Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Altar of Saint John Paul II

October 23, 2022
Saint Peter’s Basilica
Vatican City

Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18
Psalm 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23
2 Timothy 4:6-8; 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

Our first reading from the Book of Sirach reveals that the Lord is just, and, in His justice, He does not play favorites. His justice entails His hearing the cry of the poor and oppressed and is especially attentive to the prayers of the humble. The special place that the poor enjoy in God’s esteem is not due to their material poverty, but to their fundamental trust and reliance upon God for everything. Poverty in and of itself is not a virtue. Rather, God esteems the poor in His love because there is no one else except God who cares for them, and they know that without Him they are lost.

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is addressed by Jesus to those who are convinced in the religiosity of their own righteousness and despise all others whom they judge to be unrighteous when compared to themselves. The Pharisee in this parable represents the self-righteous and self-reliant who have no trust in God but rely only on their own way of doing things and on their own opinions and measure all other people by their own standard of self-reliance.

The Pharisee presumes that his external compliance to the law suffices to fulfill his religious duty and is proof of his own righteousness and sinlessness. His presumption of his sinlessness is the ground of his arrogance and indicates falsely to himself that he needs no one — not even God. In the moral and spiritual order of human life, the Pharisee falsely presents himself as triumphant over sin by his own power.

The tax collector is not renowned for his morality and righteousness. In fact, he is a little shady and known to be dishonest with others. Yet, in the presence of the Temple he recognizes his sins and in that graced recognition he comes to reliance upon God’s grace and comes to humble contrition in his absolute need for and dependence upon God’s mercy.

Jesus tells His listeners that the tax collector went home justified. Yet, “justified” does not mean “satisfied.” The tax collector does not leave triumphant. The tax collector did not feel satisfied about the ways he mistreated his neighbors, including the poor. But he is more than remorseful for his sins. The tax collector has received the grace of contrition leading to authentic conversion by being open to God. By adopting the truly humble stance of the poor man, the tax collector takes on the true stance of a Christian. The Lord hears the cry of the poor man. Where we find poverty, we can find openness to real grace, we then find hope.

The stance of the Church in the synodal process must be that of the tax collector and not of the Pharisee depicted by Jesus in His parable. We must be wary of the presumptive stance of the Pharisee, enslaved to his own self-reliance and opinions that he finds to be superior to others. Saint John Paul II, at whose altar we offer the Holy Sacrifice for the protection of the faithful of the Diocese of Fort Worth and for the spread of His Gospel, beautifully articulated what I propose as the required stance of the Church in synodality. The saintly pope wrote in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, in March 1979:

“Undoubtedly one of the tendencies displayed was to overcome what has been called triumphalism, about which there was frequent discussion at the Council. While it is right that in accordance with the example of Her Master, who is ‘humble in heart,’ that the Church should have humility as her foundation, that she should have a critical sense in that regard to all that goes to make up her human character and activity, and that she should always be very demanding on herself, nevertheless, criticism too should have its just limits. Otherwise, it ceases to be constructive and does not reveal truth, love, and thankfulness for the grace in which we become sharers principally and fully in and through the Church. Furthermore, such criticism does not express an attitude of service but rather a wish to direct the opinion of others in accordance with one’s own opinion, which is at times spread abroad in too thoughtless a manner.”

The tax collector in today’s Gospel reading helps us to understand that the poverty that Christ prefers is not the oppression of material poverty or lack of possessions. His preferred poverty is the acceptance that without God being first in our lives we lose everything, even our being and identity. The purpose and goal of our lives is not to attain an opulent and self-fulfilled lifestyle of the “self-made man” who believes that he has made himself and his opinions to be triumphant and worships himself as his own maker. Christian poverty is about emptying ourselves of the false idols whom we too often place on the thrones of our hearts from which only Christ should rightfully reign as sovereign.

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector by Gustavo Dore.

The Lord hears the cry of the poor. The Lord hears the humble cry of the tax collector who accepts his poverty as a sinner. Saint Paul, without anyone else appearing on his behalf—reminds Timothy and us that he stands alone with the Lord to be judged by the powerful of this world and to receive the crown of righteousness at death — the righteousness that only Christ can and does give through His grace. As I stand at this altar of Saint John Paul II as a bishop, alone with the Lord and in solidarity and communion with my priests, deacons, religious men and women, seminarians, and all the faithful of the local Church of Fort Worth, we do so seeking the crown of righteousness that Jesus alone can give and I unite my voice with theirs as we pray with other tax collectors in this Eucharistic sacrifice, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

%d bloggers like this: