One of the great things about parables is that they frustrate the superficial reading.  If we just stay on the surface of today’s gospel we would conclude the Pharisee here is acting like a jerk and remind ourselves that self-righteousness is bad and humility is good.  Then after the homily we can close with a prayer that, strangely, sounds a lot like the Pharisee:  “Dear God, thank you that you have graced us not to be self-righteous jerks like some people.  Amen.”

A deeper reading helps us see our common humanity with both the Pharisee and the tax collector.  The author Parker Palmer has a definition of spirituality that helps me look beyond the surface of the text:  Spirituality is “that longing within the human breast that makes us want to connect with something bigger than our own ego.”  Whatever the Pharisee is doing here, he is not being spiritual! He seems to be using religion to love himself rather than God.  He can’t get beyond himself.  This evening we ponder how we can get past ourselves to spirituality.

The Pharisee in Me

The spiritual direction tool called the Enneagram is a window into this part of ourselves that prays the “Pharisee prayer,” that part of ourselves that continually seeks to put ourselves above and apart from others.  The Enneagram suggests we adopt one or more of nine primary narratives that are addictive for us.  For example you may find yourself praying “God, thank you that unlike other people you have made me Creative.”  Or “Blessed are you God that unlike others I am Needed by so many so often.”  Some of the other primary addictions involve being Successful, a Crusader, being Reliable, being Powerful.  When we pursue our particular addictive narrative we are really bumping into our own ego.

I am a 3 on the Enneagram who is addicted to twisting reality to be Successful.  This was particularly exaggerated in my youth, although I still do it practically every day.  For example, I have many distinct memories as a young person being utterly mystified at my father who, in my opinion, did not seem to know how to be successful in some of his family and neighborhood endeavors.  What he could do to be more successful seemed obvious to me.  If I was a praying person at the time I would have prayed “Thank you God I was not made clueless like other people.”

I totally identify with the Pharisee because I know I use religion to feed my narrative.  This is now most obvious to me as I review those early days after I had reaffirmed myself as a Christian when I was about 17.  One thing was clear, I was going to be the most Successful Christian around! Success was defined as knowing your Bible (it was not a Catholic group), being in a small group and visiting old people in nursing homes.  I was the best.  God mercifully used all this energy, but it was more about me loving me than loving God.

We can also have a communal Pharisee. “We thank God we are not like other churches that are wrong on the women question.”  Or “We thank you God that we have evolved past those communities that are wrong on the question of homosexuality.”  These are, of course, good things, gifts we have received.  But they can still be high jacked by our communal ego and squash spirituality.

A Spiritual Prayer

I have grown up some, but I know I am not over my addictive narrative.  This narrative will always be with me.  The solution is awareness and our model in the text is the tax collector.  In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were looked down upon as people who have sold out to the Roman system and they were presumed to be dishonest.  The tax collector’s ego narrative was not working for him because of his circumstances.  As such, he was actually having a spiritual moment in prayer because he was “beyond himself” in his religious practice and could pray “Lord have mercy!”

The genius of Alcoholics Anonymous is that it begins with the admission that I need to get beyond myself.  I need a safe place to say “I am an addict” of my particular ego narrative.  I see the Pharisee in me and I pray “Lord have mercy.”  I long for a spiritual journey that gets past my ego, “Lord have mercy.”  I long for greater awareness of my ego games, “Lord have mercy on me.”  My narrative has certain gifts, and I want to use the gifted part of my narrative to love rather than build Me, “Lord have mercy.”  I thank God this community is a safe place for such conversation.

Today’s text has inspired a famous prayer which is particularly precious to the Orthodox traditions.  Called “The Jesus Prayer” it says “Lord Jesus Son of God have mercy on me a sinner.”  For many this prayer is like a mantra and is a pathway to contemplation.  Another use of the prayer is to ward off temptation and this week I have been experimenting with it as my addictive narrative pops up now and again.  You may want to try it.

For sure the first few times I heard about the enneagram and my addictive narrative I did not consider it to be good news! But awareness is such good news, and I pray this Eucharist inspires us to help us with awareness and finding a spirituality beyond ourselves.


George von Stamwitz


Homily – Getting Beyond Me

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Liturgy for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Saturday Evening, October 26, 2013

Focus text: Luke 18: 9-14


Photo by Alaina Abplanalp on