Monday, October 28, 2013

The mercy that we need, but don't always seek

          Ah, it's always good to go back and remember how God worked in your life!  I hope that by sharing my experiences others will see some working of God in their lives.

          And please let this be a plug for our Parish Mission!  It's like a "big-tent revival" that other Christian communities celebrate.  Attending a parish mission turned me on this journey to priesthood.  God can use this mission to turn you towards his perfect plan for your life, too!

November 10-14, 2013 at All Saints Parish in Logansport.
Evening sessions begin at 6:30 p.m., Sunday through Thursday.
Daytime sessions begin at 12:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday.


Homily: 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          About ten and a half years ago, I had hit what I would call a “personal low-point”.  Things in my life seemed to me to be unraveling.  I had been working as an engineer for a few years and was very disappointed in the way my career was already shaping up.  I had also just been through the disastrous breakup of a relationship that had lasted nearly three years (with the disastrous part being completely my fault).  On top of that, I found myself questioning the faith I was raised in.  Basically, the foundation rocks of my future—career, marriage, religious faith and practice—seemed to be crumbling in front of me and I was in crisis.
          By God’s grace, in the midst of all of this, I was moved to participate in the mission my parish was having.  At that mission I came to recognize that the things that I thought were the rock foundation of my future were really just sand, because I had ignored God’s commandments and was building them of my own accord.  I felt ashamed and for the first time in my life truly knew what it meant to ask for God’s mercy.
          From that point on, however, I began to build.  I tried to learn more about my faith and began to study the Bible and the Catechism.  I began to attend Mass daily and started to get very involved in my parish.  I made many positive friendships with people who helped support my desire to live virtuously and, two years later, I was feeling pretty good about myself.
          At that time I also met a wonderful young woman and we began to date.  I was so excited about this relationship because I felt that it was the first time that I was truly dating according to God’s plan and not my own.  The only problem was that I had started to become complacent and self-assured in the daily practice of my faith.  So much so, that I started to exhibit some self-righteousness.  This woman who I was dating began to see through that and when she called me out on it I was shocked, then angry that she had done so, but then, once again, I found myself ashamed and in desperate need of God’s mercy.
          And so, for me, I find a lot to relate to in the Pharisee from today’s Gospel reading.  He had mastered all of the regulations in the Law of Moses, which was no small feat!  The Law contains over 600 regulations and, just to be sure that they never encroached even on those, the Pharisees added their own “safeguard” regulations on top of them.  Thus, to master all of these laws, one had to be very disciplined and conscientious.  His problem, however, was that he let all of that get to his head and his self-assuredness became self-righteousness.  And so we see in the Gospel reading how he came before God not to lay his work before God’s judgment, but rather to crown himself with a crown of righteousness.
          I relate to him because I feel like I had been acting similar to him.  I was following all of God’s commandments and often found myself judging myself righteous in comparison to others.  I boasted of always “striving to do God’s will” even though I was not actually prayerfully discerning what God was calling me to do.  I knew that I wasn’t perfect, but I had become complacent in being “better than most”.
          Nonetheless, I also find a lot to relate to in the tax collector.  On top of being a job that other Jews would despise him for doing, the job itself didn’t pay a salary; and so the only way that he could earn money would be to tack on fees to each transaction.  Well, he quickly realized that he could make a lot of money doing that and so he began to tack on exorbitant fees that were inconsistent with the taxes being paid, which he knew to be unjust.  Thus, he knew that he wasn’t perfect and so it was clear to him that only the mercy of God could earn him any semblance of righteousness.  Therefore he came before God in the Temple not to proclaim his own righteousness, but rather to accuse himself before God and to beg for his mercy.
          I relate to him because both at the beginning and at the end of this time that I have been describing, I found myself in a similar state: recognizing my own failure to be righteous and thus turning to God to beg for his mercy.  In the first instance, I could accuse myself.  In the second, however, I needed another to accuse me.  In both I either saw or came to see that I needed God’s mercy in order to earn any semblance of righteousness.
          “Ok, so I’m a little confused, Father.  Are you saying we should or shouldn’t strive for righteousness? because it sounds like you just said that the better thing is to remember our need for God’s mercy, but that when we are achieving righteousness we’re apt to forget it.”  Yes, we still need to strive for righteousness; and no needing to constantly remember our need for God’s mercy is no excuse for continuing to commit your favorite sins (useful, perhaps, but not a good idea).  What we need to do is follow Saint Paul’s example, who was righteous in every way according to the Law, following all of the Lord’s commandments, yet who never counted it to be more than rubbish compared to what God’s mercy could do (and did do) in him.  Or how about Pope Francis, who when asked by a reporter to describe himself replied firstly, “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”  Yes, my brothers and sisters, we must strive for righteousness, for it is what God has made us for.  But we must also acknowledge our inability to crown ourselves: that is, that we, too, are indeed “sinners whom the Lord has looked upon.”
          Just this past week I was visiting one of our homebound parishioners.  When I arrived she asked almost immediately if I would hear her confession.  She said that she couldn’t really think of any specific sins that she had committed, but that she realized that it had been a long time since she last went to confession; and, acknowledging that God could call her home soon, she didn’t want to have to explain to God why her short memory or weak conscience kept her from receiving his mercy.  “I try to be good,” she was basically saying, “but I know that I’m not perfect.”  “You know what,” I thought, “she gets it.”  This is the humility that Jesus is talking about: the humility that, although she couldn’t accuse herself of any particular sin, nonetheless still acknowledged her need for God’s mercy.
          My brothers and sisters, we are all constantly in need of God’s mercy.  Let us, then, humble ourselves here today before the one who alone can exult us.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – October 27th, 2013

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