SM Icons

30th Sunday C - The Pharisee and The Tax Collector at the Temple




30th Sunday of Ordinary Time from heartnoi2k

Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration
 
Today we are going to reflect on self-knowledge and humility. By gathering here in public we are telling the world that we take the need to profess faith in God seriously; we are saying we are people with a definite way of life, that we have taken up the cross of discipleship. But without humble awareness of our faults and our need of God’s mercy, we could be deceiving ourselves. Let us ask the Spirit to enlighten our minds that we might know our failings, and to give us the humility to ask for mercy.
***********

Michel de Verteuil
 
General Textual comments

General Comments
This Sunday’s gospel reading is in three sections
- verse 9, introduction to the parable
- verses 10 –14a, the parable
- verse 14b, general saying of Jesus.
As always with gospel passages we are free either to focus on the sections independently or to see the connection between them so that each one serves as a guide for interpreting the others.
This is particularly true for verse 14b. It occurs twice in St Luke’s gospel which indicates that it was a favourite saying of Jesus, or of the early Church. We are in line with the movement of the passage then if we choose to meditate on it separately but it is also essential for a correct interpretation of the parable.
The parable of the Pharisee and the Publican is one of the great parables of Jesus, one that has affected the consciousness of people in every age.  It is also one of the best known of the parables, and this can be a disadvantage for meditation: we are so accustomed to the story that our imaginations are dulled, and we read it superficially and abstractly. We must watch every word, therefore, and enter into the concreteness of the story, so that it can touch us as if we were reading it for the first time.
Unlike last week’s parable which focused on the widow alone, this week’s presents us with two characters, the Pharisee (story of sin) and the publican (story of grace) and they are of equal importance. We (or others we have known) have lived both stories as individuals, but we have also lived them as communities – Church, ethnic groups, nations and cultures. The human family as a whole has been both Pharisee and publican.
 Our meditation then will lead to two responses:
- ask God’s mercy for the sin
- celebrate the grace.
We are also free to see a link between the two stories, and interpret the parable as tracing the journey from sin to grace. Consciousness of this journey will lead us to humble thanksgiving and also to petition that we (and others) will continue to make the journey.
At first glance the passage is a teaching about prayer but, as we saw with last week’s passage “prayer” in the Bible includes all our deep attitudes – toward God, life, ourselves, one another, nature – and we must not restrict the scope of the passage. Like all gospel passages it is “catholic” teaching, applicable to life at every level – spiritual growth, personal relationships, the workplace,  politics, international trade, etc.
Verse 9:  “Jesus spoke this parable” must be read creatively. Jesus has many ways of “speaking parables”:
- a teacher (friend, neighbour, fellow worker, member of our family) teaches us a lesson;
- we meet an actual Pharisee or publican at home, in Church, or at work;
- some humiliation reveals to us how much we have the spirit of the Pharisee; the terrorist attacks of September 11 are an obvious example.
Who am IThe parable. As I explained above, both characters are of equal importance in this parable. You are free then to choose which of the two you want to focus on at this particular moment. Focusing on both at the same time is impossible if you are working through your imagination. You can combine the two in your meditation but must still take one at a time.

The Pharisee. Ironically, it is easy to fall into the trap of reading the parable self-righteously. You will avoid this in two ways
- by recognizing yourself in the Pharisee;
- by finding him a person you can sympathies with; if you see him only negatively, you are reading the parable self-righteously.
In fact the Pharisee of the parable is generally the kind of person we would consider “good”. The text gives no indication that he was a hypocrite, as many Pharisees were. According to the text, he was upright and faithful to his religious duties. His two sins (they are always linked, both in the Bible and in real life) were that
- he did not humble himself (omission)
- he looked down on others (commission).
Remember a time when Jesus made you aware that (perhaps subtly) you, your community, or your family were taking pride in your high moral standards. He could have done this in different ways, some of them unexpected:
- one of your children or some member of the Church community criticized you,
- you found yourself committing a sin you never thought you would,
- a failure showed you that you were not as efficient as you thought you were.
However it happened, you celebrate the moment of grace.
The Publican. He too must be correctly interpreted. In Christian spirituality, he is often represented as someone without self-esteem. Jesus could not have presented us with such a role model; this would go against his entire teaching. We avoid this false interpretation by reading this section in the light of verse 14b. We identify the publican with people we admire deeply, whom we have “exalted” – parents, community leaders, entrepreneurs whose greatness is grounded in humility. They are self-confident but have no illusions about themselves and therefore do not despise others; they “dare not raise their eyes to heaven”, but do not grovel.
Verse 14b. Beware of reading this verse in the abstract. Enter into its movement, so that you feel
- the sadness of the first part: how sad that this person (or movement) had so much potential and then fell so low!
- the triumph of the second part: how wonderful that this person who had fallen so low rose so high!
Feel, too, the contrast between the two outcomes (taking one at a time as I explained for the Pharisee and the publican) each one highlighting the other. We should not rejoice that the proud are humbled, only feel sadness at what might have been if the publican had been true to his best self. 
The saying is expressed in the passive voice – “will be humbled”, “will be exalted”. In the Bible these passives are often an act of respect for the transcendence of God but in fact refer to God’s actions – “God will humble”, “God will exalt”. We see the same thing in the petitions of the Our Father: “hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done” are calls on God to intervene in the world. Our meditation here can be a celebration of God (and godly people) seeking out the lowly and “exalting” them. The expressions “exalt himself” and humble himself” will then be interpreted in the light of the Father exalting Jesus as explained in Philippians 2:6-11. It is important to give a correct interpretation to the future tenses “will be humbled” and “will be exalted”.  They can refer to the next life, but on condition that they are based on present experience. Our experience of the lowly being exalted points to (and promises) their final exaltation at the end of time.

Reflection
As we know, Paul paid the ultimate price for his fidelity to the gospel. He was beheaded in Rome during the persecution undertaken by the Emperor Nero. That he died in this way, surrounded by an outpouring of hate and fear stirred up by a mad ruler, makes his last writing all the more poignant. Paul is the embodiment of the humble man as defined by Sirach: ‘The man who with his whole heart serves God will be accepted.’ He was never distracted from his task, never concerned for his own well being or position. He simply wanted to be true to the good news that Jesus had revealed to him. That makes him a model Christian for all ages. But if we feel we cannot hope to be another Paul we could do worse than model ourselves on the tax collector in the parable.
************************
Sean Goan
Gospel Notes-1

 Last week’s parable on prayer emphasised the need for perseverance but now, with another wonderful parable, Jesus speaks about another aspect of prayer. The introduction to the parable explains its purpose because we are told it was addressed to people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else. Two very different individuals are then described in the story: the Pharisee and the tax collector. The former is doubtless a person of virtue and he is probably telling the truth about all the good he does. Likewise the tax collector was no doubt a sinner as it was common practice for them to make money by means of extortion. So what are we to learn from them? The first man is so full of himself that there is no room for God. The other man humbly acknowledges his deep need and goes home changed. For our prayer to be real, we need to come before God with empty hands.

