This coming week, our children will be roaming around the neighborhood with their eccentric costumes to beg for sugar that they do not need. Have you ever wondered about what the average pound of candy and chocolates our kids consume on Oct. 31? Some say that there will be approximately 36 million children age between 5 and 13 who will be roaming around our neighborhood. If each child went out and got at least 3 lbs. of candy that night, and if his mom and dad allowed him to have at it, they would have a very hyper child who is unable to sleep. What would that child do if you told him to eat only 5 pieces of candy while you tuck away the rest of the two hundred pieces of candy somewhere he can't reach it? I bet that child would fuss and whine, "But so-and-so's mom allows him to have the entire bag; why can't I?"
Sometimes we can fuss and whine at God the same way a candy-deprived child fusses at his parents. We pray for all sorts of things we want God to give us; my neighbor is getting it, why can't I? For some of us, the God described in the First Reading is foreign to us. The Book of Sirach says, "The LORD is a God of justice, who knows no favorites. Though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed. The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint." We say to ourselves, "That's not the God I know. Does He not see that I'm suffering? Why isn't He doing something about it like I asked Him to?"
This week, I began reading a spiritual book which woke me up. I sometimes get complacent and say to myself, 'I'm praying well, probably more so than others; I'm humble, probably more so than others.' Then I began reading the book. It reads: "God aids 'beginners of prayer' (e.g., making time for prayer, spiritual reading, etc.) in their attempts at changing their lives by showering them with sensible consolations for the sake of weaning them away from the things of this world." I'm thinking to myself, 'Surely I'm beyond the 'beginner' stage. I don't go out of the way to seek consolations from God.' The passage continued:
Like children, "beginners" are ruled by the pleasure principle; they seek to obtain sensual satisfaction and avoid discomfort and try to manufacture feelings by overindulging themselves in spiritual exercises, and conversely, they avoid any spiritual discipline that is distasteful. They are easily bored and become angry and peevish when their attempts to obtain satisfaction are frustrated. "And if they do not get what they want, they become sad and go away like testy children." Children is one of the metaphors that John uses most frequently to describe "beginners" addicted to the pleasure of consolation.
Then the book added even more skewering to my shame. It read:
These "beginners" feel so fervent and diligent in their spiritual exercises and undertakings that a certain kind of secret pride is generated in them that begets a complacency with themselves and their accomplishments...Then they develop a somewhat vain...desire to speak of spiritual things in other's presence, and sometimes even to instruct rather than be instructed; in their hearts they condemn others who do not seem to have the kind of devotion they would like them to have, and sometimes they give expression to this criticism...
Some of the persons become so evil-minded that they do not want anyone except themselves to appear holy; and so by both word and deed they condemn and detract others whenever the occasion arises...
This is a great lesson. We can easily become self-absorbed and prideful when we have the entire sweet bag of candy all to ourselves. When the candy is taken away from us, we forget that God may be trying to wean us away from being self-absorbed and prideful. How do we keep from being self-absorbed like that Pharisee? If we take time from our busy day and grow in our relationship with the Father and the Son through prayer, reflection and studying the Holy Scriptures then we will begin to see through the eyes of the contrite sinner and not those of the Pharisee.