30th Sunday of Ordinary Time ARMIDALE CATHEDRAL NSW
The Lord is a judge who is no respecter of personages (Eccl. 35: 12) The LORD is a God of justice, who knows no favourites. (NAB)
As I have grown older, both in years and in the faith, I have gathered saints whose lives and deeds have made a deep impression on me. Most likely, you have done or are doing the same?
One saint who has been with me since my teenage years is St John Fisher. I came to know him through his companion martyr, St Thomas More.
Martyred on Tower Hill in London two weeks before the ex-Chancellor of England in 1535, this humble, scholarly and gracious Bishop of Rochester was the only bishop among the 16 in England at the time, who had the courage to call Henry VIII’s tactic of splitting with Rome for what it was. St John Fisher was no respecter of personages when it came to speaking the truth. Not even the King was exempt.
In the last year I came across another who stands in similar shoes to those of St John Fisher: Bl Clement van Galen. He was Bishop of Munster in Germany from 1933-1946. You may recognise from those dates that he was bishop during the terrors of Hitler and the Nazi regime. Bl Clement became known as the ‘Lion of Munster” because, true to his episcopal motto Nec laudibus nec timore, he, without fear or favour, wrote and spoke against the Nazi confiscation of Church property and their euthanasia practices. He was instrumental in helping Pope Pius XI write Mit brennender Sorge, the papal encyclical that strongly and unequivocally condemned Nazism. Bl Clement did this despite threats on his own life and the bombing of his residence. Bl Clement was no respecter of personages when it came to speaking the truth. The powerful and godless Hitler and his henchmen were not exempt.
Throughout the centuries, faithful members of the Church provide other examples, in great and in small ways. It is done so that truth may be heard; but not a temporal truth but eternal truth. It is done because Christ himself did it. He, the one who is the Truth, did it in the midst of his passion to the Roman governor. He does it today in the Gospel passage we have heard.
Christ did not hold back from criticising the Pharisees by means of this parable. While devout and influential, the Pharisees’ ‘tenacious concern for ritual exactness and outward observances distracted them from the most important matters of God’s law: justice, mercy and faith.” The Pharisee goes home not ‘at rights’, not justified before God, whereas the tax collector, considered a sinner and a second-class citizen by the Pharisees, does “because he does not parade his credentials before God” but simply begs forgiveness.
Christ reveals to us the very nature of God, in himself and in his teaching. His parable today reveals to us that God is “so just that He has a special concern for the weak and the oppressed and those who serve Him faithfully”. The confused ordinary subject of King Henry VIII was whom St John Fisher cared for in speaking the truth. It was the fearful ordinary citizen of Germany, as well the disabled and the persecuted, whom Bl Clement von Galen cared for. So too must we in our day speak up for those who are the weak and insignificant - for babies in the womb, for the elderly and ill, for migrants and newcomers. Thanks be to God we do not live in a country that is under the tyranny of fascism or absolute monarchy. But we do live in a country under the tyranny of relativism, nihilism and Christophobia. There will be occasions where we must give voice to the justice of God, who “hears the cry of the poor” and the lowly.
However, we would miss an important aspect of Christ's teaching in the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee if we only noted its lesson for our defence of the faith.
Each one of us lives out this parable. We easily identify with the tax collector because we are like him. Our true condition is that each of us is a poor sinner in need of God’s mercy. Yet we absorb from our ambient culture that admitting this is abhorrent; much better to convince others and ourselves that we are just; we’re okay. So while we identify with the tax collector, and cheer as he goes home ‘at rights' with God, we find it hard to say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
To turn this around we must allow the Holy Spirit to show us what we are. This is painful but it reveals us to ourselves as actually poor, weak, brokenhearted, oppressed, the widow, the orphan (to use the words of today’s Scripture). The Holy Spirit shows us that we are in need of justification.
This breaking-down and transforming process happens through prayer and the sacraments, most clearly in the Sacrament of Mercy, Confession. This process opens us up to serve God in justice; within and without. And, as St Paul said in the Epistle: the Lord will stand by us and give us power and bring us safely to heaven.
O Lord, be merciful to us who are sinners St John Fisher, pray for us Bl Clement von Galen, pray for us