Sunday, October 23, 2016

Humility, humiliation, and God's mercy in real time

Today's Gospel, Luke 18:9-14, is one of those that really needs to no interpretation in order to be understood. Perhaps all that really can be said about this passage has been said for more than a millennium by the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Perhaps, as Roman Catholics, we don't even need to search that far afield, but only need turn to our own Eucharistic liturgy: Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed. In either case what is important is that Christ has mercy on us; he says the healing word. You see, the problem with the Pharisee was that in his estimation he did not need God's mercy. He was not in need of a savior. In his view, his "righteous" acts justified him before the Almighty.

The commentary by the inspired author prior to his relaying Jesus' parable makes the point: [Jesus] then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else (Luke 18:9). I think despising everyone else is implicit in being convinced of my own righteousness. Of course, the irony is that despising anyone else, let alone everyone else, eviscerates whatever righteousness I might have. Righteousness, rightly grasped, can never be realized by strict observance of a set of rules, from meticulously obeying prescriptions and proscriptions, checking the boxes on the checklist of holiness.

I should not come to Mass out of some sense of obligation to God, that is, to keep a rule, to obey the precept of the Church that bids me to assist at Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation on pain of mortal sin. Like the tax collector, my need for God's mercy given to me in and through Jesus Christ should bring me to Mass Sunday after Sunday on holy days, if not more often. The same is true for going to confession. I am bound, again, on pain of mortal sin to confess my sins and receive holy communion at least once a year. I don't know about you, but my need for God's mercy is made manifest way more than once a year, just as my hunger and thirst for righteousness, for Christ-like-ness, needs satisfying more than once a year.

Due to circumstances and commitments, prior to yesterday evening's Sunday Vigil Mass, I hadn't served at the altar for a few weeks, which is very unusual. At the beginning of Mass, instead of the reciting the penitential litany, my pastor opted to pray the Confiteor. Just as my bishop did when I served at the Cathedral, my pastor likes the deacon to lead this penitential prayer by saying "I confess to almighty God..." During the pause between the priest saying something like, "Brothers and sisters, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries," and the beginning of the Confiteor, litany, or the other penitential act, I silently pray the Act of Contrition. Being caught a bit off-guard by praying the Confiteor instead of the litany, rather than pause, I began praying the Act of Contrition out loud. As started to recite it, I looked at the congregation and wondered why they weren't joining me. About a second later I realized what I was doing, stopped, and began the Confiteor.

I don't mind admitting that praying the Act of Contrition instead of the correct prayer was humbling for me. I am a deacon who takes doing everything I do during the Mass very seriously. It is important to me to do all things a deacon does correctly and well. It's fair to say that I take pride in so doing. This disposition, at times, causes me to be mentally critical of others who, while serving at Mass, sometimes flub up. After the Collect, as we sat for the for the first reading, I began mentally berating myself, one might say, humiliating myself, for my mistake. By the grace of God I caught myself, remembering what C.S. Lewis wrote about humility: "True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less." It was pride, too, that caused me to begin laying into myself. Without a doubt, at the Mass I was privileged to served at this morning, the Confiteor came out loud and clear, but not without a wry smile and a silent "Thank you" to God.

Like most every other Christian, I suppose sometimes I am the Pharisee and sometimes I am the tax collector. As a result, my prayer today is to be more like the tax collector and less like the Pharisee. As we heard in our first reading from Sirach: "The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal." Our Psalm response perhaps teaches this even more clearly: "The Lord hears the cry of the poor."


  1. Perhaps your Act of Contrition inspired someone to partake of that Sacrament.

  2. That's a great thought: the Holy Spirit at work. I pray that's the case.

  3. Reminds me when, a few weeks ago, I began the penitential rite. The opening was good, "Lord Jesus, you healed the sick. Lord have mercy" but when the second invocation came around, my mind went completely blank. Nothing came out of my mouth. It was like I no longer was able to speak English, until I turned to Father and said, "Help me out!" which he did nicely.

    Of course, I was the one most bothered by all this. The people completely understood. Good to know I am not the only deacon to make these liturgical mistakes.

  4. Deacon Scott-

    I found myself inside the confessional this past weekend. I'm so glad I leave penance to the professionals-they're much easier on me than I would be!

    In Christ,



"This man welcomes sinners..."

Readings: Ex 32:7-11.13-14; Ps 51:3-4.12-13.17.19; 1 Tim 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32 Today's Gospel is about how God, being the Good Shephe...