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October 27, 2013

A man came to church with his family. As they were driving home afterwards he was complaining about everything. He said, “The music was too loud. Choir sang without spirit. The homily was boring and too long. The announcements were unclear. The building was cold. The people were unfriendly.” He went on and on, complaining about virtually everything. Finally, his very observant son said, “Daddy, you’ve got to admit that it wasn’t a bad show for just a dollar.”

Some years ago I preached on the Gospel passage of this weekend (a Pharisee and a tax collector went up to pray in the Temple). I thought my homily was very good. Everyone seemed impressed, especially Joe. After Mass Joe shook my hand and told me: “Good homily, Father.” Then he added, “thank God, I’m not like that Pharisee.”

When I heard this I knew that my homily had failed and the next time I had to work harder and smarter. Joe’s reaction to the story was a common reaction most of us did isn’t it? We congratulate ourselves that we do not brag like the Pharisee: we pat ourselves on the back that we are the sinner asking for mercy. That reaction is the very fault Jesus is warning against.

Christ did not condemn the Pharisee for what he had done, but for boasting about it, neither did Jesus say the Pharisee had done no good at all. In the language Jesus spoke he meant, “This man (the tax collector) went back to his home more justified that the other (the Pharisee). We can learn from both the Pharisee and the tax collector. The former did not cheat, deal dishonestly, or commit adultery. How do you keep the commandments? He fasted twice a week. What kind of penance are you doing? He gave one tenth, not only of his income, but of all he possessed. How does your giving compare with that? Often 20 percent of parishioners pay for the rest of community. Do you think you give enough to your parish and to charity? Follow the Pharisee in the good he did. Some Catholics follow him all the way. They keep the laws of God and the regulations of the Church but they look down on others who do not. Don’t follow the Pharisee that far.

Most of us feel more comfortable with the tax collector. He was a sinner; so are we. He was sorry for his sins; so are we. He asked God to have mercy on him; so do we.

The tax collector said, "Lord, be merciful to me I am a sinner." In saying this he was simply being realistic. He was only telling the truth. "I know I am a sinner." If we can say this with conviction and humility, we are very close to God, and it gives us a great sense of freedom. We no longer have to pretend that we are holy. Being a good follower of Christ does not spare you slipping and falling once in a while. Being a good disciple of Christ means getting up and trying again. If we are tempted to compare ourselves with others, let us compare ourselves with none other than Christ himself. When we lay our imperfect lives beside his sinless life, all we will be able to say is "Lord, be merciful to me, I am a sinner." Please take this message to heart when you come to worship the Lord in his temple, especially when you do any ministry in the parish. God bless you!