Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Father Shawn Hughes

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Homilies are never the creative act of one person.  Thus, in posting these homilies on St. Mary’s Cathedral’s website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be little original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it. ‘Tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures and/or the Spiritual Life.

God bless you.

Father Shawn

“God, have mercy on me a sinner!”  Today’s gospel presents this very powerful prayer.  By praying this simple prayer: “God, have mercy on me a sinner!” the gospel says the tax collector went down to his home justified.”…with the caution: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The last three Sundays have given us a mini retreat on the subject of prayer: 1) You will remember three Sundays ago:  Pray even with mustard-seed sized faith. 2) And on Thanksgiving Weekend: 10 lepers were healed and only one returned to thank the Lord.  Our prayer should always contain gratitude like the one healed leper and 3) and last week:  perseverance:  never give up like the widow who badgered the unjust judge.  Jesus tells us over and over again that prayer is absolutely necessary if we are going to follow him.  St. John Paul II said: “Every believer should think of prayer as an essential and indispensable component of one’s vocation.”  He also said that “faithfulness to prayer, or its neglect is a test of the vitality of religious life, apostolate and Christian fidelity.” (Address, Oct. 7, 1979)

This week the gospel reflects on our attitude in prayer.   Where is our heart?  Today’s parable is a study in contrasts between true piety and false piety.

The Pharisees represent the self-righteous and Jesus addressed today’s parable to them,  to those the gospel says “who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.”  The Pharisees did try to live the teachings of the law of Moses in their everyday life.  They tithed…gave 10% of their income, they fasted…they saw their relationship with God as about following external rules.

But…in the gospel the Pharisee doesn’t pray.  He stands where everyone will see him.  He talks to himself not to God.   There is no love for God in his words.  There is no humility.   His prayer is wrapped up in his identity, his present status – He trusts in himself and holds the tax collector in contempt…thereby elevating himself way above the tax collector.

But, notice the difference in the tax collector’s prayer…he had one of the most reviled of occupations of Jesus’ time…Jesus uses him as the good example…He stands off at a distance…doesn’t even raise his eyes to heaven…Absolutely humble… He simply recognizes he needs God’s mercy…that he is a sinner…and he simply states that as a prayer…God be merciful to me a sinner…The tax collector’s relationship with God is about the quality of His heart.


He is totally transparent before God…transparency reveals his trust in God.  Before God, he is willing to stand in the truth.

Today, for us, it begs the question:  “Am I willing to be totally transparent before God? Am I willing to stand in the truth?”

Speaking to God about who we really are, standing completely in the truth before him, is a necessary step in growing in intimacy with Him.

It is good to begin every prayer period by considering how God looks at us. We begin every Mass that way:  We call to mind our faults and our failings and admit aloud we are sinners.  Then we call to mind how merciful God’s love is for us…Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy and then we praise him for that mercy as we sing the Gloria…and we give Him Glory for who is he is and what he has done for us.

That is why it is so important to pray these prayers of the Mass out loud together… not to just stand there and listen to others…but to actually pray with everyone…to enter into them in your own heart… I confess to almighty God…Lord have mercy…Glory to God…

How does God look at us?  He sees our faults, he sees our sins…but he created us…and he loves us…there is a beautiful line in the prophet Isaiah 43:4  that encapsulates God’s attitude towards  us in spite of our faults… God says: “You are precious in my eyes and honoured…and I love you.”

Like any parent who loves their child who has done something wrong…even terribly wrong…a parent cannot help but love their child…maybe they are disappointed, maybe hurt by the transgression…but doesn’t stop loving them.

The beginning of the spiritual life is self- knowledge.

An honest look at our hearts will reveal a barrel full of faults…the key is do we recognize God’s loving mercy along with them.  This is one of the key spiritual problems of our time.  We so focus on our faults, the things we have done…and the things that have been done to us…that we continually think I can never be worthy of God’s love.  And, it’s true, we can’t.  But it doesn’t stop there.  He makes us worthy. The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes us worthy…just before receiving Holy Communion we say: “Lord I am not worthy…but only say the Word and my soul will be healed.”  The Word of God has been spoken in Jesus Christ…we are made worthy…if we choose to enter into it…

Another grave spiritual issue of our time is that we tend to want to ignore our faults…and because of that we just feed at the surface…

If we want to go into the deep…we must recognize our faults, our failings, the times we have sinned.

