Oct. 26, 2019


Readings: 1st- Sir. 35:12-14, 16-18; 2nd- 2 Tim. 4:6-8, 16-18; Gospel- Lk. 18:9-14.


The word “narcissism” is getting more and more popular in today’s society in what can be described in a negative way. Narcissism is said to have its origin from a Greek myth about Narcissus, a man who “sees his own reflection in a pool of water and falls in love with it.” It means an obsession with one’s ego at the expense of or to the denigration of others. We will look at some of the characteristics of a narcissistic personality disorder in the course of this homily. Individuals with such traits have the tendency to look down on others and to self-exalt themselves. That is the problem of the Pharisee in the gospel.

The readings of today place before us two categories of the human situation: that of humility and that of pride/arrogance. The book of Sirach in the first reading highlights mostly the rewards for the first. God favors the weak. He looks after the oppressed, the widow and orphan because they depend on him. The reading states, “The one who serves God willingly is heard, his petition reaches to the heavens” (Sir. 35:16). The lowly depends on the Creator. She calls out to God constantly. Sirach explains that God hastens to answer such prayers and grants his favors to the contrite heart and the humble spirit.

The gospel presents us with the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector which Jesus used to demonstrate the dangers of a narcissistic attitude. The tax collector went to the temple to pray, understood how much of a sinner he was. He showed deep contrition before God. He asked for mercy. The tax collector wanted to be better and accepted guilt for his offenses. He showed such humility that wouldn’t let him raise his eyes to heaven, rather “beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” The tax collector did not just speak the words; he “prayed.”

In the New Testament, tax collectors have a bad reputation, they represent a breed scorned by the people. They are notorious for their professional misdemeanor- took bribes, extorted money. Two examples of this representation are Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, and Matthew. The Pharisees were scandalized at Jesus and complained against his friendship with this group. While he dined with Matthew and other tax collectors they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matt. 9:11). When Jesus encountered Zacchaeus, the people complained, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner” (Lk. 19:7). This will help us understand the background of today’s gospel. But in those stories about tax collectors, we noticed an interesting turn of events. The tax collectors showed great remorse and repentance from their sins. Matthew became one of Jesus’ great disciples. Zacchaeus stood up and said to Jesus, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Lk. 19:8). The tax collector of today’s gospel acknowledged his sins before God. He was concerned about how the Lord looked at him. He went home justified for his sincere repentance and humility.

On the contrary, the Pharisee came to the temple to present his performance report. He “spoke” the prayers to himself, did not pray to God. He believed that God was in the temple but saw the temple visit as a routine check, an opportunity to express how much he outperformed others. By his assessment, the tax collector was unworthy to be allowed into the temple. The Pharisee had good knowledge about the commandments and about religious duties. And he believed that he performed creditably- not greedy, not dishonest, not adulterous. He fasted, paid his tithes, so those are no problems for him. According to his rubrics, he made an A+, “I am not like the rest of humanity- or even like this tax collector” (Lk. 18:11). Since “this tax collector” was automatically disqualified to appear before God, the Pharisee was convinced about his own righteousness. Not just that, he also despised everyone else, “I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity.” Don’t we see some signs of narcissism here? This man is truly in love with his shadow. He’s one of those narcissists:

  • Always Talk About Themselves -often about their physical appearance, talents or achievements.
  • Fantasize- elaborate fantasies about “success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate.
  • Believe They Are Superior- have “a grandiose sense of self-importance,” leading them to feel superior to most.
  • Require Constant Praise- no matter how outwardly confident narcissists may portray themselves, they are often incredibly insecure and have very fragile self-esteem.
  • Enjoy Being the Center of Attention- in order to feed their low self-esteem, and because they feel superior to others, they always crave attention and will often seek it out.

The Pharisee talked to himself about his achievements, fantasized (not like the rest of humanity), believed he was superior, enjoyed self-praise, and was definitely the center of the spiritual show he came to perform. The consequence is that he left empty of God’s grace and mercy.

Of course, there are many such persons as the Pharisee in the world today. Those who are convinced about their own righteousness and would castigate others. Those who believe they are the best in everything and don’t need anything from others except acknowledgments and praises. Those who believe that they’re infallible, who don’t make mistakes. Such would not need any suggestions or corrections.

In Catholic practice, such persons do not believe in confessions because they don’t see themselves sinning. Should they come to confessions, it is for others- their wives, husbands, children, colleagues, or some bad persons who have made them do something. They would usually begin this way, “Father, I am not sure I remember anything wrong that I have done. Anyway, it’s just that my wife/husband drives me crazy all the time.” “My colleague at work is a nasty person, sometimes I try to give it back to her/him. Is that a bad thing?” “I think I touched myself somehow. Father, that’s just one thing I’m struggling with. I guess everyone does that.”

Jesus warns us today against being like the Pharisee. He warns us against being convinced of our own righteousness. We should not disparage others. We must be humble to receive God’s blessings and favors. We must acknowledge our weaknesses before God, He alone is superior. Like the tax collector, let us show readiness to repent. We must recognize from these two men that “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk. 18:14).