Since I have travelled in many different Catholic circles over the last year and a half, one of the things that has become strikingly apparent is how true the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican is.
For one thing, the Pharisee was someone that was extremely proud of his position in society. When he stood before God in the temple and talked to him, he talked about all of the things that he did including fasting twice a week, giving alms, etc. He also talked about how proud he was that he was not like that publican over there. He was proud of himself for all of the things that he did and all of the things that he didn’t do.
On the other hand, though, the Publican exhibited extreme humility. He knew that in Roman society he was one of the most despised people. Part of this came from the fact that the Publicans used to extort a lot more money from the people than their quotas. Some of it too was the fact that they collected money for an oppressive regime that most people really didn’t care for. But the thing is that the Publican knew where he stood with God. He knew that he was a sinful man and the only thing that he could do was to beg God to have mercy on his soul and that of the other people around him.
It seems to me that so many people in the traditionalist Catholic circles tend to be like the Pharisees. So many of them look at the Pope and condemn him because he is too liberal. Others will look upon the English Mass and call it an abomination that goes against everything that was believed until this point in time. The thing is that the Catholic Church has continued over 2,000 years. It has not stopped existing because of bad popes or heresies that plummeted the Church into periods of great anarchy. Rather, the Church has always come back stronger than it ever was.
I think that one of the greatest examples of this comes from the period of the Counter-Reformation. It was during this period of time that the Church was assaulted by many different Protestant groups. From Martin Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, poured forth accusations that the Church was forced to refute. In fact, most of Germany became Protestant as did the northern countries of Europe. Civil was due to religion became something extremely commonplace. Yet what did the Church manage to do about this?
The Council of Trent is without a doubt one of the defining moments in recent Church history. Although it took a long time before it was actually convened, it produced many wonderful things for the Church including a Catechism and the Tridentine Latin Mass (TLM). Not only this, but the Council of Trent managed to fix some of the many problems that the Protestants told the Church existed. But the important thing is that the Counter-Reformation was also a period of time that saw the Catholic Church emerge in a stronger suit of armor than it had before.
If you think about it, most of the great religious figures of the Church came from that period of the Counter-Reformation. It was precisely because of a need to re-evangelize Catholics and educate them that St. Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuits. It was also from a deep need to reform and change the Carmelites that such great figures as St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross emerged.
In every generation, not just this one, saints and founders have emerged to deal with the problems that were facing their contemporary generations. Think about the many that impact the Church to this day. Without them and their vision, things would be a lot different than they are. Yet not one of these people ever thought themselves to be better than others. Not one of them sat in judgement over the Church. The thing is that they allowed God to use them to fulfill His inscrutable plans. They were like the Publican and we must be like him too.
After all, we must always remember that evangelization and reform does not start from without but from within. If we do not change our own lives, how can we expect to renovate the Church?