******************************************
 Gospel Notes-2

UnmaskingThis parable is only found in Luke, and is one of those few parables whose key point can still be readily grasped. We are all in need of mercy from God, and everyone needs to approach God with humility.

There are, however, two common blunders in interpreting this parable.


First, t is because of this parable that the Pharisees get an undeserved and unintended ‘bad press’ in the tradition of preaching. It is often read it is as if a Pharisee is there because that group was intrinsically hypocritical — hence in common parlance the descriptions of hypocrite and Pharisee are interchangeable. The meaning is thereby obscured: a Pharisee is chosen precisely because they formed a group who took the demands of the Law seriously. What is wrong is not that the man is a Pharisee or that he did those good actions, but that all that goodness was set at naught by a wrong attitude. The same is true of the Tax Collector — it is his attitude that brings mercy, not that God is indifferent to the practices of the tax collectors in the ancient world. To see the effects of this shift in interpretation it is interesting to read the text replacing ‘a nun’ for the word ‘Pharisee’, and ‘a drug pusher’ for ‘tax collector’.

Second, regular prayer, regular fasting, and definite alms giving — what the Pharisee boasts about — were seen as the three characteristic practices needed in the early church to train oneself as a disciple. It is against this church practice that we should view these activities. The message is not that these are simply externals of no consequence or simply ‘add ons’ or ‘optional extras’. Rather, these form the basis for real, lived discipleship, but that must be animated by humility and sorrow for sin. Luke’s audience already knew that they had to pray and fast and provide for the poor; this tale would have reminded them that the performance of the task was not enough, for the Lord also looked at the heart.

Homily Notes

1. We live in an image-laden world. We talk about organisations getting a ‘new image’. Political parties employ ‘spin doctors.’ Products and companies are ‘re-branded.’ Advertising can change our buying habits, our perceptions of ourselves, our bodies, our politics, and even our religions. In a world of constant’ communications’ there is a premium on being able to make things appear genuine, attractive, wholesome, and good. And for many that is the key demand: appearance. It might be good, but it must appear good; it might not be all its cracked up to be, but so long as it is branded properly and marketed well, then who cares? A newspaper owner once said that when legend replaces fact, then print legend. Another told his editor that selling papers was his business, not news. This is the world of the lie, where reality is in the background and perception is all that matters.
2. We as believers in a Creator have the task of challenging the lie: reality is our business because it comes from God and will return to God, and we shall be asked about our stewardship.
3. Getting behind appearance is, however, always difficult, and it always has been. We have to constantly pull ourselves up and have a reality check. We have to pinch ourselves to make sure that we see beneath the glittering images that strike our senses and which can deceive us. This is the wisdom cap­tured in the proverb, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ – alas, most of us do just that more often than we like to admit and this is proven by the fact that giving a book ‘hype’ works time and again.
4. This task of not being taken in by illusions that we know is important in our everyday lives: we do not want to be fooled, conned, or cheated. But it is also a Christian task for we proclaim the Christ to be the truth. Taking issue with hype and deception is part of our witness to the truth. Making sure that we are not engaged in deceptions is a basic of Christian discipleship.
5. This gospel challenges us at several levels.
First, there is the world of icons and brands. The very model of the devout follower of the Law is the Pharisee. The very model of the ‘bad guy’ is the tax collector. In the world of stereotypes and images we are to admire the first and con­demn the second. But God acts at the level of truth, not the level of stereotypes and manufactured expectations.
Second, there is the contrast between external religiosity and a genuine desire to have a relationship with God. The two should go together, but just as a brand may have high appeal and not be the genuine article, so too with religion. But God does not dwell at the level of external and human display. Third, there is the contrast between self-deception and self­knowledge. We can so easily con ourselves into believing our own propaganda without being aware of our faults and needs. We are all in need of greater integrity and of God’s
J in Gethsemmercy.
6. We claim to be the people of ‘The Way’, we claim to follow ‘the way, the truth, and the life’. This is a call to integrity, self­knowledge, and humility: these are not virtues that come naturally to us as beings who love our senses. But these are the virtues that will bring us life with God.

******************************************

Scripture Reflection

 The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
….Solzhenitsyn
Lord, we thank you for those who like Jesus
remind us that we can never pride ourselves on being virtuous,
and that we cannot afford to despise anyone.
Faith is to accept the fact that I am accepted in my total unacceptability.”  Paul Tillich
Lord, when we come into your presence,
help us to be conscious of our sinfulness
so that we recognize how we are in fact grasping, unjust, adulterous,
like all human beings, no different from the sinners we see before us;
and help us to know that our fasting and the tithes we pay
are not worth mentioning.
Then lead us to the deeper level where we are content to stand at a distance from you,
not daring to raise our eyes to you,
but beating our breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
When we have made that inner journey
we go home knowing that we are at rights with you.
“The only real prayer is the one in which we are no longer aware that we are praying.”
…St Anthony
Lord, once we start making a fuss about our prayers,
we find we start talking about good deeds and pointing fingers at people.
Teach us to keep our prayer simple,
       – standing at a distance so that we do not draw attention to ourselves;
       – not daring to raise our eyes lest we disturb you;
       – beating our breasts because we do not feel to look down on anyone.
Those who know their own weakness are greater than those who have seen the angels.” 
 Isaac of Nineveh, Syrian monk of the 7th century
Lord, many people feel burdened by guilt,
imagining that you are angry because they have no good deeds
for which they can stand in the temple and thank you.
Send them Jesus to remind them that if they stay right where they are
and ask for your mercy they will go home at rights with you.
Lord, there are many things which divide people today:
race, culture, education, work.
How sad it is that our worship of you should also divide us.
Going to the temple should be a moment when we do not dare
to raise our eyes to look down on anyone,
but just beat our breasts and say, “God, be merciful to us sinners.”
Our knowledge of God is paradoxically not a knowledge of Him as the object of our scrutiny, but of ourselves as utterly dependent on his saving and merciful knowledge of us.” Thomas Merton
Lord, we thank you for moments when we feel no desire to raise our eyes,
because we do not want to understand or even to question you,
only to experience that you are merciful to us sinners.
Lord, self-righteousness is very insidious.
Even when we try hard to avoid it,
we find that we are self-righteous about our spiritual progress.
We thank you for spiritual guides who, like Jesus,
can perceive the subtle ways in which we pride ourselves on being virtuous
and despise everyone else.
Lord, forgive us that as a Church we are like the Pharisee,
proud that we are virtuous and despising all other Churches,
reminding ourselves of their faults, which we avoid,
and of the good things we achieve.
Be merciful to us sinners.
Lord, we pray for Church leaders and political leaders.
They make great efforts to impress us
by telling us of the faults they avoid and the great things they do,
whereas they are never more at rights with us
than when they ask us to forgive them their sins.
“What worries me … is the growing invisibility of the poor.” Timothy Radcliffe, Master General of the Dominican Order
Lord, our modern world glorifies those who have made it in life –
their faces are always on television, their names in the headlines,
and as a Church we often follow this trend.
Help us to focus rather on exalting the humble.
“I rejoice, my brothers and sisters, that our Church is persecuted for its efforts of incarnation in the interests of the poor.”    …Archbishop Romero
Lord, we pray that your Church may seek only the exaltedness
which Jesus promised to those who make themselves one with the lowly.
****************
 From the Connections:
THE WORD:
The Pharisee and the tax collector (or  “publican” as he is called in some translations) are images of two extreme  religious attitudes.
Pharisees were the “separated ones” who  positioned themselves in society as the great keepers of the holy law.  They were held in great esteem by the Jewish community,  despite the Pharisees’ haughty condemnation of those they viewed as less than  faithful.
Tax collectors were Jews who worked for  Rome.  To become a tax collector, one  would bid for a certain territory by paying a sum that the government  determined that area should yield in taxes.   The tax collector then won the right to collect taxes from the people in  that locale in order to recoup his investment and make a considerable profit;  as part of the arrangement, tax collectors could count on Roman cooperation to  enforce their outrageous charges.  It was  a system that was rife with extortion, with little accountability demanded of  the tax collectors and no avenues of recourse for the poor they preyed  upon.  Tax collectors were despised by  Jewish society as thieves and collaborators.
The parable contrasts two very different  attitudes of prayer.  The Pharisee  approaches God seeking the reward he feels he deserves.  His prayer is really a testimonial to himself  for all the good things the Pharisee has done to merit God's grace.  The tax collector, on the other hand,  realizes his nothingness before God.  He  comes before God seeking his mercy because of the good things God has done for  undeserving sinners like himself.  It is  the prayer of the humble who come before God with an attitude of humble thanks  for God’s unconditional and limitless mercy that is heard and “exalted” before  God.

