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Sermon on the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 18: 9-14 presents a parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector “to those who think they were righteous and despised others.” On its face, it looks like a warning against spiritual pride/arrogance but actually, a model of prayer and highlights a religious issue as serious as it was in the past. The plot starts with two people, one a Pharisee and the other, a Publican, who went to the temple to pray. They represent a group of people said to be extremes in the entire  spectrum of society differing mostly in their respective spiritual wavelength. The Pharisee is a well-known religious person leading a moral and decent life, top of the class, active and dominant in religious and social affairs, someone who knows the law by heart, torah is everything to him, wakes up early to pray before the whole world does, mind you, strives to follow it and generous with his money. Exactly, the type of parishioner, a Priest in a small town of Coolidge wish to have.

….with head held high and outstretched arm, he gives his best shot, brags before God by proudly reciting this prayer, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity –greedy, dishonest, adulterous, or even like the tax collector hiding at the corner. I fast twice a week and give ten percent of my whole income to the temple.” What’s wrong with that, anyway?

O God, I thank you that I am not like other Catholics who stay in bed until noon and make no effort  at attending the Eucharist, except maybe on Christmas and Easter. I never miss Mass on Sunday and holy days of obligation and go to confession weekly even without being aware of any real and serious sin. I might watch football but that’s only after I’m done with my obligations. I strictly follow the rules, struggle with the teaching on contraception and homosexuality but in the end, abide by it, unlike my pro-choice cafeteria Catholic friend who always pokes fun at me. I pledge faithfully via automatic payment online (Diocesan Capital Campaign, Annual Catholic Appeal, Sunday Offering plus second collection) and make sure Fr. Jojo knows about it. A simple of note of thanks is enough. If not, I might channel my resources to other charities. I’ve served in many parish capacities for years and still, actively involved in a  number of ministries. Lord, would you allow that fellow standing at the back who came late, yes after the homily, to sit in the pew with me? :duh

Let’s turn our attention to the so- called, public enemy # 1, the tax collector. He is considered a crook, detestable, despicable, conniving and betrayer of his own people for acting as collaborators with Roman authority. He accepted bribes and engaged in the dirty business of pocketing poor man’s hard-earned money. No wonder, he’s at the bottom of the social scale. In the temple, he stayed in the shadows, “stood afar off and would not even lift his eyes to God,” to the Holy of Holies, no reason, by the way to do so, but “beat his breast and prayed, O God, be merciful to me a sinner!”

O God, a TV commercial inviting lapsed Catholics back into the church was aired early this week. I actually stumbled upon it and felt that it spoke directly to me. I’m a pro-choice Catholic politician, a public sinner in the eyes of many and was denied communion by a high- ranking church official for my all-out support against certain moral teachings of the church. I didn’t want to show up today as I’m deeply ashamed of myself. I’ve been away for decades without excuses and broken the ten commandments not once but multiple times. It sounds funny that I bend my knee before you few weeks before the mid-term elections when my future is hanging on a balance and my life hit rock bottom. And yet, with candor, simplicity of heart and absolute trust, I beg for mercy for my past and resolve to straighten things out.

Jesus entered the scene, “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.”

I don’t know about you but I’m a mixture of both, sometimes a Pharisee especially when I’m tempted to flaunt my title, Reverend Father and seek for applause and recognition for my hard work, to name just a few.  I’m part a tax collector, too, not in the sense though that I take money than I should but I humbly and sincerely pray to God, acknowledge my sins and failures, laugh at my mistakes and ask forgiveness for those whose feelings I’ve hurt especially the Sun Devils’ fans. In fact, one Sunday morning, I pretended I didn’t know where ASU was, just because I am a Wildcat by default.

Yes, it went awry. But, over all, this text clearly shows that if God declares him justified, so are we. Amen.

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A Filipino Catholic Priest, born and raised in Virac, Catanduanes, Philippines, ordained for the Diocese of Tucson, AZ, eleven years in ministry and counting, Pastor of St. Christopher Catholic Parish, Marana, AZ.

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