Homily for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time delivered by Rev. Fr. William J Kuchinsky at St Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, Wheeling, WV for the anticipatory Mass on 27 September 2014.
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.There was a time when the Christian virtues which St Paul exhorts the Philippians to were more evident in our society. Now I know things are different here in West Virginia, in some ways much better than they are elsewhere. For example, when driving just try putting on your turn signal in the Washington, D.C. area. Down there it seems to be seen as a challenge. So much for looking out for the interests of others! Put your turn signal on and the person ¼ mile behind you will see that as a challenge that you are going to take the lane in front of him. That lane, that whole road is his, after all – don’t you know. He better speed up to make sure you don’t take it from him!
And I wonder if, in an age of “selfies,” for example, our culture really is as Christian as it once was. Are we still infused with the Gospel that would have us “humbly regard others as more important than” ourselves. I don’t know, guess it is just a different time. I don’t remember these things when I was growing up. And certainly, if I ever took a SELF-ie, it wasn’t every day and it wasn’t then immediately posted on the internet (in an attempt to make our own 15 minutes of fame).
And today we are challenged anew by the words of Our Blessed Lord.
Jesus said to the hypocrites, "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you."
Strong words! And to think, Our Blessed Lord is telling us to be like tax collectors and prostitutes!? How? What? Jesus is appealing to us to recognize our neediness, to see our sinfulness.
Why this comparison with “tax collectors and prostitutes?” Well then, not unlike today, these “big sinners” were social outcasts: they were looked upon in scorn, they would have known rejection. Tax collectors and prostitutes would probably have not only known themselves to be sinners: they probably even felt they were sinners! And as such, they would have been more likely to open their hearts in a confession of their sins – seeking out an encounter with Jesus who shed His Blood for all of us.
When I worked with the Missionaries of Charity Sisters I was once tending to an AIDS patient who was near the end. In spending some time with him I counseled him: “you need to pray . . .” He looked at me as if I was some looney tune and matter-of-factly said, “I pray. I don’t have anything else to do.”
Here this man, confined to bed by deadly illness, showed me that I was preaching to someone who had lessons to teach me. He was needy, he was a sinner, and he KNEW it. And, I’d dare say, probably already knew the Lord in a special way. Here was an example of a son who might not have started out doing as the Father asked him to but who “afterwards changed his mind and went” on to do what the Father wanted.
"Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you."
Our Lord gets our attention with His shocking statement and teaches us the necessity of knowing our utter neediness for His Mercy.
Pope Francis continues to captivate many. He strikes us as a man who “gets it.” In an interview shortly after becoming the Pope he was asked how he saw himself, and how he’d want the world to see him. In response to this question, the Holy Father said:
“I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”
Here, not unlike St. Paul, Pope Francis seems to be perceived having that proverbial "sliver of Satan in [his] flesh]." Yes, our weakness, if we see it, shows that the power of salvation comes from God, not from ourselves. All of us: Pope, Bishop, Priest and laity need Jesus!
As I heard a colored preacher say: “I’m just a nobody, trying to tell everybody, all about somebody, who can save anybody.” I am a just a nobody. I am a sinner.
We cheer the Holy Father for saying, “I am a sinner.” But, are we willing to say that to ourselves? We say hooray to the Lord in today’s Gospel for putting it to “the hypocrites.” But, are we willing to imitate the humility of the “tax collectors and prostitutes,” even to feel the depths of our sinfulness?
Before I entered the Seminary I worked with the homeless in D.C. The Lord in His Goodness can never be outdone: He gives more to us than we can give Him in our service.
I remember taking a homeless man to dinner at a pub in the shadow of Capitol Hill. We had a nice meal. Filled with that sometimes misplaced zeal of discovering Jesus afresh as a young man I asked him about his prayer life [like that was any of my business!]. He told me of his conversations with God. He said: “I sometimes scream and yell at Him.”
In my tender piety I was mortified! Was thinking how horrible it was to express such anger toward the Good Lord. So I said, “you shouldn’t talk that way to God!”
He calmly and simply responded to me: “I don’t have anyone else I can yell at.”
Wow! Here I was thinking I was there doing HIM some big favor by trying to guide to the Lord. And this poor man probably, in his poverty, had a deeper relationship with God then I may ever have. Yes, sleeping on a steam grate can be very sanctifying!
Again, not unlike the prostitutes and the tax collectors, this man probably felt - even in his bones, on those cold bitter D.C. Winters - his absolute need for the Almighty.
In their poverty, the poor can be very godly. The poor may more easily come to know the Lord: more readily than the rich who with their Mercedes’, fine homes, and with “their bodies are healthy and strong.” Those with “everything” may find that their very “riches” keep them from seeing and seeking that which they really need. All of us share this need for God “in whom we live, and move, and have our being.” Blessed are those who recognize this.
Are not the poor like the Lord Jesus “Who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped [at]?” And does not the Lord somehow closely identify with the needy in that “He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness . . . ?”
This special love of the Lord for the poor, and the great sinner, is a mystery. It can even be unsettling as we encounter it: as Mother Teresa remarked – “sometimes Jesus comes to us in the most distressing of disguises, in the poorest of the poor.”
This community prides itself as a welcoming community. Even before the start of Mass folks are encouraged to greet each other. I remember driving Mother Teresa’s Sisters to a retreat house on the Potomac. I was greeted at the door by a man who said, “Hi, I’m Jim, and I’m an alcoholic.” I was kind of taken aback by his comment. I didn’t know about AA and such.
Perhaps we could do well sometimes to confess to each other like that. “Hi, I’m Bill, and I’m a sinner.” We should not lose sight that as we gather we “confess to God and to [our] brothers and sisters that [we] have sinned through our own fault . . . “ All of us are sinners. We shouldn’t be “taken aback” to know ourselves or anyone else as such. And, we must be convinced that each of us need the healing found in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Pope Francis said, “We celebrate the Eucharist not because we are worthy, but because we recognize our need for God’s mercy.” Do we recognize this need? We must! In order to accept God’s mercy, it is necessary first to recognize the need for that mercy.
Isn’t it breathtaking that even our “sins [can] become the occasions for an encounter with Jesus.” Has not St Paul given us insight into this? The great Apostle told us that he could boast of only two things: his sinfulness and Jesus Christ who saved him from his sin.
Along with the Psalmist, it is a sweet prayer to offer: The sins of my youth and my frailties remember not; in your kindness remember me, because of your goodness, O LORD.
So, let us all remember: we are sinners – and, having recognized that – let none of us ever despair of God’s mercy. The Lord Jesus can handle our sinfulness!
And as we consider the Mercy of God, we see the reality of the Holy Eucharist and how the Lord is “here” for us each day. He comes to us at Mass and remains with us in the tabernacle. St Peter Julian Eymard reflects, “[Jesus] loves, He hopes, He waits. If He came down on our altars on certain days only, some sinner, on being moved to repentance, might have to look for Him, and not finding Him, might have to wait. Our Lord prefers to wait Himself for the sinner for years rather than keep him waiting one instant.”
Mother Teresa often told her sisters and those who would listen: “you must allow yourself to feel the need to pray.” We can maybe paraphrase this and remember, “we must allow ourselves to feel the need to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion.” In Holy Communion we receive the medicine to heal us of the sin which sickens us. In Holy Communion we are given the strength to overcome our tendency to fall. Jesus, the remedy for our weakness. Jesus! Our salvation!