Sunday Sermon for October 23, 2016, the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Sir 35:12-14, 16-18; 2Tim 4:6-8, 16-18; Lk 18:9-14
In the first reading today we hear about the people whose prayers are heard by the Lord. It states clearly that those who serve God willingly are heard, but beyond this general statement, the people mentioned are the weak, the oppressed, the orphan, the widow and the lowly. The reason these people will have their prayers heard is because they have learned to depend on the Lord.
It is a sad thing about our human nature, but unless we find ourselves in a situation we know we cannot deal with, we think we can rely on our own self. We might ask the Lord for help, but we really do not count on Him because we fully intend to be in control and do what we think needs to be done and in the way we think it ought to be done. Often the poor, the weak, and the lowly know from experience that they cannot control much and they are more apt to allow the Lord to be in control.
There are certainly many examples among the weak and the lowly that would go against what I just said, and there are many who are turning to the Lord now in their need, but if their fortunes turned around, they would no longer count on the Lord, but on their own abilities. In such cases, these people did not actually learn the lesson the Lord was trying to teach them.
When we realize that it is often easier to trust God when we are in difficult circumstances, then we begin to understand why the Saints would tell us that it is a great blessing to be poor, weak, lowly, etc. I do not know very many people who aspire to such things; most do not even want to be widowed or orphaned, even if they are well off in their circumstances.
There certainly are people who are able, by God’s grace, to be trusting and rely on God for everything, even when there would seem to be sufficient ability to do the task on their own. Most of us, however, are more like St. Paul who had to have the pride and the self reliance squeezed out of him. It was only by being crushed that he learned to rely solely on God. Look at the second reading where he tells us of God’s fidelity which he learned only after being abandoned by everyone else.
St. Paul had served the Lord faithfully, but he wanted to love the Lord more. God gave him the grace to do this through a series of hardships and seemingly impossible situations. Finally, in his desperation, St. Paul, frustrated with being weak, cried out to God Who answered that in weakness power reaches its perfection. After that, St. Paul boasted in his weakness. He understood, after all the trials, that these crosses were the greatest blessings.
We have the bad habit of assuming that people who have easy lives are the ones God has blessed. A look at today’s readings, and a quick scan of the writings of the Saints would tell us just the opposite. Of course, most of us, when we read what the Saints say, think they are kind of crazy. How could someone call blessed those who are suffering rather than those who are not? It is because they know the good that God will bring out of the struggles.
Each of us can test ourselves by asking where we would see ourselves in today’s Gospel. While we probably would not try to tell the Lord how lucky He is that He created us, nor would most of us go so far as to suggest that we are better than this other person who is praying at church, we still have to look at the dispositions of the two and wonder to which of them we are most similar.
Do you find yourself more like the Pharisee who thinks he has done enough to please the Lord by the things he has done? Do we think we are deserving of God’s blessing because we have served Him so well? Do we think we are above being able to fall into certain types of sins? Do we hold others in contempt because of their situation in life, their country of origin, their skin color, their appearance, or anything else?
On the other hand, do we see ourselves as weak, broken, sinners? Do we remember that at best we are useless servants who have only done what we were commanded to do? Do we remind ourselves, like St. Augustine, that were it not for the grace of God, I would be in that person’s shoes, or worse. We need this perspective because on judgment day our hope in is Jesus, not in ourselves.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.