Sunday Sermon for October 23, 2022, the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Sir 35:12-14, 16-18; 2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18; Lk 18:9-14
In the first reading today, we hear about our Lord’s disposition toward the weak, the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow. He hears their cries; He is not deaf to their complaints. Following this, a distinction is made which can help us to see these suffering souls in a different light. We are told about the one who serves God willingly and the prayer of the lowly.
As we see in the Beatitudes, simply being poor is not sufficient to obtain the blessing which the Lord promises. Rather, the one who is poor in spirit is blessed. Being poor can be a great help to developing such virtues as humility and compassion, but it does not guarantee them.
The Gospel reading today demonstrates this point very well. We hear about a tax collector and a Pharisee. Tax collectors were among the most despised people at the time; Pharisees tended to think themselves quite righteous because of their manner of following the precepts of the Law. In this parable, however, our Lord turns everything upside down.
We have a tax collector who is probably fairly wealthy from the excess monies he has taken from the people. The social standing of the Pharisee is not mentioned, but many people looked up to the Pharisees as the good ones, the religious ones, the ones who are striving to make God the center of their lives. In this parable, the tax collector went home justified; the Pharisee did not.
Why? The Pharisee spoke his prayer to himself and not to God. He compared himself to others and named some of his good and holy practices such as fasting and tithing. These practices were all done willingly, as we heard in the first reading, but the question arises of whether he was really serving God or himself. If we are proud or boasting about the things we do for God or neighbor, then we may be doing them more for ourselves than for love of others. This is an easy trap to fall into.
I have met many poor people who are very arrogant. I have met widows who are angry, and I have met weak people who play the victim. The cross laid upon their shoulders is a heavy one, but if it is not accepted and borne with patience, humility, and charity, what good is it? The Lord knows these crosses may be the means to help us develop these virtues, but we must cooperate with His grace to obtain them.
This is true no matter what our circumstances may be. I am sure we have all met wealthy people who are kind, humble, and charitable. We have all known very talented people who do not seek glory for themselves, but glorify God with their abilities. These examples help us realize that difficult circumstances do not automatically guarantee growth in virtue any more than worldly circumstances assure selfishness or pride.
Unfortunately, for many of us the virtues come neither naturally nor easily. St. Paul was like that. As a Pharisee he worked hard to become righteous in observing the traditions handed on by the Jewish rabbis. He tells us of his arrogance and his anger. God knew St. Paul wanted to serve Him, but did not know anything beyond the external observance of the Law. Therefore, God stripped St. Paul of everything and, by so doing, St. Paul came to know the Lord which, in turn, allowed him to love the Lord. This led to his truly serving the Lord from the heart, relying on His grace and strength to proclaim the Gospel.
This service from the heart is based on a relationship of love. When love is real, it consists of two people seeking the good of one another. Neither is concerned for the self; both are concerned for the other. God loves us and is always concerned only for what is best for us. If we love God with our whole heart, we will be concerned only for Him.
This is what St. Paul learned through the trials he endured. As he looked back on them he could say he was being poured out like a libation. As we see in the Person of Jesus, God gave everything to us; St. Paul followed Jesus’ example and gave everything to God. For this reason, he knew a crown of righteousness awaited him: not because his observance of the Law was better than others, but because he loved the Lord and served Him wholeheartedly.
We need to be humble, charitable, patient, kind, etc. God knows the means that will be best for us to obtain these virtues. If we do things our way, it will probably lead to pride; if we do it God’s way, a crown of righteousness will await us!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.