‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector.’” (Luke 18:11)
Somewhere on Facebook someone wrote that in this modern world, few confess and even fewer repent. Because of this reality, Orthodoxy today is a fairly shallow experience . We may feel drawn to the services, the ambiance, and even the disciplines of the Faith, but we seem to lack the one thing needed. Lacking this one important thing, we just don’t get it. Since we don’t get it, the fervor of faith wanes and vital piety vanishes.
We have problems, even persistent sins, but in spite of that we believe that we are good people, fair people, even decent people. After all, we aren’t like those Baptists, or Buddhists, or atheists, or Muslims. We aren’t like those other sinners who we read about or hear about on the evening news. We work hard and raise our families and live as best we can within the law of the land. We love our country, pay our taxes, and try to do no harm. You see, we have a deep and fundamental belief in our goodness, and it is confirmed when compared to the sins of others.
Compare this attitude to St. Paul who said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am chief.” (1 Timothy 1:15) The chief of sinners – I may say it, but I really don’t believe it. I can think of many that are worse than I am and I can clearly point out why this is so. This is clear proof that I am a prideful man and it is this pride that keeps me from true repentance. Oh, I will confess it all (when I get around to it) but I will not repent of it. I may say that I am the chief of sinners, but I will not change my heart to believe it. Repentance means a real change, and I will not allow myself to change on this point. I know that there are worse sinners than me. After all, I am highly educated, a priest of many years, and a servant of the Lord. Me…the worst of sinners? You must be joking.
I make little progress in my spiritual life. This should be of no surprise when I know that God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble. I am sorry that I sin, and I want to be forgiven, but I am not sorry enough to change. This is why people like St. Mary of Egypt confuse me and mystify me. All those years away from the Church and away from the Sacraments, and yet her genuine sorrow and repentance lead her to spiritual heights I can’t even dream about. Of course, she was a harlot, and I am better than that!
I don’t get it. Do you?