Our Gospel story about the Pharisee and tax collector who go to the temple to pray is a warning for people who practice their religion, who go to church, and who would call themselves “religious,” to be careful not to act like the Pharisee. He didn’t go to pray to God, but to tell God all the good things he had done. He WAS a good man; he was doing all the right things, following all the rules. His problem was he didn’t recognize his glaring weakness: he exalted himself and looked down on others. He was proud and lacked compassion. As we heard at the beginning of the Gospel, Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. Because of his self-righteousness, the Pharisee asked for nothing and he got nothing.
The tax collector, on the other hand, simply asked for mercy and he got it. He recognized his weaknesses and so was able to ask for what he needed.
One way to help us avoid falling into the Pharisee trap is to be aware that it is with God’s help that we are able to lead a good life and to be thankful for those graces. With that awareness of God’s part in our “righteousness,” we will be less likely to be so judging of others and their weaknesses. It is saying to ourselves, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” In addition, no matter how “good” we are, we still are not perfect.
I invite us this week to spend time reflecting on the attitudes of the Pharisee and the tax collector. How much Pharisee do I have in me? How much tax collector? How can I grow in being humble and not judging or dismissing others?
As we struggle to grow as merciful disciples, let us support each other in prayer. God bless.
Church sign of the week: When a person is ready to uncover their sins, God is ready to cover them.
In our reading from Exodus this weekend, we have a wonderful story of everyone working together, with God, to bring about victory. Amalekites were attacking Israel and Moses sent Joshua with some men to fight them, while Moses prayed on a hill, holding the Staff of God (the same one he used to part the Red Sea). As long as Moses held his arm out with the staff, the Israelites would be winning. When he tired and let his arm down, they would be losing. So, Moses got Aaron and Hur to hold his arm up. With all of them doing their part, the Israelites prevailed.
My friends, as human beings, we need one another. Moses could not carry the weight alone. Life is difficult: there are many burdens and temptations. Alone we are weak and vulnerable, as was Moses. But together, we are strong.
There are two points I would like to make. First, we need to come to Mass each week. At Mass we celebrate together and give thanks to God, praying with and for each other. In addition to our praying community, we receive God’s Word and the Eucharist. These three gifts will support us in our life struggles, as Aaron and Hur supported Moses, who was supporting Joshua.
Second, we need to be involved in our community. Our primary responsibility as Christians is to bring Christ to the world. We do that as individuals by living our daily lives according to Gospel values, but we also do it as a community. Like Moses, Joshua, Aaron, and Hur, we each have to do our part so that the community can be effective in its witnessing and in its service to those most in need.
I invite you to reflect his week on the value of allowing the community to support you and of doing your part to support the community. You will never be sorry, if you hold these two values close to your heart. God bless.
Church sign of the week: Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it.
Our readings today remind us to always be thankful: we have been greatly blessed and God is accompanying us, no matter what. St. Paul says, “whatever happens, keep thanking God” and our Gospel is the powerful story of the 10 lepers who were cured and only one, a foreigner, came back to thank Jesus. And you know what? Jesus told him he was saved, much better than simply being healed!
I remember a parishioner at the parish where I was in Mesa, Arizona. Her husband had a severe heart attack a few years after they were married and his heart was badly damaged. The doctors said that, if he survived the attack, he wouldn’t live more than a year or two. But he lived 25 productive years longer! After he died, his wife was angry and couldn’t understand why God would take him. Years later, she is still miserable. If she could be thankful that God gave her those extra 25 years, reflecting and cherishing those memories, she would be happy. But she is miserable.
As we go through life, there will always be problems and disappointments. As I have aged, I can’t do all the things I used to enjoy, like tennis and bike riding. I can concentrate on all the negatives and be miserable or I can be thankful to God for all the wonderful things he has done for me, dwelling on those happy memories with gratitude in my heart. Then I will be happy and at peace! It is up to us, we decide. In other words, we determine whether we will be miserable or happy, not outside circumstances.
My prayer for us today is that we can follow the advice of St. Paul: “whatever happens, keep thanking God.” Then we will be happy.
Church sign of the week: If the only prayer you say in your whole life is “thank you,” that would be enough.