30th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 23rd 2016.
Sirach 35:12-14,16-18; 2Tim 4:6-8,16-18; LK 18:9-14
The struggle for authentic righteousness
“I am a sinner … I am sure of this. I am a sinner whom the Lord looked upon with mercy. I am, as I said to detainees in Bolivia, a forgiven man. … I still make mistakes and commit sins, and I confess every fifteen or twenty days. And if I confess it is because I need to feel that God’s mercy is still upon me.”
Pope Francis spoke these words when he was asked to describe himself during an interview with the Italian magazine, Credere, on December 2, 2015. This quote gives us three pillars of the struggle for authentic righteousness.
Firstly, there must be an honest acceptance and acknowledgement of our sinfulness by which we must personally say, “I am a sinner, I have sinned in the past and without the grace of God, I will sin more in the future.” Secondly, there must be a trusting openness to receive and believe in the gift of God’s merciful love and forgiveness by which we individually say, “God has shown me His merciful love and has forgiven me on the Cross. This love of God has freed me from my sin, transformed me and is moving me to love God and others.” Thirdly, there must be determination to bring this bring this merciful love to others by which we say, “I must be ready to do and endure anything so as to reflect this merciful love to others.”
The Pope accepted and acknowledged his own sinfulness, receives the mercy of God frequently in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and reminds the Bolivian detainees and the whole world of the merciful face of the Father that has been turned on him. Authentic righteousness is not about what we do, what we feel, what people think of us or how we appear to others. It is about these three things – our sins, God’s undying merciful love for us, and our readiness to receive and reflect this love to others at any cost.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus condemns that false righteousness that is evident in self-righteousness and the despising of others who fail to measure to our standards. The Pharisee considers himself the only holy one in the midst of sinners whom he easily condemns, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” He does not see himself as a sinner. To him, righteousness is something that he does and not primarily what God does in him, “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”
But the tax collector does not see in himself the source of righteousness but looks to the mercy of God to justify him. He neither compares himself with others nor does he deny his own sinfulness, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus declares that he is the one who leaves the temple justified because righteousness comes from God; it is what God does. Nothing that we do or have by ourselves can make us truly righteous. We can only open ourselves to receive it from God as a gift and respond to it.
St. Paul writes to Timothy in today’s Second Reading, “I have competed well, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith.” Despite all that he had done and accomplished in his ministry, the crown of righteousness is not a right that is owed him but it is something that he has to wait for from God as a gift from Jesus, “From now on, the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day and to all who longed for His appearance.”
St. Paul also gives us four things that help us discern the authenticity of our righteousness. Firstly, authentic righteousness leaves us with a purity of heart that sees God acting in all the moments of our lives, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” St. Paul sees God acting in his life when he was abandoned by his trusted companions, “Everyone abandoned me but the Lord stood by me and gave me strength.”
Secondly, authentic righteousness moves us to forgive those behind the hurts of our lives simply because we too have been forgiven. St. Paul forgives those who abandoned him and is not overcome by the disappointments of life, “May it not be held against them.” Thirdly, authentic righteousness conquers fear and instills hope. “The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to His heavenly kingdom.” Lastly, true righteousness does not turn one in self but breeds a generosity in loving and serving God and others. St. Paul is determined to bring the mercy of God to others at any cost, “The Lord…gave me strength to proclaim the word fully, that all the Gentiles may hear it.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is so easy for us today to be fake or hypocritical Christians, looking to what we do or our outward appearance as the basis for our righteousness. It may be the prayers we pray, our talents or good reputations, our beautiful liturgies, our lofty vocations or our titles – all these good things can give us a false sense of righteousness. But the admirable qualities of authentic righteousness in our lives come only when we humbly accept our need for divine mercy, open ourselves trustingly and perseveringly to the transforming power of God’s merciful love in the sacrament of Reconciliation, and reflect to others the mercy we have received from God.
In this sacrament of Confession, we acknowledge and accept our sins, and confess them without making excuses or blaming others for our moral failures. God, by the merits of Christ, forgives and cleanses us of our sins and pours His love into our hearts. He enlightens our minds and strengthens our wills for the fight against sin and selfishness. We thus receive the divine impulse to bring to others this love that we have received and overcome the temptation to despise or compare ourselves with others. We cannot bring this love to others if we have not definitively received it from God first in this sacrament.
In today’s discussion about re-admitting the divorced and remarried to the Eucharist, it appears that the sacrament of the Eucharist has been detached from the sacrament of Confession. Divine life in the soul begins at baptism; if lost through mortal sin, it is restored in the sacrament of Confession before the reception of the Eucharist. Divine life for the divorce and remarried, and indeed for any grave sin, does not and cannot begin in the Eucharist but in Confession. For its effectiveness, the Eucharist presumes that there is already divine life to be strengthened in the soul of a person.
Like Pope Francis, we all are sinners on whom the Father is always showing His merciful face. God’s merciful face became visible to us when the Virgin Mary brought forth the God-Man in the stable of Bethlehem. Jesus shed His last drop for us on the cross so that we could receive this mercy. He assures us that He will not reject anyone who comes to Him, (Cf. Jn 6:37) This merciful face is turned to us today in the sacrament of Confession, inviting us to be truly righteous and holy by the grace of His merciful love alone. Sacramental confession prepares us for the Eucharist where we acknowledge and confess our sins in the penitential rite, are transformed by word and sacrament, and sent forth into to bring this merciful love to others in the world.
We can approach today’s Eucharist with the self-righteousness of the Pharisee, refusing to examine our consciences thoroughly with the truths of our faith and demands of Christian living, pretending that we are immaculately conceived and without sin while despising those who do not measure to our standards. By so doing, our prayer will be dead on our lips and it will just be another Eucharist that has no effect on our lives.
Or we can approach our Eucharist today like the tax collector who has experienced the justifying action of God’s merciful love in the sacrament of Confession. We can come with a sense of our sins and need for divine mercy and a readiness to bring this to others. Our prayers will reach the heart of God, “The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds.” And our Eucharist today will bring us deeper into the heart of the loving Father whose merciful face is always turned towards us sinners.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!