TV Mass Homily 10/27/2019

Our readings today offer us a caution and a promise. The caution is about the sin of pride; which is an equal opportunity threat, nourished by the devil. The sin of pride is most often reflected in how we relate to one another. The promise is about God’s mercy for those who come to him with true humility. The virtue of humility is most often reflected in how we relate to God, whether we acknowledge our need for God. Pride leads to anxiety, it can never be satisfied, and true humility leads to peace.
During the month of October we reflect in a special way on respect for life, recognizing that all life is sacred from conception to natural death, a free gift by the creator. As someone said, “life is the greatest bargain, we got it for nothing.” October also is the month of the rosary. It is a prayer that helps us reflect on the mysteries of salvation history, of Christ, who humbled himself to come among us because pride had turned people away from God, and still does. When our pride leads us to become judgmental about others we do not respect life. The rosary also encourages us to reflect on the model of the Blessed Mother. ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you (as God) says. That is a declaration of true humility.
In the Gospel reading Jesus told a parable to teach us. Two are praying in the Temple. There is the Pharisee, a religious leader. He thanks God for not being like others. He pats himself on the back for his holiness and piety reflected in his actions. I do this, I do that. He fasts twice a week, more than prescribed by the religious law. He pays alms more than expected. All of that is good in itself, yet he is absorbed with himself. As one commentator put it, the Pharisee went to the temple not to pray to God but to tell God how good he was, especially in comparison to others.
In contrast to the prideful Pharisee is an avowed sinner, a tax collector. We do not know whether he was among those unjust tax collectors who used his government position to take advantage of others. One commentator suggested that in our day we might substitute a drug dealer with unjust tax collectors. All that we know is that he was in the temple and that as he prayed he could not even raise his head. His simple prayer is “O God have mercy on me a sinner.” He did not compare himself with others, he compared himself with who God created him to be and found himself lacking. We know he was sincere because Jesus pointed to him as a model for us. ‘Whoever exalts himself with be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.’
A priest gave a homily about the prideful Pharisee and the humble tax collector. After Mass a man said to the priest, “good sermon Father. Thank God I am not like that Pharisee.” Is that our response to this parable? Perhaps we ought to pray over whether we are more like the Pharisee or the tax collector, patting ourselves on the back for our goodness, or kneeling in hope of forgiveness. Most of us are part both every day. Perhaps we might reflect on whether our actions are as generous as the Pharisee, done for the right reasons. As well ask are we really humble in our prayers for mercy.
How easy it is to exalt ourselves by comparing ourselves favorably with others. The story is told of a time of when an airplane flight was cancelled. A long line developed as those affected had to reschedule their travel. As many of us know that is frustrating, time consuming and tiring. One man grew impatient and went up to the counter and demanded that he be booked first class on the next available flight. The travel assistant told him that he would have to wait his place in the line. The man became irate, slammed his fist on the counter and shouted, “Do you know who I am?” The assistant took the microphone and announced to all, “There is a man here who does not know who he is. If there is anyone in the airport who can identify him, please come to the counter.” The man went back to his place, and the others in line applauded.
A glaring example of prideful and disrespectful behavior these days is the harshness of those in public office toward one another. News shows are less news than vehicles for attack. “Thank God I am not like my opponent,” is the message. We are called to build up the kingdom by reaching out not by tearing down, by seeking the common good, not by seeking personal advantage, by humbling ourselves before God, not by exalting ourselves in comparison to others, by comparing ourselves to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who humbled himself that we might have life to the full. When I compare myself to Him, I am embarrassed.
We are called to holiness, to become saints. It is a life long journey; one on which we ought to seek to make progress each day. Every morning I pray ‘God to forgive my sins of pride, selfishness and self-centeredness’. Sadly I need to ask for that same forgiveness again the very next day.
Saint Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, wrote: “holiness is not one exercise or another, it consists in disposition of the heart, which renders us humble and little in the hands of God, conscious of our weakness but confident, evenly daringly confident, in his fatherly goodness.” Being exalted in this life will do us little good in the next. As the first reading reminds us, ‘the Lord is a God of justice who knows no favorites’.
It is said that at one time in Austria when the emperor died the burial ritual called for the body of the deceased to be taken to the church where the door would be found closed. The appointed person would knock on the door. From inside a priest would ask: “who is it who desires entry here.” The response was “his apostolic majesty, the emperor.” The priest would respond, “I do not know you.” The door was knocked on again with a similar question, “who seeks to enter here.” The response was “the highest emperor.” Again: “I do not know you.” A third knock and a third question, “Who is it?” This time the answer was: “a poor sinner, your brother.” The church door was opened and the funeral began.
‘Whoever exalts himself will be humbled. And the one who humbles himself will be exalted. O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’