(Saint Bernardine’s Church, Regents Park: Sunday 7.30am & 9am; Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: 5:30pm)
27 October 2013
(Readings: Ecclesiastes 13:12-14, 16-19; Ps 32; 2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18; Lk 18:9-14)
Today’s Gospel is one, I suggest, that appeals to Australian sensibility. We pride ourselves in being champions of the underdog; and we admit that the “tall poppy syndrome” marks the way we look at things … we often seem to take a perverse pleasure in seeing those once exalted fall from their great height, and be publicly shown up as being – not just like us – but indeed worse than us. “At least I’m not that bad,” we’re likely to think as we flip through the newspaper.
And so its through that lens that we hear today’s Gospel: we delight to hear that the moralistic, self-righteous, do-gooder Pharisee slips on the banana-peel (conveniently provided by God); and we also quietly cheer to see the underdog publican/tax collector come out on top, finally vindicated as being the one who was really righteous all along, going down to his house as the moral victor (1).
But is this really the response intended by the parable Jesus tells? Has it truly communicated the good news to us – the message of Jesus – if it makes us crow over the downfall of the Pharisee, “the upright man who did his duty and knew it?” Is not our delight in his downfall really just the very same attitude of the Pharisee, who looked down in smug superiority on the publican?
We must beware, because pride can take many deceptive forms. The Pharisee won’t even consider himself to be proud. “Pride insinuates itself in many ‘innocent’ forms.” We could joke about the brilliant author who wrote an excellent book on humility, and who proudly advertised it as ‘the best book on humility ever written!’” (2).
So, how might we hear this Gospel, and not fall into the trap of hidden pride?
Part of the answer lies in the fact that the “Pharisee does not really look at God at all, but only at himself; he does not really need God, because he does everything right by himself. He has no real relation to God, who is ultimately superfluous – what he does himself is enough. Man makes himself righteous. The tax collector, by contrast, sees himself in the light of God. He has looked toward God, and in the process his eyes have been opened to see himself. So he knows that he needs God and that he lives by God’s goodness, which he cannot force God to give him, and which he cannot procure for himself. He knows he needs mercy and so he will learn from God’s mercy to become merciful himself, and thereby to become like God. He draws life from being-in-relation, from receiving all as gift; he will always need the gift of goodness, of forgiveness, but in receiving it he will always learn to pass the gift on to others. The grace for which he prays does not dispense him from ethics. It is [rather] what makes him truly good in the first place. He needs God, and because he recognizes that, he begins through God’s goodness to become good himself” (3).
The Church provides us help in this. One of the reasons why Sunday Mass is obligatory is because it continually points us to God; it constantly re-orients our life in the direction of the Lord, and brings all the circumstances of our lives to him.
We have the sacrament of confession, which helps us not to be puffed up by pride, as we accept the fact that we’re not perfect, and that we always stand in need of God’s mercy. In fact, we pray that His mercy will prevail over his justice: for I’m sure we’d prefer to receive what God in his mercy will give us, in contrast to what his justice would demand.
We also have the beautiful and simple prayer of sitting before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. We physically sit and look at the Lord, and He looks at us. And as we do that, we can gradually come to look at ourselves as God looks at us. With less fear, we can reveal our true selves to the Lord; we can reveal our needs, our weaknesses, our need of the Lord in order to do even the simplest good thing; we realize that whatever good is in us is only there because of God’s goodness and gift, and we only achieve anything good to the extent that God allows and permits it.
We need to keep our eyes fixed on the Lord. That is the antidote to pride. To look constantly to God, and in that looking and being seen by God, to see ourselves in God’s light. This is one of the services that the Church renders the world: to orient people’s lives to God; to lift their gaze from the quagmire and mess we are so good at creating, and to see the vision of God and to let his light lift us out of, and beyond, what is immediately before our eyes, to a vision of a world as God wants it.
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(1) Aidan Nichols OP, Year of the Lord’s Favour: A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy, Volume 3: The Temporal Cycle, Sundays through the Year, Balwyn, VIC., Freedom, 2012
(2) 365 Days with the Lord: Liturgical Biblical Diary 2013, St Pauls Philippines, 2012.
(3) Blessed John Paul II, Jesus of Nazareth.