30th Sunday Ordinary Time
October 30, 2007
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
In today’s gospel we get one of the more famous of Jesus’ quotes:
“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
And the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
People like to use this quote either to point out somebody’s humble nature or to point out some haughty person’s future fall. Maybe not a bad way of using this quote but perhaps Jesus has a little more in mind for us when he gives this instruction.
Consider the context. This instruction comes just after his teaching on perseverance in prayer – we heard that last week, and just prior to his receiving and blessing the little children – and asking his disciples to become like them.
So prayer and humility are linked in a vital way in the scriptures for us.
Consider the two characters in today’s parable. The Pharisee entered the temple and began to pray, telling God all about personal virtues and then being grateful that he is not like all those other bad people. Jesus called the Pharisees arrogant hypocrites. In this case, unable to admit their sin and their need for God.
The second character is the tax collector who came to the temple to pray. But he came as a penitent. He asked God for forgiveness and mercy because of his sins. And Jesus says that this was the person who went home justified in the eyes of God.
It reveals an attitude that Jesus asks of all of his disciples. To have a heart that is humble and contrite.
That means having a realistic sense of our own condition and the humility to acknowledge our utter dependence on the grace of God.
We are sinners. Go ahead and admit it. We are all sinners. We need God to save us. And there is no other way.
So what can we do to cultivate a heart that is humble and contrite?
I have two practices in our Christian tradition that I think will help us all on our road to conversion
The first practice is fasting.
The gospels, the new testament, and the old testament all clearly teach that there are times when believers should fast. And as Catholics we used to have a pretty good tradition of fasting but in the past 40 years or so we’ve abandoned it in a big way. We need to reclaim this important devotion. Jesus fasted. The apostles fasted. And we also should practice fasting. Why?
A couple of reasons. The first reason is simply because God asks it of us through the teachings of the bible and the teachings of the church. So for no other reason than simple obedience it is good for us to fast. But it is good to know what we get out of it. And that brings us to a second reason for fasting. Fasting brings us self discipline. We can say to our bodies every so often that we live not by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. So it follows that a third reason to fast is that it brings us freedom. It makes us free from our bad habits and our sins through our little sacrifice offered in faith. A spiritual exchange takes place when we fast. A new clarity comes to us through fasting.
And when to fast? The Church asks Catholics to fast at least one hour prior to receiving Holy Communion, except in the case of small children or those who are ill. The Church also asks Catholics to fast during Lent in a special way leading us to Easter. Many of you here recall when all Catholics refrained from eating meat on Fridays. You know, the Church never officially said that we should no longer fast after Vatican II. We just kind of stopped doing it. But where have we gone morally in the past 40 years in this country? Perhaps it is time to fast.
Let me suggest this to the Church. Let’s reclaim Friday as a day of fasting, in preparation for the mass on Sunday. A very good way to fast on Fridays is to eat only simple bread and drink only water or other simple drinks.
Fasting will help you to cultivate a heart that is humble and contrite.
The second practice in our Christian tradition is the Sacrament of Penence.
This is another practice that many of us have chucked since Vatican II. Prior to then, the lines were long each Saturday to receive the sacrament. Admittedly, many people approached the sacrament out of habit or out of fear. So when people learned that they didn’t have to go out of pious habit or out of fear, then they simply stopped. But again, what has happened to the moral compass of this nation, and of the Catholic Church in the past 40 years? In many ways Catholics have become indistinguishable from the hedonistic culture all around us. What goes in the culture seems to go the same in our parishes. And that ought not be. We are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. But our salt has become flat and our light has been hidden. Many Catholics have been years without going to confession. And I say with certainty that there is not one single person here in this parish who would not benefit from monthly confession. Not you, not me.
It takes lots of humility to approach the sacrament of penance. We have to admit our faults to a priest who knows us.
But what do we get out of the sacrament of penance? Why go?
We go to declare our faith in Jesus who is faithful to wash us from our sins. We go to receive sanctifying grace and mercy. We go so that Jesus can convert our hearts. We go so that Jesus can make of us saints in his kingdom.
So today you receive two more steps on your road to conversion. Fasting and Confession. Practice them, and you will find justification with God. You will find humility. And God will exalt you.