Fr. Bryan Howard
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 27 October 2019
If you read the Bible cover to cover you can’t help but see that the Bible is the story of marriage and family. The Bible begins with a marriage in the 2nd chapter of Genesis and ends with a marriage in the second to last chapter of Revelation. The Old Testament begins with the story of the family of Adam and Eve, continues with the family of Noah, and then focuses on the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The New Testament begins in the Gospel of Matthew with the genealogy of Jesus, which connects him to the family of Abraham. The genealogy in the Gospel of Luke takes it all the way back to Adam. We sometimes think of salvation in individual terms, but that’s a modern idea that is foreign to the Bible. You may be judged based on your own actions, but you are only saved as a member of the family of God, and the family of God on earth is the Church.
In the Gospel Jesus compares two people who go into the Temple to pray. About the first person he says, “The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity -- greedy, dishonest, adulterous -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.'” The Pharisee thinks of his relationship with God as a contract. He thinks that he can justify himself, or earn salvation, by doing good works. But, Jesus said that he spoke this prayer “to himself;” he’s not really even praying to God. He’s focused on himself, on what he can do, and on how good he is. However, you can’t buy salvation or earn God’s love. God already loves you more than you even love yourself, and He wants what’s good for you more than you want it for yourself. God wants to have a real and personal relationship with us.
About the other person, Jesus says, “But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'” The tax collector knows that he’s not worthy because he know that he’s a sinner. Sometimes we worry about the same thing; we worry that we’re not worthy of God’s love and that he won’t forgive our sins because they’re too big. It’s not about worthiness! Does a mother wonder whether her children are worthy of her love? No, she loves them because they’re her children. It causes parent’s pain when their children do wrong because they know it will bring them suffering and misery in their lives. Parents punish their children because they love them, not because they’ve stopped loving them. In the same way, God allows us to suffer the consequences of our sins in order to bring us to repentance and conversion.
Finally, Jesus says, “I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” If we approach God already assured of our own righteousness, then we won’t recognize that we need His grace in order to be and live as children of God. A mortal sin, or deadly sin, is something that is completely irreconcilable with the love of God. Mortal sin kills our relationship with God. So, we can cast ourselves out of the family of God by committing a mortal sin, but we can’t earn our way in through good works. God is already offering it to us as a free gift, because He already loves us. It’s like our human families. If you suggest that you’ve bought your wife’s love, then you might end up with a hand shape mark on your face, but you can certainly damage or destroy that relationship by betraying her love.
The first thing we can do to strengthen our relationship with God is to pray every day. Set aside some time every day as God’s time, and try to make it the same time every day, so that it becomes a habit. Prayer is having a conversation with God. If you go for days at a time without talking to your husband or wife you’re not going to have a very good relationship. The key to any relationship is honest and sincere communication, and it’s the same with God. Tell God what’s going on in your life, what you’re thinking about, what’s good and what’s bad, and, even more importantly, listen to what God has to say to you. Listen by reading the Bible, by meditating no the truths of the faith, and by simply sitting quietly in the presence of God.
The next thing to do is to go to confession. We sometimes think that we have to get our lives in order before we can go to God, but it’s actually just the opposite. We need God’s grace to give us the strength to overcome our sins and get our lives in order, and confession is the first step in that process. In confession God forgives our sins and strengthens us against them. Many people wonder why they should go to a priest when they can confess directly to God. There are at least three reasons. First, Jesus gave the apostles the power to forgive sins in His name when He appeared to them in the upper room, and they passed on that power to the bishops and priests who succeeded them. So, when the priest absolves our sins we can be sure that they are forgiven.
Second, sin doesn’t just offend God, it harms the entire Church because we are all one family in God. We need to be reconciled with the Church, too. Finally, confessing our sins brings them into the light and breaks the power that they have over us.
Finally, go to Mass. Here in south Louisiana we understand the importance of the family dinner, and especially of the Sunday dinner. Dinner with my family is one of the memories that I treasure about my childhood. We would all sit down together, turn off the TVs, and focus on one another (there were no cell phones then). The Mass is our Christian family dinner. It’s the one time when we all, throughout the entire world, can gather in our own Churches, hear the same readings and prayers, and remind ourselves that we aren’t alone. We are all here for one another, and God is here for all of us. To deliberately miss Sunday Mass, without a good reason, is a mortal sin. We have to go to Mass on Sundays because Sunday is the day that Jesus Christ rose from the dead to new life and in the Mass we receive the very life of Jesus in the Eucharist. May our celebration of the Mass today remind all of us that we are beloved children of God, brothers and sisters of Christ, and one family in the Church.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.