30th Sunday in Ordinary TimeOctober 24, 2010
Beautiful in God’s Eyes
Luke 18:9-14The aging actor was trying to impress a gorgeous young girl at the bar. “Don’t you
recognize me?” he asked. She shook her head. “I’m quite well known in the movies,” he
continued. “Oh!” she said, her eyes lighting up. “Where do you usually sit?” (Adapted from
Proud persons are prone to embarrassment. This is God’s way of teaching them about the
evil of pride. Just a few days ago I had the privilege of visiting the Grotto of Our Lady of
Lourdes in France. I joined the other pilgrims in plunging myself in the miraculous healing
waters. I was wearing my clerical shirt all the time. But we were made to strip off all our
clothes before going down the waters. This made a deep impression on me. Stripped of
everything, I was reminded of the truth that, in God’s presence, everybody is equal – we are
all sinners, limited and in need of God’s mercy and help. This, then, was an invitation for me
to go deeper in humility if I want to bathe in God’s abundant graces.
St. Bernadette’s words ring true: “What will be the crown of those who, humble within and
humiliated without, have imitated the humility of our Savior in all its fullness!” The Psalm
says, “A humble, contrite heart, O God, You will not spurn.” Indeed, a humble heart is truly
beautiful in the eyes of God.
Every time we come to Mass, we are reminded that we come before the presence of God,
and so we need to humble ourselves. In fact, the entire sacred celebration is filled with the
spirit of humility. It starts with the Penitential Rite. The priest invites us to have the right
disposition: “Brothers and sisters, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves
to celebrate the sacred mysteries.” The readings usually remind us of God’s mighty deeds
and of man’s helplessness and sinfulness. These are calls to repentance and conversion. In
the Prayers of the Faithful we express all our needs, humbly acknowledging and imploring
God’s merciful providence. In the Eucharistic Prayer leading to Consecration, we are asked
to kneel, the vivid expression of humility in worship. Nowadays, kneeling is becoming less
popular. Pope Benedict XVI said: “The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel, and a
faith or liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling is sick to the core (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 194).
And just before receiving Holy Communion we say, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive You
but only say the word, and I shall be healed.” After all, who is worthy anyway to receive the
sacred Body and Blood of Jesus?
The Gospel this Sunday further underlines this point. Jesus gives us a lesson on the
need to be humble, and avoid the trap of proud people “who were convinced of their own
righteousness and despised everyone else.” He used two contrasting models of prayer: that
of the Pharisee and the tax collector.
The Pharisee in the Gospel was a good and highly respected man. He was a very
disciplined and serious-minded believer who committed himself to a life of regular prayer and
observance of God’s law. But when he prayed in the temple, he did not enjoy the favor of
God. The fatal mistake of the prayer of the Pharisee is the lack of humility. We do not pray to
report to God our accomplishments. We do not come to Mass to tell God how great we are.
And most especially, we do not use prayer in condemning sinners and judging other people.
The Pharisee did just that. Although he was a very good man, he was far from God. Pride is
the worst capital sin, the root of all sins. When pride enters the spiritual life, it becomes the
worst of all. It is bad to boast about our money, intelligence and social status. But it is much
worse to boast about our own holiness and righteousness. This is called spiritual pride. St.
Vincent de Paul said: “You must ask God to give you power to fight against the sin of pride
which is your greatest enemy – the root of all that is evil, and the failure of all that is good. For
God resists the proud.”
The tax collector, on the other hand, was a public sinner. He was the most hated man in
the community for being a traitor to the Jewish people and dishonest in his conduct. But his
prayer was more pleasing to God. He had the right disposition before God. He trusted not
in himself or in anything he had done but only in God’s mercy. He acknowledged the truth –
that he was a great sinner – and so he dared not approach the altar. From a distance, he just
bowed his head and said: “O, God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” In his humility, he came to
know the truth that God is full of mercy and love. Blessed Giles of Assisi said: “No man can
attain to the knowledge of God but by humility. The way to mount high is to descend.”
The way to true holiness is humility. It is the most basic foundation of all Christian virtues.
All the saints, without exception, were profoundly humble persons. It is impossible to be holy
without humility. As one comes closer to God, the True Light, the more clearly he sees his
own unworthiness and sinfulness. The prayer of the tax collector is the same prayer that the
saints utter over and over again: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” That is why the saints,
despite their avowed holiness of life, make it a point to come to the sacrament of Confession
This, then, leads us to fully appreciate the value of regular and frequent Confession. St.
Isidore of Seville said: “Confession heals, confession justifies, confession grants pardon
of sin. All hope consists in confession. In confession there is a chance for mercy. Believe
it firmly. Do not doubt, do not hesitate, never despair of the mercy of God. Hope and have
confidence in confession.” The sacrament of Confession truly helps us grow in the depths of
humility and in the heights of holiness.
As we come once again before God’s presence in this Holy Sacrifice, let us bow our heads
in humble acknowledgement of our unworthiness and sinfulness. May the Lord Jesus, who
humbled himself on the cross, fill us with the grace of humility so that we may become
pleasing and beautiful in the eyes of God.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002