HOMILY POINTS:               
Like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel, we  can “use” God to justify our own belief systems and to advance our own idea of  what the world should be.  The Christ of  compassion and reconciliation calls us to see ourselves as made in God’s image,  not to recast God in our image. 
In our own time and place, the parable of  the Pharisee and the tax collector is played out not so much as a lack of  humility before God but as a lack of awareness of the needs, hopes and cries  for help of those around us.
Attitude and action are the essence of  authentic discipleship, not just words and rituals empty of feeling or  conviction.  We manifest our love for God  not through self-righteous acts of piety but through our love and care for the  poor, the needy, the defenseless, the alienated and the rejected.

To the clown in all of us

A feature in The New York Times every Monday  is “Metropolitan Diary.”  In the “diary,”  residents of New York neighborhoods share stories of the touching, the unusual,  the amusing that typifies live in the Big Apple.  In one diary entry (June 21, 2010), a  correspondent reported observing this scene:
While waiting  for the neighborhood parking garage to open one evening, the writer saw a gang  of five young men hanging out.  On the  trunk of their car were two large pizza boxes and five Snapple bottles.  The guys were having a great time – but their  horsing around was getting out of hand.   The extra pizza slices were being thrown around and the empty Snapple  bottles were smashed on the pavement.   The observer wrote that he was getting angry at the mess and noise, but  did not want take on five rather large young men alone, so he remained in his  car.
That’s when  the clown appeared.  A real clown —  greasepaint, a big rubber nose, baggy clothes, big floppy shoes — the whole  clown bit.  He looked as if he had just  stepped out of the Ringling Brothers circus tent.  Apparently he was on his way to entertain at  a child’s birthday party.
When the  clown came upon the scene, he said nothing.   He walked to the trunk, picked up one of the boxes and stooped down to  pick up the broken glass and pizza globs on the street.  The clown then walked to the corner and  deposited the mess in a trash container.   The young men were dumbfounded.   When he had finished, the clown walked up to the five and passed his  hat.  The five sheepishly dug into their  pockets and gave him their change.  The  clown bowed and went on his way.

Today’s Gospel appeals to the “clown” within  each one of us — that understanding that we are not the center of the world,  that realization that we are part of a much larger ”circus” than our own little  “sideshow.”  That is the Gospel value of  humility: to realize that all the blessings we have received are the result of  the depth of God’s love and not because of anything we have done to deserve  it.  Faced with this realization, all we  can do is to try and return that love to those around us, to care for this  world we all share and for one another as brothers and sisters of the same loving  God.  Respect, compassion, forgiveness —  the core values of the Gospel — are grounded in such humility before God and a  spirit of gratitude for the life and world he has created for us.

*************
ILLUSTRATIONS:

Fr. Jude Botelho:

The first reading from Sirach describes God as partial to the weak, listening to the cry of the oppressed, especially the powerless orphans and widows. God always listens to the poor and has a favourable sentence on the one who does not boast of their merits and has only poverty and mercy to rely on. God will vindicate the rights of the wronged.

No respecter of the privileged

One incident which impressed itself on Mahatma Gandhi’s mind was when he was obliged to step into the gutter so that a group of white passers-by would not be contaminated. Reflecting on the experience afterwards he wrote: It has always been a mystery to me how men feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings. Gandhi made the remark not in anger but in surprise. When he returned to his native India he abandoned the practice of the law to practice satyagraha – the non-violent force born of truth and love. Gandhi saw truth as having a power of its own and, although he was imprisoned four times for resisting British colonial rule, he never doubted the rightness of his cause. In the language of the first reading, Gandhi believed in a God who was no respecter of the privileged to the detriment of the poor. His persistence in his cause for justice is a powerful illustration of the truth we heard proclaimed: “The humble man’s prayer pierces the clouds, until it arrives he is inconsolable nor will he desist until the Most High takes notice of him.”
Denis McBride in ‘Seasons of the word’
  

Jesus in today’s gospel caricatures the two extremes of the religious society of his day, two attitudes before God. In which do I see myself, the Pharisee or the publican? First the Pharisee, with his ‘magnificent’ prayer of thanks asks nothing for himself, and we should judge him as no hypocrite: what he says, he does, and perfectly. The trouble is he knows it too well: he listens to himself praying, he is preoccupied with himself. Above all, he judges others. As far as he is concerned about God, he sees him chiefly as the one who will recognise his merits. Set against this religiously observant man, we have the publican. He makes no great prayer of thanksgiving; he confesses, not because he needs to sweep his conscience clear but to express all the sorrow he feels for them. Finding nothing that could give him any assurance before his judge, he entrusts himself to the divine mercy. When this humble man returned to his home he, and not the other, was at rights with God. As Christians we know that a just man is one who has been justified, saved by God, without regard for merit. Do we believe that firmly enough when we pray? The best revealer of God and of ourselves is still our prayer!


