Those who trust in themselves are worse than the devil.
Sayings of Light and Love, 166
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
“Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous,” the Gospel tells us. And let’s notice that the conclusion of the parable is a mirror image of the song that Jesus’ own Mother sang in the home of her cousin Elizabeth: Deposuit potentes de sede, et exaltavit humiles (“He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate,” Lk 1:52).
Another interesting item to note in the parable is the conscience of the tax collector, who was painfully aware of his sinfulness. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states that a “well-formed conscience is upright and truthful”, thus the “education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.” (CCC 1783) This education is “a lifelong task.” (CCC 1784)
So how is the conscience formed?
In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path, we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church. (CCC 1785)
If self-trust is worse than the devil, i.e. “Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God…. the one who ‘throws himself across’ God’s plan and his work of salvation accomplished in Christ” (CCC 2851) then the virtue to conquer that vice would be to trust in God.
When we say ‘God’ we confess a constant, unchangeable being, always the same, faithful and just, without any evil. It follows that we must necessarily accept his words and have complete faith in him and acknowledge his authority. He is almighty, merciful, and infinitely beneficent. Who could not place all hope in him? Who could not love him when contemplating the treasures of goodness and love he has poured out on us? (CCC 2086)
St. Thérèse of Lisieux, one of St. John of the Cross’ foremost disciples responds to these rhetorical questions in these, her last written words:
It is not in the first place, but in the last place that I start out; instead of getting ahead with the Pharisee, I repeat, full of trust, the humble prayer of the tax collector; but especially I imitate Magdalene’s attitude, her amazing or rather her daring love that charms the Heart of Jesus, captivates my very own heart. Yes, I feel it, even if I had on my conscience all the sins that can be committed, I would go, heartbroken with repentance, and throw myself into Jesus’ arms, because I know just how much He cherishes the prodigal child who has returned to Him. It is not because God, in His gracious, prevenient mercy, has preserved my soul from mortal sin that I stand up and go to Him in trust and love… (Ms C 36v-37r)
O St. John of the Cross
You were endowed by our Lord with the spirit of self-denial
and a love of the cross.
Obtain for us the grace to follow your example
that we may come to the eternal vision of the glory of God.
O Saint of Christ’s redeeming cross
the road of life is dark and long.
Teach us always to be resigned to God’s holy will
in all the circumstances of our lives
and grant us the special favor
which we now ask of you:
mention your request.
Above all, obtain for us the grace of final perseverance,
a holy and happy death and everlasting life with you
and all the saints in heaven.
The novena prayer was composed from approved sources by Professor Michael Ogunu, a member of the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order in Nigeria.