In golf there is a system setup where players of different abilities are able to play competitively against one another. It is a handicapping system based on the average round of golf, in terms of score, for each player. Basically it’s your score minus the amount over par (72) that you usually shoot. It’s not really all that important I just want to give a little context to the following. Most golfers will find that if they really try and get good through practice and playing more often they will rapidly cut down on strokes over the course of a few months to a year, but will then spend a prolonged period of time around an 11 handicap, typically a round of 83 on a par 72 course.
This phenomenon is due in part to the fact that at around this level of skill they begin to fudge on their score less and less. You see, most golfers, though not Pharisees, are OK with moving their ball off bad grass or a few feet out from behind a tree, counting a missed putt as made etc., all in the name of having fun, loss of concentration, what have you up to a certain point. There comes a time when the personal integrity of the player becomes honed though where they will no longer allow themselves to fudge. Thus, a player will start shooting 83 with a few fudges and then cheat less and less until they are actually shooting 83 with no fudges.
Now some of you out there may say this isn’t true, but to that I say you are either the above mentioned Pharisaical bent or are in denial. I have played a lot of golf and whether you are the Mayor, the Archbishop or the owner of Microsoft everyone has a time when they say “that shouldn’t have happened,” “in this situation this is totally acceptable,” at least to a certain point. The reason I mention any of this is that I think there is a similar phenomenon in the spiritual life.
I would say that most people are “OK” with a certain amount of turning a blind eye while still considering themselves a “good person”. This isn’t to be judgmental in any way it’s just an observation that if I say a bad word it’s different than if you say the same word, than if JPII said the same word. This is to say that as we grow in the spiritual life the same sin takes on different meaning and makes more of an impact on our conscience. It can be difficult for those trying to advance in the spiritual life when they hit this plateau because the person feels that they are sinning more than before, when in fact they are just noticing what has always been going on, for the first time.
Some words of wisdom from a seasoned golfer, don’t give up, you will make it through and the experience will actually give you a good lesson in mercy. You start to realize that you once fudged your score, without realizing it in many cases, as much as the next guy. As for all my fellow Pharisees out there, the game is actually more fun if you relax a little, and I’m pretty sure that God isn’t making us play tournament rules so think of life more as a practice round and take a few extra shots from time to time.
Prayers Always, Fr Joseph Altenhofen