True humility makes way for God

Narada, the Indian sage, was a devotee of God. So great was his devotion that he was one day tempted to think that in all the world there was no one who loved God more than he. His self-righteousness began to lead him towards pride and arrogance. The Lord read his heart and said, “Narada, go to this town on the banks of the Ganges for a devotee of mine dwells there. Living with him will do you good.” Narada went and found a farmer who rose early in the morning, pronounced the name of God only once, then lifted his plough and went out to his fields where he worked the whole day. Just before he fell asleep at night he pronounced the name of God once again. Narada thought, “How can this farmer be a devotee of God? He pronounced God’s name only twice in the day, and then got himself immersed in his worldly occupation.” When Narada voiced his opinion to God, then the Lord said to him, “Fill a bowl to the brim with milk and walk all round the city. Then come back without spilling a single drop.” Narada did as he was told, and returned back. Then the Lord asked him, “How many times did you remember me in the course of your walk around the city?” Not once,” replied Narada. “How could I when you commanded me to watch that bowl of milk?” The Lord said, “That bowl so absorbed your attention that you forgot me altogether. But look at that farmer who, though burdened with the cares of supporting a family, remembers me twice a day.”
John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’



I’m OK, You’re OK
The Pharisee was the religious pro-he did all the right things demanded by the law. The tax collector was a sinner by employment – he was guilty of breaking the law by the very work he did. Each man prays in the Temple. If Jesus had stopped to ask us, “Who do you think went home justified?” we probably would have answered, “The Pharisee!” But Jesus would say, “You’re wrong! The other guy is the good guy. “How come?” we would protest. Then Jesus would give us the punch line: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” In terms of Transactional Analysis the Pharisee was relating to God like a parent to a child. He was telling God all about the good things he was doing for him –fasting, praying, tithing and so on. He was almost demanding that God admire and approve of him. On the other hand, the tax collector related to God like a child to a parent. He humbly acknowledged that he had done wrong but trusted in his heavenly Father’s love and mercy.
Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’



Forgetting our roots
A clergyman had reached the end of his rope, and he decided to try some other way of life that might give him a greater personal satisfaction. He was very disappointed to discover that a job was hard to come by. At last, he landed a job in the local zoo. Unfortunately, when he went there, the job was not exactly available just yet, but the manager asked him to consider taking a temporary job, until the other one was vacant. As it happened the chimpanzee had died, and had not yet been replaced. The chimp was a great favourite with the children, and the cage could not be left empty for long. They had a chimp suit, and the man was asked if he would mind getting into the suit, and taking the place of the chimp. All he’d have to do was to roll around a few times, eat a banana, go back in the back for a rest, etc. He decided to give it a go. He was an instant success. The children gathered around his cage. He soon discovered that he was now getting much more attention than he ever got in the pulpit. One day, he decided to really get into the act. He jumped up, grabbed an overhead bar, and began to swing to and fro, to the delighted screams of the children. He got carried away with himself, and he really began to swing with gusto. Unfortunately, after one huge effort, his hands (paws?) slipped, and he went flying over the partition into the cage next door. A huge tiger approached, and, forgetting that he was supposed to be a chimp, he screamed ‘Help! Help!’, to which the tiger whispered sharply, ‘Shut up, you fool; I’m a minister too!’ We are all the same when we stand before God.
Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel truth!’

My prayer answered
A good life, like a good prayer, comes from emptying ourselves of ourselves to let God in. That means a realization of the truth of the words scribbled long ago by an anonymous soldier of the Confederacy:
“I asked God for strength, that I might achieve – I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for help that I might do greater things – I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy – I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life – I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for – but everything I had hoped for.
Despite myself, my prayers were answered. I am, among all men, most richly blessed!”
Harold Buetow in ‘God Still Speaks! Listen’


****

The famous actor  Gregory Peck was once standing in line with a friend, waiting for a table in a  crowded Los Angeles restaurant. They had been waiting for some time, the diners  seemed to be taking their time eating and new tables weren't opening up very  fast. They weren't even that close to the front of the line. Peck's friend  became impatient, and he said to Gregory Peck, "Why don't you tell the maitre d'  who you are?" Gregory Peck responded with great wisdom. "No," he said, "if you  have to tell them who you are, then you aren't."

That's a lesson that the  Pharisee in our gospel reading apparently had never learned. His prayer, if it  can be called that, is largely an advertisement for himself. He's selling  himself to God. Little wonder that Luke describes him in the way he does, "The  Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself." That's a very apt description,  isn't it -- he prayed with himself. He would have done better had he had Gregory  Peck there to whisper in his ear that if he had to remind God who he was, then  he wasn't.

The tax collector, on the other hand, didn't have to tell God  who he was. He knew who he was and he knew that God knew who he was. His prayer  is not an exercise in self-promotion, but a confession and a plea for mercy. He  is not selling himself, but opening himself. And Jesus says, "It is this man who  went home justified." To be justified means to be declared "not guilty." It  means to be declared right. The tax collector is declared to be in the right  relationship to God while the Pharisee, who is so certain of his own  righteousness, is shown to be in the wrong relationship with God. He is not  justified before the bar of God's justice which is the court of ultimate  consequence.

We hasten to add, however, that this does not mean that the  Pharisee was a bad person and the tax collector really a good person. There's no  suggestion of that in this parable...

Who doesn't like an  "attaboy!" when they do something good? It's why we have "honor society" in  school. It is the reason we have scholarship awards as we head into college.  "Attaboy!" stands behind all those accolades high achievers get throughout life  - Rhode's scholarships, purple hearts, Silver stars, gold statues, merit raises  for school teachers, making partner in a big firm, getting re-elected (in any  organization, at any level). "Attaboys!" reward the gracious, good,  above-and-beyond behaviors we see in others. Good persons deserve good things.

The problem is that  our vision of "good behavior" can get extremely myopic, extremely near-sighted.  We only are able to see the good in those who stand closest to us. Those far off  become, if not "bad," at least "other." "Otherness" is perhaps the most  insidious form of prejudice. Why? Because "otherness" makes close closed.  "Otherness" disassociates our close family and other loved ones from outsiders  and strangers. As soon as we identify some people as "others," the game is over.  We have drawn up "us" vs. "them" battle-lines.

In this week's gospel  parable the good-living, well-meaning Pharisee and the ne'r-do-well tax  collector are set up as ideal types of the "acceptable" vs. the "other." The  contrast could not be sharper. The Pharisee examines himself, and finds no fault  with himself. The tax collector lets God examine him, and throws himself on the  bar of God's justice (receiving mercy as God does). Ironically, the Pharisee  treats God as a debt collector and the Tax collector, who IS a debt collector,  treats God as a Savior...
_____________________

Loneliness

The whole conviction  of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and  curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and a few other solitary men, is the  central and inevitable fact of human existence.

Thomas  Wolfe
____________

The Law and the  Gospel

The primary purpose of  the Law is, like a mirror, to teach man the true knowledge of his sin. We see  this in the example of the publican.

The publicans were tax-collectors  for the Roman imperialists. They were Jews, but were not respected by their  people. They were considered traitors and thieves, with some  justification.

So the publican did not approach God with pride, demanding  what was owed him. On the contrary, he approached the Lord with maximum humility  and true repentance. Repentance is essential to receive the forgiveness of sins  in Christ. That is why the Law should be preached to unrepentant sinners, but  the Gospel to those who are troubled by their sins and terrified of  damnation.

