Like I said, what the Pharisee was doing wasn’t the problem.

It was his attitude.

“…The pharisee is the very icon of a corrupt person who pretends to pray, but only manages to strut in front of a mirror. He is corrupt and he is pretending to pray. Thus, in life whoever believes himself to be just and criticises others and despises them, is corrupt and a hypocrite. Pride compromises every good deed, empties prayer, creates distance from God and from others….”
(“Humble prayer obtains mercy,” General Audience, Pope Francis (June 1, 2016))

Truth Matters

Truth is very important, and hypocrisy is a bad idea. (Catechism, Prologue, 27, 74, 1847, 2468, more under Truth in the index)

I’m expected to live as if I think truth matters. (Catechism, 24642503)

I’m also expected to use common sense.

“Discuss your case with your neighbor, but another man’s secret do not disclose;
“Lest, hearing it, he reproach you, and your ill repute cease not.”
(Proverbs 25:910)

“…No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.”
(Catechism, 2489)

Humility is putting God in first place: being thankful for what is good, and having the good sense to seek forgiveness when I mess up.2 (Catechism, 299, 2559)

That happens more often than I like. Messing up, I mean. I can’t make Tobit’s claim, that I “have walked all the days of my life on the paths of truth and righteousness.” (Tobit 1:3)

That’s what “confession,” the sacrament of reconciliation is for: in part. I’m still ‘working out’ my salvation, and that’s another topic. (Philippians 2:12; Catechism, 14221470)

Uriah Heep and The Screwtape Letters

Not bragging about how virtuous I am is a good idea, but I think acting like the tax collector could be a problem, too: if it’s just “acting.”

I strongly suspect that’s at least partly what the “delighting in self-abasement” mentioned in Colossians 2:18 is about.

Uriah Heep is a terrible role model, and I’ve been over that before. (July 31, 2016)

Not bragging about my humility seems prudent: even if it’s just to myself.

“…All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, ‘By jove! I’m being humble’, and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear….”
(“The Screwtape Letters,” XIV, C. S. Lewis (1942) via Project Gutenberg)

Real-life analogs to the fictional Screwtape and Wormwood exist, are best left alone, and that’s yet another topic.3

Vaguely-related posts:

1 Fasting and common sense:

“…Those that are excused from fast and abstinence outside the age limits include the physically or mentally ill including individuals suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes. Also excluded are pregnant or nursing women. In all cases, common sense should prevail, and ill persons should not further jeopardize their health by fasting.”
(Questions and Answers about Lent and Lenten Practices, USCCB)

2 ‘Messing up,’ sinning, is what happens when I don’t love God, love my neighbors, and see everybody as my neighbor. (Matthew 5:4344, 7:12, 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Luke 10:2527, 2937)

Like I said, it happens more often than I like.

I should treat others as I want to be treated, too. (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31)

3 Demons, devils, angels who rejected God, are most emphatically not safe to be around. Satan, however, is not God’s ‘evil twin.’ (Catechism, 391395, 397, 2851)

“…He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God’s reign….”
(Catechism, 395)

C. S. Lewis was right about “two equal and opposite errors,” I think:

“…There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight….”
The Screwtape Letters,” Preface, C. S. Lewis (1942) via Project Gutenberg)

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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5 Responses to The Virtue Trap

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