“Two men went up into the temple to pray; one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee standing by himself prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” Luke 18:10-14
The Pharisee is this parable is an example of what the Via de Cristo talk Piety talk calls “Mechanical Mike.” He prayed, tithed and fasted because he was a Pharisee and that’s what Pharisees do. It was part of his routine. Not only that, it made him feel superior to others, those who did not have the same training and habits. Many “Christians” feel the same way. They go to church every week because their parents did, their spouse wants them to, it’s good for the kids, it’s a way to make business contacts, they get to associate with nice people. It’s just what they’ve always done. They think that being part of a Christian congregation and doing all the right “religious” things makes them an exemplary example, a pillar of the community. In reality, they don’t have a real relationship with God and are without a clue about how to get one.
The tax collector wasn’t doing the right things, but he had the right attitude. He recognized his sin and God’s gracious mercy. His focus was on God, not his own works. This is a starting point for authentic piety.
It’s easy to fall into the “routine” if you’ve been a Christian for many years, we all do it. We sing and recite the creeds, we say certain prayers by rote, we set aside our weekly offering — we may even feel pretty righteous about doing this. The problem is, we’ve forgotten about the God we’re supposedly worshipping with our actions.
How can we avoid this sort of false piety? One way is to periodically do an examination of conscience. This can serve to remind us of how sinful we really are. Realizing how much we need Christ will quickly direct our attention to Him (there’s nothing like desperation to focus us). Christian friends can help, too. How are others praying? Studying? Serving? Maybe we need to break our routine and try something new. Christian friends inspire and admonish us.
Don’t get stuck in a rut. Stay alert. Pay attention. Be truly pious.