The Law demands, threatens and condemns; the Gospel promises,  gives and confirms our forgiveness and salvation. God offers forgiveness of sins  only in the Good News that we are saved because Christ fulfilled the Law,  suffered, died and rose from the dead for us.

So let us draw near to God  in humility and repentance, of course, but also in the hope and faith that we  are justified through faith, not by works, and that in Christ we are children of  God.

David Ernst, By Faith, Not by  Works
________________________________________

Pride

I heard about a  fifth grader that came home from school so excited. She had been voted  "prettiest girl in the class." The next day she was even more excited when she  came home, for the class had voted her "the most likely to succeed." The next  day she came home and told her mother she had won a third contest, being voted  "the most popular."

But the next day she came home extremely upset. The  mother said, "What happened, did you lose this time?" She said, "Oh no, I won  the vote again." The mother said, "What were you voted this time?" She said,  "most stuck up."

Well this Pharisee would have won that contest hands  down. He had an "i" problem. Five times you will read the little pronoun "i" in  these two verses. He was stoned on the drug of self. He suffered from two  problems: inflation and deflation. He had an inflated view of who he was, and a  deflated view of who God was.

His pride had made him too big for his  spiritual britches. C. S. Lewis once said, "A proud man is always looking down  on things and people; and of course, as long as you are looking down, you can't  see something that's above you."

James Merritt, Collected Sermons,  ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc.
____________________________________

How Is John Quincy  Adams?

On his eightieth  birthday, John Quincy Adams was walking slowly along a Boston street. A friend  asked him "How is John Quincy Adams today?" The former president replied  graciously, "Thank you, John Quincy Adams is well, sir, quite well, I thank you.  But the house in which he lives at present is becoming dilapidated. It is  tottering upon the foundations. Time and the seasons have nearly destroyed it.  Its roof is pretty well worn out, its walls are shattered, and it trembles with  every wind. The old tenement is becoming almost uninhabitable, and I think John  Quincy Adams will have to move out of it soon; but he himself is quite well,  sir, quite well." That is the attitude we need to cultivate so that when the  call home comes we may say with Paul: "I have fought the good fight, I have  finished the race, I have kept the faith."

Unknown
____________________

An Absolute  Standard

One rabbi said, "If  there are only two righteous men in the world, I and my son are these two; if  there is only one, I am he!" -Reminds me of two friends talking, one said,  "We're the only two honest people left in the world, and sometimes I'm not so  sure about you!"

With a human measure, righteousness is relative, you can  always find someone better and someone worse. Take the right point of comparison  and you feel pretty good about yourself.

A little boy announced to his  mother, "I'm like Goliath. I'm 9 feet tall." "Why do you say that?" asked his  mother. "Well, I made a little ruler and measured myself with it; I'm 9 feet  tall!"

Human standards don't count. The only evaluation that counts is by  an absolute standard! The righteousness of God Himself; with that measuring  stick, we all come up short!

Lee Compson, Holier Than  Who?
_____________________________________________

The Race We Are  In

Several years ago, I  told you a story about one of my all-time favorite people. Not that I know her,  or have even met her. But I admire her. Because one day, at age 42, in beautiful  downtown Cleveland, she ran a marathon by accident (all 26 miles, 385 yards of  it). Her name was Georgene Johnson. Still is. As you will recall, she lined up  with the wrong group at the starting line. Not the 10K group, where she  belonged. But the 26 mile group, where she didn't. It wasn't until the four mile  mark that she realized her mistake. So she just kept going, finishing the race  in four hours and four minutes. But it's what she said later (by way of  explanation) that has stayed with me since. Said Georgene: "This isn't the race  I trained for. This isn't the race I entered. But, for better or worse, this is  the race I'm in."

Which is true more  often than you might think. Relatively few of us are exactly where we figured  we'd be....doing exactly what we figured we'd be doing. But we are where we are,  and (for better or worse) we're keeping our feet moving.

William A. Ritter,  Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
____________________

No Black  Dots

When Benjamin Franklin  was 27 years old, he decided he would take control of his life. He selected 12  virtues he wanted to acquire, and kept a daily chart of his progress in the  development of each one. Whenever he missed the mark, he put a black dot beside  that virtue. His goal was to ultimately have no dots on the chart. This method  contributed to Franklin's success as an inventor, publisher, and  statesman.
Unknown
____________________

The Best Treatment for  Loneliness

Dr. Karl Menninger,  the famous American psychiatrist, once gave a lecture on mental health & was  answering questions from the audience. One man asked, "What would you advise a  person to do if that person felt a nervous breakdown coming on?" Everyone there  expected him to answer, "Consult a psychiatrist." To their astonishment he  replied: Leave your house, go across the railroad tracks, find someone who is in  need, and do something to help that person.

Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com
___________________________

 Are You Really  Listening?

In his book  Directions, author James Hamilton shares this insight about listening to God:  "Before refrigerators, people used icehouses to preserve their food. Icehouses  had thick walls, no windows, and a tightly fitted door. In winter, when streams  and lakes were frozen, large blocks of ice were cut, hauled to the icehouses,  and covered with sawdust. Often the ice would last well into the  summer.

One man lost a  valuable watch while working in an icehouse. He searched diligently for it,  carefully raking through the sawdust, but didn't find it. His fellow workers  also looked, but their efforts, too, proved futile. A small boy who heard about  the fruitless search slipped into the icehouse during the noon hour and soon  emerged with the watch.

Amazed, the men asked  him how he found it...

"I closed the door,' the boy replied, 'lay down in the sawdust, and kept very  still. Soon I heard the watch ticking.' "

Often the question is not whether God is speaking, but  whether we are being still enough, and quiet enough, to hear.