God knew we would need to have our sense of worth restored over and over again…that we would have to have some manner in which we would know that our sins are completely washed away.  One of his great acts of love is his giving us the great Sacrament of Confession so that we could stand in the truth, be transparent before God, and hear those miraculous words…your sins are all forgiven…Go in the peace of Christ.  Without regular monthly confession we cannot grow in the spiritual life.

Do we humbly stand in the truth and pray:  “Lord Jesus have mercy on me a sinner.”

Psalm 51 is one of my absolute favourites…several lines apply to our reflection here…Remember…its authorship is attributed to King David after he was caught having killed Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, after she had become pregnant with King David’s child when he  had committed adultery with her.  And yet, he is considered one of the most righteous men in the bible.


Listen to some of the lines of Psalm 51 that are attributed to him.

  1. 3 “I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.”
  2. 4  addressed to the Father… “You desire truth in my inmost being, Therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.”
  3. 10 “Create a clean heart in me oh God.  Put a pure and RIGHT spirit within me.”

This is pure prayer.  It is humble.  It recognizes the truth and it turns to God in trust…King David is admitting his sinfulness and asking for mercy… And that is why he is considered one of the most righteous men in the bible…because of his humility.

God have mercy on me a sinner.

What is at stake in prayer is not whether our prayers are answered or not… but intimacy…intimacy in our relationship with God.

True intimacy with someone we love is not always being right, or glossing over our faults… intimacy…in your marriages… in our friendships…in all relationships… if we have done something wrong…healing can only take place if the truth is brought out into the open…if the truth is revealed…discussed…knowing and trusting that your spouse or friend loves you enough to forgive you.

That’s the way it is with God as well.


And you all know that when that level of confidence, that level of trust…to truly admit that something is wrong and to ask forgiveness for whatever you did…you all know…that actually makes your relationship stronger, more intimate…more caring because you have revealed your innermost being to the other…you have been vulnerable…transparent… honest…standing in the truth.

That’s the way it was with King David.  That’s the way it is with the tax collector in today’s gospel.  That’s the way it must be in our relationship with God as well.  That is the way it is in God’s relationship with us.  He revealed his innermost being to us in Jesus Himself.

“God have mercy on me a sinner…it is such an essential prayer.

The tax collector’s prayer is true Prayer of the Heart…In the very early Church, this gospel resonated strongly with believers.  Many of the Early Dessert Father s in the first few centuries would repeat “God have mercy on me a sinner!” over and over again throughout their day.  Many would use this line of Scripture as their only prayer. Over the centuries, Christians have used the Jesus Prayer, “Lord have mercy on me a sinner”, this line from the gospel, as the only prayer they use to grow in intimacy with God.

It is a humble admission…here I am Lord…warts and all…have mercy on me…This prayer confidently states:  I know you do have mercy on me when I ask for it…And I know in the asking I am expressing my love and trust in you…and that draws me closer Lord…and gratitude which is a deep form of peace wells up in my heart.

The key to all of this is taking the time to pray.  Without prayer in our daily lives we cannot grow in our spiritual life…. in our relationship, our intimacy with the Lord.   I’m not talking about a quick Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be in the morning and evening.  But, a prayerful meditative recitation of some of the prayers we know and also silence to hear God at the core of our being.

Notice the tax collector did not use a lot of words…silence is also necessary in our prayer to experience at the core of our being that profound knowing of what it is God wishes to communicate to us…often it leaves the deepest sense of peace…

There is only one, non-negotiable rule of prayer:  Do it! Do it regularly! Every single day!  Like any relationship…intimacy only develops proportionately to the amount of time spent together.

Finally, a bit of homework: Two quotes from Scripture I’d like you to ponder this week:

That stunning line in the first reading: “The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds!”

and from today’s Gospel that great prayer:

“Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”