Sunday, August 21, 2011
The 10th Sunday after Pentecost
My dear faithful:
The picture in today’s Gospel is a familiar one to many of us. It is the story of two men, one of them a proud and pompous Pharisee, who struts his way to the front of the temple where his prayer to God is nothing more than one big pat on his own back. “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice a week, I give away a tenth of all that I possess.” And then a second man – we barely see him at first, as he creeps into the church unobserved and remains hidden in the dark shadows at the back. No boasting comes from the mouth of this one, only words, prayers of abject humility and penitence: “O God, be merciful unto me, a sinner.”
Our Lord offers these two men to us for our evaluation. We are asked who we believe to be the better man of the two. Is it the one at the front of the church boasting about all the good deeds he has done during the last week? Or is it the one at the back, beating his breast in tears at the memory of the sins he has done during the week?
Is it a trick question? Shouldn’t we be attracted by the man who has been so dedicated to his good deeds? Shouldn’t we be drawn to admire him? And yet our inner nature revolts against doing so. Let’s face it, we can’t stand the guy! He’s so darned self-righteous, he’s up there in front of everyone, bragging about his good deeds. And we rightly find that nauseating. Meanwhile, we feel really sorry for that poor fellow at the back who doesn’t dare show his face. He knows what he’s done. But he still dragged his sorry behind to church to kneel before his God and beg pardon. To tell God how really really sorry he was for those bad things he’s done.
So it is almost with a sigh of relief that we hear the next words of our Saviour: “I tell you, this man (at the back of the church—the sinner) went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
So here’s the lesson for us this week then. Abase yourself, don’t exalt yourself. Don’t congratulate yourself for anything good you do! Don’t seek the praise of other men for your good works! Rather, remember who you are before the holiness of God! Remember man, that thou art dust! And into dust thou shalt return! Look not on your merits but on your sins, and confess them humbly to God. “O God, be merciful unto me, a sinner.”
And I tell you now, it is this man who will go down to his house justified. It is this man who will save his soul.
Now I’m going to ask you to do something. It’s not very hard, but try hard to do it all the same. I want you to try and remember what we have said today about confessing your sins humbly before God. Remember it until next Sunday. Because next Sunday, God willing, I am going to let you in on a very important little secret. It’s not a secret really, it’s something that many people know about. But not enough people. It’s something that everyone should know about. It’s a secret, which, once you know it, you will never again have an excuse that you can’t save your soul.
Years ago, there lived in Rome a very learned and saintly cardinal by the name of Franzelin. For many years he had been professor of sacred theology at one of the seminaries in Rome. And every year in his farewell address at the end of term, he used to say to the young newly ordained priests: “I wish I were in your place. If possible, I would like to preach from all the pulpits of your country and of all countries, and I would preach on only one subject. I would explain to the people this one thing, and if they did this one thing every night, even if they committed a mortal sin, no one would be lost.” No one would ever go to hell. What is this wonderful thing the old Cardinal was talking about? We’re going to have to wait until next week to find out, so please be good in the meantime. Wear your scapulars, say your Rosary, and whatever you do, whatever you do, if it’s good, don’t boast about it. And if it’s bad, be very very sorry to the God who gave you so much in return for your sins.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.