A. I want to begin by thanking Father DeAscanis and his staff here at St. Philip Neri Parish for hosting our Catholic Men’s Fellowship Annual Conference! We appreciate the support and leadership you give to this ministry!
B. I also want to join with you in thanking Charlie Hawkins and the entire leadership and planning committee for putting together such an excellent program for us today! We are grateful to our wonderful speakers who helped us focus on the theme of God’s mercy in our lives and in a special way we want to thank John Harbaugh for his presence and for excellent talk this afternoon!
C. Finally, with you I want to thank the priests who served as our confessors. In this Jubilee of Mercy, this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis urges us to make use of the Sacrament of Mercy, the Sacrament of Reconciliation in which our sins are forgiven through the ministry of priests acting in the person of Jesus Christ! Most of my brother priests have rushed home to their parishes for Mass but what a great thing that so many of us went to confession today! Now we come to the conclusion of our day by offering to God the highest and best prayer of all – Holy Mass – in which we are united with Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross.
II. Today’s Scripture Readings
A. In fact, the Gospel for today’s Mass has a lot to do with what we’ve been involved with in today’s conference. It’s one of Jesus’ parables and it’s all about our need for God’s mercy. You and I are very familiar with this story of two different types of prayer – the prayer of the Pharisee, a prominent leader in the community, and the prayer of the tax collector, a man regarded as a sinner.
B. Let’s try to bring the Pharisee into focus. They were middle class business people who were also religious leaders. They had a solid understanding of their faith and were very observant in practicing their religion. They believed in the Word of God, what we regard as the Old Testament, and they also studied commentaries on the law of God and oral tradition. They very much valued their reputation in the community.
C. So far so good. Sometimes when I describe the Pharisees in talks and homilies, I begin to think that there were solid citizens. “We could use a few more men like that,” I sometimes say to myself. But Jesus clearly wasn’t pleased the Pharisees and he told the story in today’s Gospel so we wouldn’t follow their example. To see why Jesus frequently criticized these otherwise upstanding men, we might think about the fellow at work we most want to avoid. He isn’t necessarily the guy who gets it wrong a lot or the guy who is opinionated, or the guy who has a temper. Often it’s co-worker who is smug, who thinks he’s better than everyone else, who imagines he has it all together and who doesn’t mind saying so out loud. When he’s at the watercooler, we head the other way.
D. It turns out Jesus didn’t like that kind of smugness either. In his story, he describes what was going through the Pharisee’s mind as he prayed. Essentially he was telling God what a really good person he was. In case God hadn’t noticed, the Pharisee pointed out that he was better than most, and certainly better than the lowly tax collector in the back pew. And in case God hadn’t noticed, the Pharisee told God that he avoided some pretty significant sins –greed, dishonesty, and adultery— and besides all that he tithed and fasted twice a week.
E. Well, before we go too hard on the smug guy at the watercooler or even the Pharisee in the synagogue, let’s be sure to examine our own life of prayer. For when we pray privately before God, whether we know it or not, we are manifesting our conscience, we giving voice to what’s deep inside.
F. And in our private thoughts and prayers, we can be surprisingly smug and our smugness can take two forms. We can tell God that we have met all our obligations. “I’m providing for my family.” “I don’t cheat on my wife.” “I go to Mass almost every Sunday.” “I say my prayers every day.” “And that’s a lot better than the fellow who lives next door!” Or our smugness might take the form of presumption. We might tell God that we’re good enough as we are. “Sure, I sometimes tell a lie, sometimes I drink too much, I don’t go to church like I should, but I’m basically a good person. And I know, Lord, it’s not really too bad a thing to look at improper images on the internet or ignore the kids after a hard day’s work.” In other words, we presume to tell the Lord he should be happy with us as we are because we don’t see the need to change a thing in our lives.
III. The Tax Collector’s Prayer
A. Now let’s look at the other man in the back pew, the tax collector. He knew he was in trouble. He didn’t bother trying to justify himself before God. He only asked for mercy and forgiveness: “Be merciful to me, O God, a sinner!”— words Pope Francis has said of himself and words we should repeat every day: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner!”
B. Let’s face it: sometimes it’s hard for guys to ask for mercy. Asking for mercy doesn’t sound like a very masculine thing to do. We imagine that someone stronger than us has us in a half nelson, that we’re choking, and asking for mercy: “Please let me go! It hurts!” I hope that’s not your idea of asking for God’s mercy, nor mine. The fact it, it takes a lot of courage to ask God for his mercy and the reason is this: we won’t ask God for mercy unless and until we’re willing to face ourselves. As long as we try to justify ourselves either by touting our goodness or by presuming that we are good enough in God’s eyes, we won’t see the need for God’s mercy. And in the process we’ll be hiding for ourselves, hiding from our weakness, rather than being willing to stand up and be counted. The bigger man in the Gospel story was the publican, the tax collector because he was willing to tell it like it was. Are we willing tell it like it is – in our lives? …and not just once a year, but frequently, in the Sacrament of Penance.
In calling for this Year of Mercy Pope Francis wrote, “We are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us.” As we recognize more deeply our need for God’s mercy, we will find ourselves relating differently – better – to spouses, children, co-workers, and extending ourselves to those in need through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Make we be seekers of mercy, so that we might be agents of mercy.
May God bless us and keep us always in His love!