Sunday, October 23, 2016

No Favorites

By Rev. Paul Berghout

The LORD is a God of justice, who knows no favorites. Though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed. The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint. The one who serves God willingly is heard; his petition reaches the heavens. Sirach 35:15-17,20-21

But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:13-14

Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.

Today's gospel says that Jesus told this parable about those who are righteous and despise the other. One of our most common sins is to think that we are better than others, a sickening trait that destroys any trait of humility that we can have.

C.S. Lewis wrote a story that speaks of Satan advising his/her nephew - another demon - on how to tempt anyone.

Satan wrote: "My dear nephew: Try to infect the person with a false sense of pride, telling him: ‘You have become humble. All the virtues are less formidable for us as demons once the man is aware of the fact that he has this particular trait of humility. You reel it in at the moment of being really poor in spirit, and smuggle into his head the gratification thought: "Wow, I'm being humble!"

Almost immediately the pride - the pride of his humility - will be shown. If you become aware of this danger and try to drown this new form of pride, make him feel proud of his attempt, and so, as many times as you please.  These are the wiles of the devil.

The Gospel tells us that two men went up to the temple to pray: one was a Pharisee and the other, publican.

There's a saying, “It is better to travel with hope to get to the destination.”  But, what if the person thinks that he or she is already at the destination?

The Pharisee in his career for the world thought he had already reached the goal. Then, he kept an attitude that made him think himself superior to those who had not progressed as far in their relationship with God.

The Pharisee fasted and paid their tithes, which is very good, but the only intended to do and praised God the beneficiary of their works instead of realizing that he was the one who was benefiting from the divine mercy. The prayer of the Pharisee is a prayer of "I": I'm fasting... I pay the tithe. Here is an illustration related to an attitude that is not humble.

There were three knocks on the door of the crypt of the Capuchin Church of Santa MarĂ­a de Los Angeles in Vienna: "Who are you?" asks a brother Capuchin.

"I am Elizabeth, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary," came the answer.

"I don't know you," replied the brother.

The visitor knocks a second time: "Who are you?"

"I am Elizabeth, Empress of Austria."

"I don't know you."

She knocks a third time. "Who are you?"

"I am Elizabeth, a poor sinner."

"You can enter," is now the answer.

Before God and death, all people are equal.

The publican feels sorry for the wrong he has done and the damage it has caused to others and for this he throws himself at the feet of God implores his grace saying: "My God, have mercy on me, that I am a sinner."

Collecting taxes was a profession deplorable for the Jews. This publican acknowledged himself as a sinner, and this was presented before God with humility.

It must indeed have been shocking for Jesus to hear that the publican had been justified, but our first reading tells us that the prayers of the needy are cared for. The Publican was forgiven and not the Pharisee because even he needed forgiveness.

None of us recognize our helplessness and gets humility by our own strength. We are taken there. It's sad to say, but it is the sin, the humiliation, the failure and several other forms of addiction which lead us to God. Many times, after having a ruined marriage, estranged children, lost a job or integrity and rid the bright picture we had of ourselves is what leads us to say: "The way that I am not working. Maybe there is another way, a different way and maybe I need to really change." That is often the moment when we are ready to embark on a spiritual path. At this point, 'religion' transforms into a spirituality alive and living.

Jesus said to Saint Sister Faustina, "On the outside your sacrifice must be: Hidden, silent, impregnated with love, saturated with prayer. I demand of you, my child, that your sacrifice is pure and full of humility so that you can please me in him..." (Diary, 1767).

In the last quarter of the last century, the church in the United Kingdom was blessed with a very good leader in the person of Cardinal Basil Hume, a Benedictine monk who had been abbot of the community before being appointed Archbishop of Westminster in 1976.

Cardinal Hume died in June 1999 after having been diagnosed, only two months before, abdominal cancer. He took good advantage of those two months and even prepared his funeral: the people who would be invited, the music that he liked, the place where he wanted to be buried in his cathedral, the prayers and readings for his requiem mass. Also, he chose the preacher, his dear friend the Bishop John Crowley, and asked him in particular to explain the choice of the gospel text for the mass, a text that could be considered unusual for a funeral: the parable of the Pharisee and the publican of Lk 18, 9-14.

"When I became the Abbot-Cardinal, he said to his friend-and even more so when I got to be Archbishop Cardinal, and asked to God: 'Make me a good abbot, make me to be a good bishop, make me a good cardinal.'  But now that I know very soon I'll be meeting with the father face-to-face, I realize that this prayer, though in their own way sincere and beautiful, it is not the prayer that he will want to hear from me. No; prayer that is music to the ears of the father is this: ' God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'  These, concluded the cardinal, are the words that I want on my lips now that I'm going to the father."

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