September 27, 2020 – Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Readings: Ezekiel 18:25-28, Philippians 2:1-11, Matthew 21:28-32
Homily originally delivered at St. Pius X Parish, Indianapolis in 2014:
From the prophet Ezekiel we heard: “…if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life.”
From Paul’s letter to the Philippians we heard that Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…he humbled himself.”
And in the Gospel of Matthew, we heard the story of a father sending his two sons out to work in the vineyard. One son “said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards changed his mind” and went out and did the work.
One of the recurring themes throughout Scripture is that of humility. In a homily delivered by Fr. Jim last year, he said that humility is the ability to look in the mirror and be honest about what we see. It is the ability to recognize our limitations and have a realistic view of who we are.
If there was a humility kit that came with how-to instructions, they might read like something like this:
Step 1 – Look in the mirror and give an honest assessment
God wants us to see our physical beauty as well as the beauty that comes from being one of His children. When we look in the mirror, He wants us to see someone who is loved, someone who has value. God wants us to embrace the gift of life He has given us, and be filled with joy, awe, and wonder when we see our reflection in the mirror.
If we look closely in the mirror, we will see Him standing right next to us, with a smile on His face.
Finally, God wants us to be humble and honest people, and acknowledge our sinfulness. Left unacknowledged, it may begin to fog up our mirrors and keep us from seeing how beautiful we really are.
Step 2 – Acknowledge our sinfulness.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor…it wounds the nature of man…
Even without this definition, we know what sin is, don’t we? We can feel it in our gut. We know when we have done wrong. Sometimes we know right away, other times awareness comes later in the form of guilt.
We may try to soften sin by calling it “a lapse in judgment” or an “indiscretion” or “a bad habit.” We may attempt to justify sin by saying something like, “I got caught up in the moment.”
Step 1 in our humility kit calls us to look in the mirror and be honest. Step 2 calls us to see the good in ourselves, while acknowledging our sins, with no excuses.
Step 3: Take our sins to God and seek forgiveness
Now that we have taken ownership of our sins, we take them to God. You might say, “God already knows. He knows everything.” That’s true, but bringing our sins to God is the essence of humility. Grace comes when we speak the words, when we admit to our sins, and put ourselves at God’s mercy.
We must, following the example of Jesus, empty ourselves.
When talking to students about attending Mass, I used to tell them to leave their baggage at the door. I did not want the worries, distractions, and stuff of life to prevent them from experiencing the joy and miracle of the Mass.
I have changed my approach when talking to students lately. I still urge them to fully engage in the miracle of the Mass, but I talk more about transformation. Rather than leave it at the door, we should bring that baggage with us when we come to the altar to receive Holy Communion.
We should offer up our fears and troubles, as well as our sins, to God. We empty ourselves and in return God renews us. In receiving the Body of Christ, we are transformed.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation offers us the gift of forgiveness, and we should take advantage of the opportunity to participate in the Sacrament often. In the meantime, praying for God’s mercy and forgiveness, and bringing our sins to the altar are healthy practices as well.
Guilt and shame often keep us from seeking forgiveness. We may struggle with the same sin over and over, and we think, “How many more times will God forgive me for the same sin?” or “I don’t deserve forgiveness.”
Pope Francis recently said: “God never tires of forgiving us, but we sometimes tire of asking Him to forgive us.”
An important note: When we seek forgiveness, let’s not forget to forgive ourselves. God expects us to follow His lead when it comes to mercy. God is well aware of our frail human nature, and loves us and forgives us in spite of it.
Step 4 – Do the right thing.
We took an honest look in the mirror, saw our beauty while acknowledging our sinfulness, brought our sins to God, and sought forgiveness – now what?
Simply put, we make it right.
As the prophet Ezekiel said, we turn away from sin and do what is right and just. As the son did in today’s Gospel, we make it right by doing the work of the Father in His vineyard.
Opening up our humility kit and following the step-by-step instructions can be very challenging. Fear is a part of any honest look in the mirror. Add to that the knowledge that we are imperfect. We know we will stumble again.
That’s why there is a Step 5 – Repeat Steps 1 through 4 as necessary.
We can rejoice in the knowledge that He will never turn us away. There is nothing we could ever do to make God love us less, and His mercy knows no bounds.
After all, forgiving us is in His best interest. He wants us to be transformed, so we can go about the work of bringing the Gospel message to the world.
This prayer from last Friday morning’s Liturgy of the Hours says it well:
Father, he who knew no sin was made sin for us, to save us and restore us to Your friendship. Look upon our contrite heart and afflicted spirit and heal our troubled conscience, so that with the joy and strength of the Holy Spirit we may proclaim your praise and glory before all the nations. Amen.