Sunday, October 23, 2016

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time: God Hears the Humble

Today's readings continue from last Sunday on the theme that God is just and listens to the humble and righteous person.

In the first reading, we are reminded how God has no favorites but does focus a bit more on the weak, the oppressed and the widow.  God is not deaf to them and we are given an image of how the prayers of the weak, orphan, oppressed and widow "travels" to God.  They pierce the clouds and do not rest until they reach their goal.  God, in turn, does not delay in answering them. God is always there listening and answering our prayers, especially those prayers that come from those who are suffering injustices (Psalm 34:17).  In this Year of Mercy, we must remember those around the world suffering injustices. Our Holy Father Pope Francis has made it a top priority to help refugees in war-torn lands. It is sad to read tweets and other comments from aledged Christians who attack the pope for reminding us how to be Christian. These people put partisan politics over Christ and the Works of Mercy. God will judge them for this because we all will be measured against how we treat others (Matthew 7:2).  Matthew 25:35-40 is a top priority in the Christian faith.  We are not just called to go to Mass and pray; we are also called to be our brother's keeper, even if this brother is a stranger or even an enemy (Deuteronomy 10:19, Matthew 5:44). I know this is very difficult to process for all of us, but we must trust God. We must set aside our worries and ego and let charity take over.  When we do help others, we must do it for God and the person, not for recognition (Matthew 6:4). These acts should be genuine, without ulterior motives. We cannot be like those who keep a list of the good works they have performed believing God is taking score in heaven and will reward them.  He will tell them that He does not know them (Matthew 7:21-23).  Pride and careerism are not part of the Christian life.  We must do good and not look at who we are doing good towards, so to speak.  God will help them and us.  We are reminded in the responsorial Psalm that God hears the cry of the poor.  God is a just God who hears the cry of the poor and handles the evildoer with justice (Psalm 147:6).  God is close to those who are brokenhearted, depressed and crushed in spirit (Proverbs 29:23). He saves them and rescues them from their misery.

God is a Father to us.  He is not some oppressive cosmic agent out there in existence taking pleasure at our demise like how the ancient Greeks described Zeus and other malevolent deities as being. They totally did not understand the nature of God which is goodness (Psalm 136:1). God only seeks the best for us, even in times of suffering.  This is why we read in the second reading how St. Paul describes his suffering.  He is "poured our like a libation." A libation was used in Pagan rituals to please the gods by pouring wine or other liquid on altars or sacrifices. St. Paul uses the Pagan imagery to describe his life and service being offered to God. Our lives must also be a libation to God. We should "pour ourselves" before the Lord and offer Him all of our pains, sufferings, joys and all that makes us human (Colossians 1:24). We are in a race, as St. Paul describes. In this race, we will tire from running. Things around us will try to prevent us from finishing, but we must move on without stopping.  At the end, if we persevere, we will receive the crown of righteousness.  The Christian life is not "puppy and kittens," so to speak. We must suffer.  This suffering may even include the abandonment of those we thought were our friends, family, and fellow Catholics!  We must pray for them. God is the one who gives us strength and keeps us on the course.  He will rescue us from the "lion's mouth" we may face daily in our lives. Faith, hope, and love are our guides. These are more effective when we are humble.

The Gospel for today reminds us of being humble. Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector.  Both were praying.  The Pharisee took his place and prayed to God thanking God that he was not like other people.  He even singled out the tax collector as an example before God.  The Pharisee then lists all the things he does in the name of God as if God needs to be reminded.  We can see how arrogant this guy was! He thought he was the best thing since slice bread, so to speak! The tax collector, on the other hand, prayed looking downward and beat his breast in an act of contrition. He did not thank God for making him different from others, nor did he list his religious practices or good works. All he did was an act of contrition. Jesus uses this parable to present the importance of how being humble is if we are to be with God. St. Basil tells us, "Never place yourself above anyone, not even great sinners. Humility often saves a sinner who has committed many terrible transgressions ("On Humility", quoted in Arthur A. Just, ed., Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 280.)." We must never put ourselves above anyone else. All of us are equal in the eyes of God. Human beings can make themselves kings or queens, presidents or prime ministers, but we are all the same before God. One of us may live in a mansion and another in the projects in an inner city.  In the end, we all will dwell in the cemetery in the same earth.  Humility is important in the Christian life.  It puts things in perspective. If we see ourselves as not being above others, then we will be more psychologically compelled to help others and love them. However, if we look down at others, we will feel all high and mighty believing others are like bugs under us that we can trample over without concern. St. Augustine puts it using the role of a doctor and patient, he states, "How useful and necessary a medicine is repentance! People who remember that they are only human will readily understand this. It is written, 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.' … The Pharisee was not rejoicing so much in his own clean bill of health as in comparing it with the diseases of others. He came to the doctor. It would have been more worthwhile to inform him by confession of the things that were wrong with himself instead of keeping his wounds secret and having the nerve to crow over the scars of others. It is not surprising that the tax collector went away cured, since he had not been ashamed of showing where he felt pain (: "Sermon 351.1", quoted in Arthur A. Just, ed., Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 279)." We must be reminded that we do not justify ourselves, God does. Unfortunately, some of us Catholics live life religiously in a mechanical way. We do things in the name of obligation and not sincerity. In our parishes, we may encounter others who seek positions of power just to lord over others. We see others give money or perform a task just to gain recognition. This is not Christianity.  It is egoism. We can go to daily Mass, confess every day, pray a million Rosaries and chaplets, but if we do not have love and humility, then there is no point (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). We like the Pharisee will only be condemning ourselves. St. Cyril of Alexandria states,"What profit is there in fasting twice in the week if it serves only as a pretext for ignorance and vanity and makes you proud, haughty and selfish? You tithe your possessions and boast about it. In another way, you provoke God's anger by condemning and accusing other people because of this. You are puffed up, although not crowned by the divine decree for righteousness. On the contrary, you heap praises on yourself. He says, 'I am not as the rest of humankind.' Moderate yourself, O Pharisee. Put a door and lock on your tongue. You speak to God who knows all things. Wait for the decree of the judge. No one who is skilled in wrestling ever crowns himself. No one receives the crown from himself and then still waits for the summons of the referee.… Lower your pride, because arrogance is accursed and hated by God… No one who is in good health ridicules one who is sick for being laid up and bedridden. He is rather afraid, for perhaps he may become the victim of similar sufferings. A person in battle, because another has fallen, does not praise himself for having escaped from misfortune. The weakness of others is not a suitable subject for praise for those who are in health ("Commentary on Luke, Homily 120", quoted in Arthur A. Just, ed., Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 279)."  We all must be humble. Humility begins when we remember that we are not God. It begins when we ask God for mercy. This act reminds us that we are not perfect and need God. Since it reminds us that we are not perfect, this brings us to help others because we are no better than they are.  Let us be humble.  Let us not be the Catholic-Pharisee who finds faults in others and not our own.  Let us not be like the Catholic-Pharisee who thinks he or she knows more than even the pope and bishops.  Let us not be the Catholic-Pharisee who is so stuck on nostalgia that we label others as "Novus ordo cultists" and begin to decide who is a true Catholic and who is not based on our nostalgia, bias and ignorance. A seed grows from the ground up, not the other way around. This is why humility is the way to go if we are to rise up to God. Remember, pride comes before the fall (Proverbs 16:18).  May Jesus Christ be praised!


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