Saturday, March 10, 2018
Archbishop Thomas Wenski - The Archdiocese of Miami
Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the opening Mass of the eighth annual Archdiocese of Miami Catholic Men's Conference, held March 10, 2018, at Nativity Church in Hollywood.
Jesus tells a parable about two people who go to the temple to pray: One is a good guy, the other is a low life. Who do you think is the good guy? Actually it’s the Pharisee – you know Pharisees have gotten a bum rap. Most of them were pretty good, decent people – like most of the people you find in church on any given Sunday. The tax collector was a corrupt crook – they took a cut from what they collected for the hated Romans. The Pharisee led a decent religious life: he fasts twice a week and tithes, 10 percent of his income went to the poor. If every Catholic tithed, the world wouldn’t be the same – so much good could be done.
Now, I am not saying that this particular Pharisee was necessarily a saint – he might not have been all bad but he was certainly arrogant, and boy, he got his jollies from putting down people. We all know people like that – they are really small, but they think they can make themselves bigger by putting somebody down. But we’re not surprised to see him “praying” in the temple – after all, we are told he was a Pharisee, and believe me they were generally good people. If you were a Jew living at that time you’d rather your daughter marry the Pharisee but not the tax collector. But we are surprised to see the tax collector – it’d be out of character for him to go to temple.
So here we have the good and bad go to pray, but only one of them actually “prays.” Prayer is the lifting up of our minds and hearts to God. The Pharisee didn’t lift up his mind and heart to God, he didn’t pray to God: He prayed to himself. His prayer is like the annual report of current assets. He thanks God that he is not like the rest – adulterers, cheats, etc., but I am not sure that he knows who he is. He can compare himself to the tax collector, and tell himself about how much he gives. And though he does give a lot, he never gives himself. His real self is a secret – hidden under a cloak of pride and arrogance.
The tax collector – the bad guy (but nevertheless the hero of this parable) – he stands in the shadows. He has no report of current assets to offer – what he has is ill-gotten. But he tells the simple truth about himself: God be merciful to me, a sinner! He doesn’t hem and haw, he doesn’t beat around the bush; he beats his breast. He throws himself in his brokenness at God’s mercy – and he gives God nothing but his sins. He owns his sins – his real self is no secret – he stands, or rather, he kneels naked before God.
And Jesus tells that the tax collector went home a forgiven man; the Pharisee just went home. The tax collector even got more than he had asked for: He asked for mercy but Jesus tells us that he was “justified.” Justified, justification is one of those big Bible words we trip over from time to time. It means, to be put into a right relationship with God. Most troubles come from our relationships not being right: We need to stand in right relationships with God, with our wives and our kids, with our neighbors. We need to stand in a right relationship with creation itself. If our relationships are out of whack – because of sin, because of pride, envy, lust, greed, whatever! If our relationships are out of whack, then we’re not going to be happy, we’re not going to be the best version of ourselves, we’re not going to be whole – or holy.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus is always seen as the friend of sinners and tax-collectors. But that doesn’t mean that he gives their sins a pass. There’s no mercy in telling someone they’re OK, when they’re not. Notice that the tax-collector asks God to forgive his sins – not bless them!
But Jesus is their friend – because for him they are not just sinners but beloved sinners. Jesus doesn’t want us to define ourselves by our vices, or our sins. You might look through your Pharisee eyes at another and say that he is just a drunk, she is a slut – but Jesus sees a brother, Jesus sees a sister. Jesus wants his beloved sinners, he wants us, to see ourselves as bigger than our failures and sins. He wants to expand our world by putting us back into a right relationship.
In the responsorial psalm we prayed: Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me.
You know, if you’re here today, none of you are as bad as that tax collector was when he walked into the temple. And that might be why, for some of you, the thought of going to confession is a hard sell. It is a hard sell because you can still hide your true self – like that Pharisee did – under a cloak of pride. But today is a special day – a day in which the Sacrament of Penance is readily available. Man up! God’s mercy awaits you. How will you respond? In the responsorial psalm, we prayed: “a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.” Let the tax collector’s words be our own: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner!”