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They Conspired Against Him: Confronting Pride Through Prayer

By Deacon Keith Fournier
July 22nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

As I reflected on the Gospel I was made mindful again of my proclivity to such fickle behavior. Without the grace of God, I can all too easily become blinded by my own sinful pride. I can all too easily begin to live like one who had once believed in Him - instead of one who DOES believe in Him. This happens when we grow apart from His living presence. Yesterday's relationship with the Lord is not sufficient for today. Yesterday's prayer cannot keep me in the presence of the Lord. I need to cultivate an ongoing relationship with the Lord if I hope to see clearly with the eyes of living faith. I need to regularly and continually talk to Him.

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - In our Gospel today (Mt. 12:14-21) St. Matthew again presents the behavior of the Pharisees. We see the downward spiral which the sin of pride can unleash, even in those who presume they are devout. The verse which drew me to my knees is verse 14: "But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him."

The response of Jesus is found in the next verse. It is the response which should come to characterize the pattern in our lives when we face hostility from those who should rejoice in our effort to serve the Lord - but do not. Sometimes, they openly oppose us: "When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them."

Jesus continued to do what the Father had sent Him to do. We are invited to follow his example. He will always give us the grace to do so.

St Josemaria Escriva called this kind of difficulty, "opposition from the good." The lives of the Saints reveal that among the scars left from wounds borne for fidelity, it is those caused by this kind of "opposition from the good" which can leave the deepest mark in a Christian.They can also become the most fruitful when embraced in the love of the Savior and offered back to Him in love. 

As I have aged, I have come to understand this truth more. I certainly bear many scars. They have become my tutors. Many have been caused by "opposition from the good." Those who "conspired against him, how to destroy him" were blinded by pride. Yet, we find Love Incarnate forgiving them from the Altar of the Cross. Further, we find that in the mystery of God's Loving plan they actually participate in the redemptive mission of Jesus.

So, what can we learn from them to apply in our own lives? We should examine ourselves today and ask ourselves how we are doing. Where is the sin of pride rearing its ugly head in our own lives?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church warns us, "hatred of God comes from pride. It is contrary to love of God, whose goodness it denies, and whom it presumes to curse as the one who forbids sins and inflicts punishments." (CCC#2094)

What had happened to these men? After all, some of them had once listened to His teaching and extolled His wonderful works. Some had once believed in Him. Now, they counsel together to destroy Him. How could such a thing happen? Gradually. Can it happen to you and me? Yes.

As I reflected on the Gospel this morning I was made mindful again of my proclivity to such fickle behavior. Without the grace of God, I can all too easily become blinded by my own sinful pride. I can all too easily begin to live like one who had once believed in Him - instead of one who DOES believe in Him. This happens when we grow apart from His living presence.

Yesterday's relationship with the Lord is not sufficient for today. Yesterday's prayer cannot keep me in the presence of the Lord. I need to cultivate an ongoing relationship with the Lord if I hope to see clearly with the eyes of living faith. I need to regularly and continually talk to Him.

For the Christian, this means learning to live in prayer. Prayer is about an ongoing encounter with the Lord which changes us. It is about living in Him and welcoming Him to live in us. Prayer helps us to see ourselves clearly and to recognize our own need for repentance. Prayer draws us into an experience of transforming grace.

Olivier Clement, a lay orthodox theologian, explains in his excellent resource book entitled The Roots of Christian Mysticism, Texts from Patristic Era with Commentary that prayer is not something we do but Some - One we encounter. "It is Some-One who comes to us in the sovereign freedom of His love. Grace does not come to order. We can only prepare ourselves to receive it, making ourselves attentive to the possibility of a meeting."

We need to pray every day, throughout the whole day, to stay in touch with this Some-One. Otherwise our capacity to exercise our freedom rightly, to choose what it good and what is true, begins to suffer. We can become influenced once again by what the Apostle Paul called the "law of sin and death" (Romans 7:35) and begin to view the world, ourselves, and the Lord, in a distorted manner. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that "In man, true freedom is an "outstanding manifestation of the divine image". (CCC #212)  Our choices not only change the world around us but they change us. What we choose either humanizes us further or leads us, ultimately, into slavery.

Saint Gregory in one of his homilies cited in the Catechism opines, "Now, human life is always subject to change: it needs to be born ever anew. But here birth does not come about by a foreign intervention, as is the case with bodily beings, it is the result of a free choice. Thus we are in a certain way our own parents, creating ourselves as we will, by our decisions."

The Catechism explains that "The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin." (CCC #1734) It also cites the Apostle Paul's use of that phrase. (Romans 6:17) That same Apostle reminds us that "it was for freedom that Christ set us free". (Gal. 5:1)

We can move from being men and women walking in the freedom of the truth which comes through living faith to becoming ones who had once believed in Him all too easily. All it takes is succumbing to sinful pride. We become spiritually blinded, lose our freedom and fail to recognize the Lord in our own lives. In fact, we can end up "conspiring to destroy Him"; at least figuratively.

Olivier Clement's invitation to "prepare ourselves for the possibility of a meeting" requires that we learn to silence the clamor of the age, stop the ever accelerating pace of the futile quests that so often occupy our hearts, and live in the eternal now by surrendering ourselves - and even our best aspirations- to the One who created us -and now re-creates us- in His Son Jesus Christ.

It is there, in the emptied place, in the stillness of the eternal now, where we prepare a room for the King of all hearts. And, in that encounter, we soon find the longing of our heart fulfilled. Grace does not come to order. Rather, it is freely given, lavished in fact, upon those who learn to live in God and live as though God lives in them.

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