Homily: Sunday 27 October
Sunday 27 October 2019
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
For some time now, it has been a defining aspect of our Australian economy to pursue an aspirational way of life, one where people are encouraged to aspire to having greater access to the economic and social benefits of the country.
There are certainly sound economic reasons for seeking to build the wealth of our nation on aspirational terms, rather than welfarist ones. But when an economic model comes to dominate the social and moral fabric of a society, then some serious questions emerge.
The nature of aspiration is such that it sees the measure of who we each are in terms of what we have and what we consume. When aspiration becomes the dominant focus of our lives, we begin to measure the value of our lives in terms of what others have or haven’t got. In this way, lifting ourselves up, and climbing the ladder of success become the driving metaphors of our lives.
There is something of an aspirational dominance in the Pharisee of today’s parable. He positions himself as far up the front as he can get. He values himself in terms of what his competitors do not have. And in doing so, he fails to consider himself with any sense of humble honesty. The Pharisee views himself in an entirely external way: he sees the value of his life in terms of what he has over and against others. There is no interior evaluation of his life in terms of what we might call the ‘measure of the man’.
Remember, Jesus was speaking of this man to those people “who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else.” Living an appealing life on the outside is not the same as living an interiorly good life.
The tax collector, on the other hand, is not so aspirationally focused. From his place at the back of the Synagogue, we is concerned only with honestly assessing himself as a human being before God, who created him. Excellence, and not aspiration, is his focus.
The tax collector – sinner that he is – seeks to humbly evaluate his life (which, I hasten to add, is not the same as humiliating himself). He seeks to measure himself in terms of his own living, not in terms of others. Excellence – living humanly well – is what he is striving for. And because of this, it is his prayer that ‘pierces the clouds’, to borrow that evocative phrase from our 1st reading.
To quote from a tweet I saw yesterday from one of our priests: the Pharisee is what we would call today a ‘virtue signaller’, searching for God in anything but his own life, while the tax collector finds God in his own broken heart. Our task is to strive to be better ourselves, rather than boasting of being better than others.
St Paul, in our second reading today, provides a good example of the difference between the path of aspiration and the path of excellence. He speaks of having run the race, fought the good fight, poured out his life. For Paul, it was in the striving for excellence that he could have confidence of receiving the crown of righteousness. Paul was not focused on what he had achieved, but in being in the race.
Within the context of the limits in his own life – a life marked by considerable hardship, persecution and suffering – Paul strove to live his life in the image of the God who had giving him his life. He did not seek to replace his life for different, more aspirational kind of life; he sought instead for excellence in the life he already had.
If we make the dominant measure of ourselves an aspirational one, then we leave ourselves susceptible to be people who – consciously or unconsciously – feel that the only path available to us is a ladder to be climbed up by climbing over others.
But there is another path available to us all: the path of excellence in the Lord, and with Jesus. No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, this is a path we can all strive for and gain.