"My house is the house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves," he would say, using the words of Our Lord when He drove the desecrators out of the Temple. The pagans shame us in this regard; they go to the temple of their false gods with reverence and respect; the Mohammedan never goes into his mosque without taking off his shoes at the entrance and washing his feet as a sign of respect. These idolaters worship false gods made of wood, stone or metal, but with such respect that our outward show of piety and devotion, in many cases, is inferior to theirs. Almighty God, who is thus carelessly treated by His worshippers, will not let such conduct pass unpunished. St. Chrysostom says that the reason of many of our calamities, wars, and famines, is because our churches are not held in sufficient respect, and kept exclusively for the purposes of prayer. Even Socrates, the pagan philosopher, asserts that the desecration of the temple is a sign of the anger of God, and foreshadows great calamities that are about to come upon the nation. The first Christians considered the churches heaven itself: here they came sprinkled with ashes, clothed in sackcloth, with a rope around their waist and humbly kissed the feet of the priest: not only did the common people do this, but even tyrants and kings.
The Emperor Theodosius entered the cathedral of Milan in a poor garment, and when he came to the threshold fell flat on his face, repeating the words of the psalm: "I have been humbled, Lord, exceedingly; quicken Thou me according to Thy word." He remained in that attitude during the sacred functions. St. Gregory of Nazianzen writes of his mother that she was so recollected in church that she never sat down, never spoke, never turned her back to the Blessed Sacrament. These examples show that in former times great outward respect was shown in church. I will not ask you to come to church covered with ashes or dressed in sackcloth; but when you are there assume a respectful posture and ask God to pardon your sins.
Now let us go back to the Gospel; the Pharisee said, "I give Thee thanks that I am not like the rest of men.'' What pride, what blindness this is! In reality this Pharisee was an impudent sinner. Here he was, in the presence of this great healer of the human race, standing before God with his soul stained by this dreadful malady of pride, yet he utters not a word to ask for help in the sickness of his soul. He should have opened his heart to God in groans and lamentations; he should have recognized the meanness of this vice, and begged of God the grace to overcome it; but the Pharisee never thought he was sinfully proud; that all the good in him was changed into wickedness by this vice. We sometimes feel about the same way, for how often do we hear as an excuse for the want of religion, "I do not steal, nor curse, nor get drunk. I do no man any injury." Supposing you are all that you say, are you therefore free from sin? Are not the bad conversations held with your companions, sins? Are not bad thoughts which kill the soul, sins? I am ready to believe, my young friends, that you are not guilty of great sins, but even so, can you say, " I thank God, I am not like those other young men." Just reflect for a moment; supposing you are not guilty of grave faults ought you on that account be proud? You know well enough that you lack much as followers of Jesus Christ. You commit many venial sins; you know you tell many little lies; you are
frequently disobedient; you have very little devotion, very little respect for God in church; you are careless at your prayers, and by these smaller sins, instead of advancing in the path of virtue, you are going back. Again, you say with some pride, we are not as bad as others, for we have not committed great crimes.
If, my dear young people, by a special grace of God you have not, up to the present, fallen into certain great sins, yet if you continue in your cold way, you will in the course of years certainly fall into them. If pride is your governing vice, you will certainly come to a great fall, for it is the punishment of pride to descend into the most abject humiliation. In the lives of the Fathers, we read of a monk who lived a long time in the desert, doing great penance and practicing many virtues; but somehow he had not that humility which a holy man ought to possess. Almighty God wished to save him and so, to humble him. He sent him a temptation and the monk fell. Instead of keeping your eyes on the wicked so that you may say, "Thank God, I am not so bad as to be capable of doing that," keep your eyes on young people who are virtuous and exemplary, and ask yourself why you are not as good as they are. These people are devout in church, they frequent the Sacraments, hear the word of God, are obedient to their superiors, patient, mild, polite and modest in thought, word and action. Am I like them? Remember you must acquire all the virtues of the good if you would be good yourself. Even supposing you are doing very well, that you appear to walk in the path of virtue, you cannot consider yourself perfect, and you cannot thank God that you are better than others; for after all you are only like a servant who has merely done his duty and is not worthy of special commendation for that.
Athens was a great school of philosophy and many students flocked to it. In the first years the Athenian student boasted that he knew everything; some years later on he felt that he knew but little, and finally, compared to what he ought to know, he admitted that he knew nothing. It used to be said at that time that the student who had reached that pitch of philosophy was the one most applauded for his success. Solon, the Gentile philosopher, held this principle: "Of this,'' said he, "I am sure, that I know nothing." I think the same holds true of virtue; the greater opinion we have of our virtue the less we have of it. "When you have done all that is required of you, say you are useless servants."
"We have said enough of the proud Pharisee; let us now consider the publican. Who is that at the farthest end of the church? Why does he not come up and approach the altar? It is the poor, penitent publican. There he stands, beating his breast with shame, and with tearful eyes raised to heaven, cries, "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." Yes, truly he was a sinner; but he acknowledged himself as such, he bewailed his sins and received pardon for them at once. We ought to have that same feeling, that we are sinners; we should acknowledge that we are not fit to stand before God in His holy place. Let us with sorrow confess our sins to a priest and say, "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." Make a good examination of conscience, that your sorrow may extend to all your faults, none forgotten and none concealed. Make up your mind firmly that you will hate these sins in the future; turn your eyes to the Heart of Jesus, and pray to Him that He, your Judge, may forgive you. "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." And when you rise from the feet of the priest, you will hear the sweet words, "Son, thy sins are forgiven thee,
go in peace and sin no more."
St. Francis de Sales says, "When you go to confession, imagine you stand with your sins beneath the cross, that drops of blood are falling on your soul from the wounds of the dying Lord, washing away every stain of sin."
Source: Sermons for Children's Masses, Imprimatur 1900