— Phillip Gunter Los Alamos, New Mexico
*******

Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection


 1“Proud about what?” A news reporter once asked St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) if she had ever been tempted to be proud.  Mother Theresa retorted with a smile, “Proud about what?”  The reporter replied, “Why, about the wonderful things you have been doing for the poorest of the poor!”  Then came her answer, “I never knew I had done anything, because it was God who worked in and through my Sisters and volunteers.”  True humility differentiates a saint from a sinner.  If we are proud of our talents, our family connections, our reputation, or our achievements in life, today’s Gospel tells us that we need Jesus to rid us of our pride and make us truly humble.
2: “No, Madam, he did not.” William Barclay tells the story of the woman tourist in Germany. The guide took a group through Beethoven’s house. He showed them the piano on which the genius had composed his Moonlight Sonata. A woman in the group immediately sat down and played some bars from the sonata. The guide told the group that Paderewski (world renowned Polish pianist and composer) had recently been shown the piano. The woman gushed, “And I wager he sat down and played just as I did.” Archly the guide said, “No, Madam. He said he was not worthy to touch those keys.”
3: Truly humble of heart: Dorothy Day died in November 1980 at the age of 84. Reporting on her death, the New York Times called her the most influential person in the history of American Catholicism. In her book, From Union Square to Rome, she describes her conversion to Christ. One of her first attractions came in childhood. One day she discovered the mother of one of her girlfriends kneeling in prayer. The sight of this kneeling woman moved her deeply. She never forgot it. In the same book she tells how, in the days before her conversion, she often spent the entire night in a tavern. Then she would go to an early morning Mass at St. Joseph’s Church on Sixth Avenue. What attracted her to St. Joseph’s were the people kneeling in prayer. She writes: “I longed for their Faith… So, I used to go in and kneel in a back pew.” Eventually Dorothy Day received the gift of Faith and entered the Church. (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies)
4: Proud boxer: Muhammad Ali had just won another boxing title. He used to boast: “When you are great and famous like me, it is hard to be humble.” Once, on the airplane, the stewardess politely said to him, ” Sir, you need to fasten your seat belt.” Ali replied, “Superman doesn’t need a seat belt.” To which the stewardess politely responded, “And Superman doesn’t need an airplane either; please fasten your seat belt, Sir.”
5. “Yes, I know, but Grandma is.” On the first evening of their visit with their grandmother, a young boy and his brother knelt by their bed to pray. Shouting as loudly as he could, the younger boy pleaded. . . “and PLEASE God, I need a new bicycle and a pair of roller blades.” “Shh!” said the older boy, “not so loud. God isn’t deaf, you know!” To which his younger brother replied. “Yes, I know, but Grandma is.” Technically, the boy was praying to God but, like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel, he was doing so simply to benefit himself.
6. Sunday Pharisees: “I never come to this Church for Sunday Mass,” boasted a wandering parishioner to his pastor. “Perhaps you have noticed that Father?” “Yes, I have noticed that,” said the pastor. “Well, the reason I don’t come is that there are so many hypocrites here.” “Oh, don’t let that keep you away,” replied the pastor with a smile. “There’s always room for one more.”
7. The Pharisee in the parish office: A farmer entered the local Church and spoke to the Church secretary: “I’d like to speak to the Head Hog at the Trough.”  The secretary was quite taken aback and responded to the farmer, “Sir, we have no one here by that name.” “If you are referring to the priest in charge of this parish, we always respectfully call him Father or Pastor.” “Fine, ma’am, but I want to talk to the person who will take my $25,000 donation for your church.” Immediately the secretary responded, “Dearie! Please take a seat and just wait a second. Our Fat Pig will be here with you at once!”

