Sunday, April 3, 2011

Daily Lenten inspiration, April 2, 2011 (Saturday of the Third Week of Lent)

Transcript of homily recorded on Saturday, April 2, 2011

By Father Tim McGowan

I wonder, has anyone here ever dared to prayed like the Pharisee prayed in today's Gospel? To come into this place, where our prayers go up to heaven, and God's grace comes down to strengthen us in our loving commitments, have we ever come in here and boasted about how good we are? I don't know. I don't know. But the Pharisee was that arrogant.

The Pharisee is a classic example of the wrong way to feel right about yourself. Now, hopefully, our relationship with God helps us to feel good about ourselves. We're here today. We're here this moment. We could be doing a lot of other things, but we're here together to support one another and to encourage one another in our faith and to be nourished by the Eucharist so that our relationship with God and with our neighbor and with each other can improve. So, we should feel good about this; this is a good thing for us to be doing. This is good for us, good for our soul. And we should be pleased. But the Pharisee in today's Gospel was a classic example of the wrong way to feel good.

His methods were standard. First, he made a favorable comparison of himself with others. The procedure is quite simple: all you have to do is compare your strong points with someone else's weak points and you can always walk away feeling good about yourself.

The other part of his procedure was to establish a standard of righteousness that we can live up to. For the Pharisee this consisted of a two-fold set of rules. On one side were the sins he didn't commit. On the other side were the religious deeds he did faithfully. The secret is to make this list highly selective. We can all think of some bad things that we don't do, and we can all think of some good things that we do do on a regular basis, and if we allow this two-fold list to become our standard of righteousness we can live up to it every time with little effort and always think well of ourselves. This, of course, is the wrong way to feel right. It's a tragedy, and the tragedy is that it works. We can think of ourselves as better than others when we do what the Pharisee did.

But in the final analysis, Jesus says it was the tax collector, the one who couldn't even raise his eyes to heaven, who came in to the temple — into that place where prayer goes up to God and God's grace comes down to strengthen us. He came in — couldn't even raise his eyes to heaven — bowed his head, beat his breast and said, "God be merciful to me, a sinner." He faced up to his own faults. He didn't compare himself to others. He didn't make up a list of things he did right and a list of things that he avoided and then felt good about himself. He looked at himself the way that God looks at us — we are sinners; we've all done wrong. We've all made mistakes. Even in our generosity to other people have sometimes been misunderstood. And God loves us anyway. He loves sinners. God loves sinners. He does not appreciate the self-righteous. He finds that completely absurd, that anyone could walk in here and boast. He loves sinners. And he not only loves us because we're sinners, he gives his grace so that we can improve ourselves, be better about this thing, learn to be loving, generous and kind to one another.

He loves us where we are, but he never keeps us there, because if we will be honest and admit and have a relationship with God, he'll always take us to a better place. Then we can go home, leave this place of prayer in the sure and certain knowledge that the grace of God will actually set things right in our life.

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