Luke 18: 9-14 Loved by God
I just returned from a retreat out in Temple, Texas and I would like to share with you the homily I gave to the retreatants on today's readings.
The Lord told a parable about a man who lived in a tiny town and, unknown to him, was despised by all. He was more than convinced he was loved by God, and was loved more than others. This righteous man would compare himself to sinners and, as always, would come out ahead all the time. In the same town there was another man who knew he was despised by everyone, and was even more convinced that he was not loved by God. He did not have the courage to raise his head and ask for God’s blessing. Instead, he dropped his head in shame and begged for God’s mercy. How could two men think so differently of themselves and of God? But what is truly remarkable is what the Lord thought of them. What is amazing is that the Lord saw the second man and loved him more than all the others. "I tell you there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent" (Lk 15:7).
Of course our God does not have favorites. He loves us all. He loves us more than we could ever imagine. But it is clear, through Scripture and history, that God does hold in his heart a special place for the loser, the long shot - the underdog! And we feel the same way. After all, we were created in his image and likeness. Yes, the Lord is a God who knows no favorites. Yet! Yet, he is slightly partial towards the weak. He bends his ear ever more slightly towards the cry of the oppressed. His hand reaches a little further out to the orphans and to the widows when they pour out their complaints. The petitions of the ones who serve God reach the heavens unhindered. Yes, the prayer of the loser, the abandoned, the lonely, the forgotten, the weak, the lame, the handicapped and the lowly pierce the clouds and do not rest until it reaches its goal.
In St. Paul’s magnificent letter to Timothy, his Last Will and Testament, he tells his beloved: I am ready. That is, I am ready to die. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith (2Tm 4:7). I have competed well means vince in bono malum (conquer evil with good). Yes, they brought me to the gates of hell and I refused to enter. I have kept the faith. I refused to learn how to hate! I did not give in or give up! I finished the race. St. Paul never complained. He NEVER complained. Not once did he question the Lord, “Why me?” “Why are you doing this to me?” “What did I ever do to you?” Do I still believe that my love will not be rejected? Do I still believe that I belong to this world? So what will I do? Will I give in? Give up? Will I turn my back on my wife, my husband, my children, my Lord? Will I return to my former way of life?
Do you really believe that when you go home today you will be unconditionally loved? That the first time you try to win your spouse’s heart or your child’s heart you will receive an embrace? Get it into your head, when you return, your love will be rejected. What will you do? That is the question! To be or not to be a Christian! That is the question. To love is the only answer.
“At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me.” Is St. Paul complaining to Timothy? He would have every right to do so. Instead, he is preparing his son, Timothy, to serve the Lord without hesitation. He tells his successor, “May it not be held against them!” “Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they do!” (Lk 23:34)
If you want to be a Saint, then be prepared to live the life of a Saint. Be prepared to be another Christ: to carry your Cross and follow the path that leads to eternal life! To follow the Way of the Cross! The Via Crucis! The Lord will stand by you. In fact, he will go in front of you. He will repeat in your ear, over and over again, when you feel like giving up, “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground, it cannot bear any fruit” (Jn 12:24).
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted. Start your day the same way now and forever: Christ in my life. Let us begin! Make the devil cringe every morning when you awake. Make him say, “damn it!"