22- Additional anecdotes

1) Newsweek on prayer: Despite the fact that the secular media of television, magazines, and newspapers are not always very positive in their coverage and the images they use to portray the religious dimension of life in America, I was surprised to see that the January 6, 1992 issue of Newsweek featured a front cover, in gold, no less, with the headline, “Talking To God: An Intimate Look at the Way We Pray.” The article featured a Gallup poll which attempted to take the pulse of the prayer life of America. The poll shared these fascinating results: A. 78% of all Americans pray at least once a week. B. More than half–57%–pray at least once a day. C. About 20% of all atheists pray once a day. (Newsweek, January 6, 1992, page 40) Yes, the two men in today’s Gospel would both be included in Mr. Gallup’s poll, but the Pharisee and the publican are worlds apart in their “talking to God.” (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
2) We are all the same when we stand before God: Here is a funny story. A clergyman had reached the end of his rope, and he decided to try some other way of life that might give him a greater personal satisfaction. He was very disappointed to discover that a job was hard to come by. At last, he landed a job in the local zoo. Unfortunately, when he went there, the job was not exactly available just yet, but the manager asked him to consider taking a temporary job, until the other one was vacant. As it happened the chimpanzee had died and had not yet been replaced. The chimp was a great favorite with the children, and the cage could not be left empty for long. They had a chimp suit, and the man was asked if he would mind getting into the suit and taking the place of the chimp. All he’d have to do was to roll around a few times, eat a banana, go back in the back for a rest, etc. He decided to give it a go. He was an instant success. The children gathered around his cage. He soon discovered that he was now getting much more attention than he ever got in the pulpit. One day, he decided to really get into the act. He jumped up, grabbed an overhead bar, and began to swing to and fro, to the delighted screams of the children. He got carried away with himself, and he really began to swing with gusto. Unfortunately, after one huge effort, his hands (paws?) slipped, and he went flying over the partition into the cage next door. A huge tiger approached, and, forgetting that he was supposed to be a chimp, he screamed “Help! Help!” to which the tiger whispered sharply, “Shut up, you fool; I’m a minister too!” We are all the same when we stand before God….! (Jack McArdle in And That’s the Gospel Truth! d Fr. Botelho). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
3) “I feel so sorry, so sad, so unworthy, to receive the Communion.” Dennis Keen tells of a woman from a small town in Pennsylvania’s depressed coal region who would cry uncontrollably every time she took Communion. He asked other parishioners about this woman, and they said she had cried at Communion for as long as they could remember. After one service Pastor Keen asked her, “Why do you cry while kneeling at the altar every time you receive Holy Communion?” Her response surprised her pastor. “Every time I receive the Bread and Cup I can’t help but think that Christ died for me,” she said. “I feel that the only fitting response is crying. By crying I am remembering what Christ did for me. I feel so sorry, so sad, so unworthy, to receive the communion.” (Rev. Dennis Keen, “Representing Christ”). The tax collector in today’s parable felt the same emotion and feeling of unworthiness. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
4) “If you have to tell them who you are, then you aren’t.” The famous actor Gregory Peck was once standing in line with a friend, waiting for a table in a crowded Los Angeles restaurant. They had been waiting for some time, the diners seemed to be taking their time eating and new tables weren’t opening up very fast. They weren’t even that close to the front of the line. Peck’s friend became impatient, and he said to Gregory Peck, “Why don’t you tell the maitre d’ who you are?” Gregory Peck responded with great wisdom. “No,” he said, “if you have to tell them who you are, then you aren’t.” That’s a lesson that the Pharisee in our Gospel reading apparently had never learned. (Lee Compson, Holier Than Who?; quoted by Fr. Kayala). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
6) “What a marvelous act of Faith.” Girolamo Savonarola was one of the great preachers of the fifteenth century. He preached in the great cathedral of Florence, Italy, which contained a magnificent marble statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. When Savonarola started preaching at this great cathedral, he noticed one day an elderly woman praying before this statue of Mary. He then noticed that it was her habit to come every day and pray before the statue. Savonarola remarked one day to an elderly priest who had been serving in the cathedral for many years, “Look how devoted and earnest this woman is. Every day she comes and offers prayers to the blessed Mother of Jesus. What a marvelous act of Faith.” But the elderly priest replied, “Do not be deceived by what you see. Many years ago, when the sculptor needed a model to pose for this statue of the blessed Mother, he hired a beautiful young woman to sit for him. This devout worshiper you see here every day is that young woman. She is worshiping who she used to be.” (Rev. Jones). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
7) Are you still enough to listen? In his book Directions, author James Hamilton shares this insight about listening to God: “Before refrigerators, people used icehouses to preserve their food. Icehouses had thick walls, no windows, and a tightly fitted door. In winter, when streams and lakes were frozen, large blocks of ice were cut, hauled to the icehouses, and covered with sawdust. Often the ice would last well into the summer. One man lost a valuable watch while working in an icehouse. He searched diligently for it, carefully raking through the sawdust, but didn’t find it. His fellow workers also looked, but their efforts, too, proved futile. A small boy who heard about the fruitless search slipped into the icehouse during the noon hour and soon emerged with the watch. Amazed, the men asked him how he found it.  ‘I closed the door,’ the boy replied, ‘lay down in the sawdust, and kept very still. Soon I heard the watch ticking.'” [“To Illustrate,” Leadership, (Fall 1992), p. 46.] Often the question is not whether God is speaking, but whether we are being still enough, and quiet enough, to hear. Yes, Jesus assures us that our Heavenly Father always listens to us, but do we really listen to God? Do we follow the instructions of Psalm 46:11: “Be still, and know that I am God”? (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
8) God hears the humble: In her play, The Zeal of Thy House, Dorothy L. Sayers presents a stonemason working on an intricate carving for the chancel of Canterbury Cathedral. He clumsily lets his tool slip and spoils the whole great piece of stone assigned to him. It is a sad moment, as the valuable and custom-cut stone stands misshapen. The architect, however, takes the tool out of the artisan’s hand and although he remonstrates with him for his clumsiness, begins to enact forgiveness. He redesigns out of the spoiled carving a new and different figure which has its own part to play in the ensemble of the Cathedral, and then permits the blundering mason to complete it in all its glory. “So, works with us,” concludes Dorothy Sayers, “the genius craftsman, God.” The Good Book tells of Moses who lost his temper with Israel and failed God, David who submitted to uncontrolled lust, Peter who gave in to cowardice and denial, James and John who sought the chief seats in the new kingdom, Paul who had been a cruel inquisitor. Reading its pages, we realize that here is recorded not only good about men, but the worst, as well. Yet God, the ingenious craftsman, took each of these individuals in the moment of humility and surrender. With forgiving and patient love, He helped each to fashion a noble and useful life. This explains why the humble tax collector found favor with God. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
9: “Don’t you know this is a fast-day?” Once there was a rabbi who was at the point of death. The Jewish community proclaimed a day of fasting in order to induce the Heavenly Judge to commute the sentence of death.  When the entire congregation was gathered in the synagogue for penance and prayer, the village drunkard went to the village tavern for some schnapps (white brandy).   Another Jew saw him and rebuked him saying, “Don’t you know this is a fast-day and everyone is in the synagogue praying for the healing of our rabbi?  You shouldn’t be drinking.”  The drunkard agreed, went to the synagogue and prayed, “Dear God!  Please restore our rabbi to good health so that I can have my schnapps!”
The rabbi recovered, and his healing was seen to be granted because of the sincere prayer of the drunkard.  Addressing his people on the following Sabbath, the rabbi prayed: “May God preserve our village drunkard until he is a hundred and twenty years!  Know that his prayer was heard by God when yours were not because he put his whole heart and soul into his prayer!”  [Nathan Ausubel, ed., A Treasury of Jewish Folklore, p. 161).  Today’s Gospel tells us how God heard the prayers of a humble sinner and ignored the proud prayer of a self-righteous Pharisee. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
10: No respecter of the privileged: Before the great spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi led India in its struggle for independence, he practiced law in South Africa. He became keenly aware of the injustice there, and he managed to persuade the Indian community to offer passive resistance to the government’s policy of discrimination. One incident which impressed itself on his mind was when he was obliged to step into the gutter so that a group of white passers-by would not be contaminated. Reflecting on the experience afterwards he wrote: “It has always been a mystery to me how men feel themselves honored by the humiliation of their fellow beings.” Gandhi made the remark not in anger but in surprise. When he returned to his native India, he abandoned the practice of the law to practice Satyagraha – the non-violent force is born of truth and love. Gandhi saw truth as having a power of its own and, although he was imprisoned four times for resisting British colonial rule, he never doubted the rightness of his cause. – In the language of the first reading, Gandhi believed in a God who was no respecter of the privileged to the detriment of the poor. His persistence in his cause for justice is a powerful illustration of the truth we heard proclaimed: “The humble man’s prayer pierces the clouds, until it arrives, he is inconsolable, nor will he desist until the Most High takes notice of him.” (Denis McBride in Seasons of the Word; quoted by Fr. Botelho). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
11: Prayer is very powerful. A number of years ago, research at San Francisco General Hospital revealed that victims of heart attack, heart failure and other cardiac problems who were remembered in prayers fared better than those who were not. Cardiologist Randy Byrd assigned 192 patients to the “prayed-for” group and 201 patients to the “not-prayed-for” group. All patients were in the coronary intensive care unit. Patients, doctors and nurses did not know which group patients were in. Prayer group members were scattered around the nation and given only the first names, diagnoses and prognoses of patients. The researcher said that the results were dramatic. The prayed-for group had significantly fewer complications than the unremembered group. And fewer members of the former died. The latter group was five times more likely to develop infections requiring antibiotics, and three times more likely to develop a lung condition, leading to heart failure. (Fr. James Farfaglia). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
12) “A poor sinner, your brother.” In Vienna there is a Church in which the deceased members of the former ruling family in Austria, the Hapsburgs, were buried.  When the royal funeral processions arrived at the Church, the mourners would knock at the door and ask to be allowed in.  A priest inside would ask, “Who is it that desires admission here?”  The mourners would call out, “His Apostolic Majesty, the Emperor.”  The priest would then respond, “I don’t know him.”  Then the mourners would knock a second time, and the priest would again ask who was there.  The mourners would repeat, “The highest Emperor,” and would receive the same response from the priest. On the third knock and question from the priest, the mourners would reply, “A poor sinner, your brother” — and the funeral procession was allowed to enter.  In today’s parable, Jesus reminds us that a humble acknowledgement of our sinfulness is the first condition for the efficacy of our prayers (William J. Bausch, A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
13) “You, too, had better be asleep:” A disciple came to Mohamed and said, “Master, my six brothers are all asleep, and I alone have remained awake to worship Allah.” Mohamed replied: “You, too, had better be asleep, if your worship of Allah consists of accusation against your brethren.” –Mohamed’s answer is self-explanatory. Worship is polluted if done with a heart harboring hatred, enmity or prejudice. The purpose of prayer is to purify oneself and not to find fault with others. – (G. Francis Xavier in The World’s Best Inspiring Stories). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
14) Prayer is a wish turned Heaven-word: A man going past his granddaughter’s bedroom, was pleased to see her on her knees saying her prayers. So he stopped to listen to what she was saying, and found that she was merely listing the letters of the alphabet -A, B, C, D,..X,Y, Z. he was astonished. He went in and asked her, “Honey, what on earth are you saying to God?” She replied, “Granddad, today I have so much to say to God that I don’t know how to say it. So, I decided to just say the alphabets and leave God to put the letters together, because he just knows what I am thinking.” What loveable simplicity! And what disarming humility! As a famous preacher, Phillip Brooks rightly said, “A prayer in its simplest definition, is merely a wish turned heaven-word – we do our best and God will unfailingly do the rest!” (James Valladares in Your Words O Lord are Spirit, and They Are Life; quoted by Fr. Botelho). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
15) To the clown in all of us: A feature in The New York Times every Monday is “Metropolitan Diary.”  In the “diary,” residents of New York neighborhoods share stories of the touching, the unusual, the amusing that typifies live in the Big Apple.  In one diary entry (June 21, 2010), a correspondent reported observing this scene: While waiting for the neighborhood parking garage to open one evening, the writer saw a gang of five young men hanging out.  On the trunk of their car were two large pizza boxes and five Snapple bottles.  The guys were having a great time – but their horsing around was getting out of hand.  The extra pizza slices were being thrown around and the empty Snapple bottles were smashed on the pavement.  The observer wrote that he was getting angry at the mess and noise but did not want to take on five rather large young men alone, so he remained in his car. That’s when the clown appeared.  A real clown — greasepaint, a big rubber nose, baggy clothes, big floppy shoes — the whole clown bit.  He looked as if he had just stepped out of the Ringling Brothers circus tent.  Apparently, he was on his way to entertain at a child’s birthday party. When the clown came upon the scene, he said nothing.  He walked to the trunk, picked up one of the boxes and stooped down to pick up the broken glass and pizza globs on the street.  The clown then walked to the corner and deposited the mess in a trash container.  The young men were dumbfounded.  When he had finished, the clown walked up to the five and passed his hat.  The five sheepishly dug into their pockets and gave him their change.  The clown bowed and went on his way. Today’s Gospel appeals to the “clown” within each one of us — that understanding that we are not the center of the world, that realization that we are part of a much larger “circus” than our own little “sideshow.”  That is the Gospel value of humility: to realize that all the blessings we have received are the result of the depth of God’s love and not because of anything we have done to deserve it.  Faced with this realization, all we can do is to try to return that love to those around us, to care for this world we all share, and to care for one another as brothers and sisters, children of the same loving God.  Respect, compassion, forgiveness — the core values of the Gospel — are grounded in such humility before God and a spirit of gratitude for the life and world He has created for us. (Connections) (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
16) My prayer answered: A good life, like a good prayer, comes from emptying ourselves of ourselves to let God in. That means a realization of the truth of the words scribbled long ago by an anonymous soldier of the Confederacy:
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve – I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for help that I might do greater things – I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy – I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life – I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for – but everything I had hoped for.
Despite myself, my prayers were answered. I am, among all men, most richly blessed! (Harold Buetow in God Still Speaks! Listen; quoted by Fr. Botelho). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
17) Names of people whom God loved. James Henry Leigh Hunt’s poem “Abu Ben Adhem” describes it in a moving manner. Abou Ben Adhem was a religious person. One night when he was sleeping peacefully in his room, a sparkling light woke him up. He found out that this bright light was due to the presence of an angel who was writing something in a golden book. He asked the angel what he was writing in the book. The angel replied that he was writing the names of all those people who love God. Abou asked the angel curiously if his name was in the list. The angel replied that his name was not there. He then politely requested the angel to write his name as the one who loved his fellow men. The angle wrote and disappeared. The other night, the Angel came again with a still glistening light and displayed the names of people whom God loved. Abou Ben Adhem saw that his name was on the top of the list. God always exalts those who humble themselves and exalt their fellow men. (Fr. Bobby Jose). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
18“Quincy Adams will have to move out of it soon:” On his eightieth birthday, John Quincy Adams was walking slowly along a Boston street. A friend asked him “How is John Quincy Adams today?” The former president replied graciously, “Thank you, John Quincy Adams is well, sir, quite well, I thank you. But the house in which he lives at present is becoming dilapidated. It is tottering upon the foundations. Time and the seasons have nearly destroyed it. Its roof is pretty well worn out, its walls are shattered, and it trembles with every wind. The old tenement is becoming almost uninhabitable, and I think John Quincy Adams must move out of it soon; but he himself is quite well, sir, quite well.” That is the attitude we need to cultivate so that when the call home comes, we may say with Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the Faith.” (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
19) An Absolute Standard: One rabbi said, “If there are only two righteous men in the world, I and my son are these two; if there is only one, I am he!” -Reminds me of two friends talking, one said, “We’re the only two honest people left in the world, and sometimes I’m not so sure about you!” With a human measure, righteousness is relative; you can always find someone better and someone worse. Take the right point of comparison and you feel good about yourself. A little boy announced to his mother, “I’m like Goliath. I’m 9 feet tall.” “Why do you say that?” asked his mother. “Well, I made a little ruler and measured myself with it; I’m 9 feet tall!” Human standards don’t count. The only evaluation that counts is by an absolute standard — the righteousness of God Himself! With that measuring stick, we all come up short! In today’s Gospel the publican understood this, but not the Pharisee. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
20Are You Listening? In his book Directions, author James Hamilton shares this insight about listening to God: “Before refrigerators, people used icehouses to preserve their food. Icehouses had thick walls, no windows, and a tightly fitted door. In winter, when streams and lakes were frozen, large blocks of ice were cut, hauled to the icehouses, and covered with sawdust. Often the ice would last well into the summer. One man lost a valuable watch while working in an icehouse. He searched diligently for it, carefully raking through the sawdust, but didn’t find it. His workers also looked, but their efforts, too, proved futile. A small boy who heard about the fruitless search slipped into the icehouse during the noon hour and soon emerged with the watch. Amazed, the men asked him how he found it… “I closed the door,’ the boy replied, ‘lay down in the sawdust, and kept very still. Soon I heard the watch ticking.’ ” Often the question is not whether God is speaking, but whether we are being still enough, and quiet enough, to hear. Today’s Gospel tells us that we are able to listen to God when we are really humble and really repentant of our sins. (Phillip Gunter Los Alamos, New Mexico, Quoted by Fr. Kayala). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
21) “I’m guilty. I deserve to be here.” There’s a story I love to repeat about Frederick the Great, King of Prussia from 1740 to 1786, who visited a prison one day. Each of the prisoners he spoke with claimed to be innocent: the victim of misunderstanding, prejudice, or simple injustice. Finally, the king stopped at the cell of an inmate who remained silent. “I suppose you’re innocent too,” Frederick remarked. “No, sir,” the man replied. “I’m guilty. I deserve to be here.” Turning to the warden, the king said: “Warden, release this scoundrel at once before he corrupts all these fine, innocent people in here!” (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
22) “God isn’t deaf, you know!” On the first evening of their visit with their grandmother, a young boy and his brother knelt by their bed to pray. Shouting as loudly as he could, the younger boy pleaded. . . “and PLEASE God, I need a new bicycle and a pair of roller blades.” “Shh!” said the older boy, “not so loud. God isn’t deaf, you know!” To which his younger brother replied. “Yes, I know, but Grandma is.” Technically, the boy was praying to God but, like the Pharisee in today’s gospel, he was doing so simply to benefit himself.  (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).(L/19)