The Pharisee and the Publican
"And to some who trusted in themselves as just, and despised others, he spoke also this parable:
Two men went up into the temple to pray: the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican." (Luke 18:9-11)
Listen to the words of St. Augustine when speaking concerning the Pharisee:
"The Pharisee might at least have said: "I am not as many men are." But what meaneth "other men"? It means all other men except himself. "I," said he, "am righteous; others are sinners."
St. Augustine continues...
"If we look in his prayer to find what he went to the Temple to pray to God for, we shall find nothing. He went up to pray, but his prayer was not a request of anything from God, but a glorification of himself."
"I fast twice in a week: I give tithes of all that I possess." (Luke 18:12)
The Pharisee was doing outwardly religious things. But inwardly he had no bruised and broken spirit: a contrite and humbled heart as King David says in Psalms 51.
Now let us focus on the publican:
"And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast, saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner." (Luke 18:13)
We see the humbleness of the Publican as he keeps his his eyes looking down. He sees himself for what he is. Naked in sin before God. He is so ashamed that he can not even look at the One who loves him and gave his life for him.
When the scripture says he struck his breast, it reminds me how at the beginning of Mass, When the Priest and the Altar boy, in their turn say the "confiteor Deo omnipotenti", the (confession to almighty God).
They say "I confess to almighty God , to blessed Mary ever virgin, to blessed Michael the archangel: to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, to all the saints, and you brethren/father, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed:"
It is at that moment that we strike our breast three times, saying, "through my fault, through my fault,"... Then to make a point about had bad our sins are we say, "through my most grievous fault."
Again we hear from St. Augustine.
"The Publican looked carefully, lest he should look up, he dared not to lift up his eyes unto heaven. Self-knowledge kept him down, though hope raised him up. Consider again, how that he "smote upon his breast."He afflicted himself, and therefore the Lord had compassion upon his acknowledgment of guilt." He smote upon his breast, saying Lord, be merciful to me a sinner." Hearken here to a prayer and meditate thou on that when the sinner remembereth, God forgiveth."
St. Augustine says that God had "compassion upon his acknowledgement of guilt". There are few sweeter words found in scripture than the word compassion. Based on the Latin roots of the word, the meaning of compassion is to "suffer with." In other words God suffered alongside the Publican.
God suffers with us when he sees us trying to return. Others may scorn or feel pity, but not our heavenly father. God feels what we feel. "For we have not a high priest, who can not have compassion on our infirmities: but was one tempted in all things like as we are, but without sin." (Hebrews 4:15) He interposes our feelings upon Himself and loves us with a love only a father can possess. Our Savior suffered in ALL things and that is why our God has compassion on us.
St. Augustine also said, "Hearken here to a prayer and wonderest thou that when the sinner remembereth, God forgetteth."
Concerning God forgetting, Hebrews 8:12 says, "I will be merciful to their iniquities, and their sins I will remember no more." Also Isaiah 43:25 says, "I am, I am He that blot out thy iniquities for my own sake, and I will not remember thy sins."
Because of God's compassion and because of God choosing to forget our sin.
"I say to you, this man went down into his house justified rather than the other: because every one that exalteth himself, shall be humbled: and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted."(Luke 18:14)
What made the publican justified?
David said it perfectly. It is sacrifices of Justification. Whose Justification? It is God's Justice. It can not be our own. Our justifications, are nothing "but as the rag of a menstruous woman", according to (Isaiah 64:6). When I was at my best, it was but filthy rags. Now, we come to Him, presenting to Him, our works that comes from a heart that God has been working in. A heart that He has changed not only into a heart that is willing, but also a heart that can do those works that pleases God. In other words, God is working IN us a salvation so that we can work OUT of us our salvation.
"Wherefore, my dearly beloved, (as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but much more now in my absence,) with fear and trembling work out your salvation.
For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to his good will." (Philippians 2:12-13)
When we come to Him, knowing that in our own selves, there is no good thing except that which God is working in us "both to will and to accomplish" then we can bring our sacrifices, and know that He will be pleased, with our offerings, and that they will be accepted. It never was, just about the outward sacrifices that the Pharisee offered up. On their own they are never good enough. It is also about, coming to Him, in humility, with a contrite heart, a heart that God has been working in "both to will and to accomplish for His good pleasure".
The sacrifice of the Mass does me no good if I am not coming before the priest with a heart that is surrendered completely to God, as I have said before, it must be from a heart that God has been working in "both to will and to accomplish for His good pleasure".
It is in this state that we can receive the graces that comes from partaking of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is this kind of sacrifice that God is well pleased with. It is in this spirit of Humility that we can, as the Gospel says today, "go down to into our houses justified".
My question to us today is this: What kind of sacrifice will we be offering God today at Mass when we come forward to partake in His sacrifice for us? When that eucharist touches our tongue and we hear the words "Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternum." that is, "May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, preserve my soul for everlasting life.", when we hear these words, have we come before Jesus 100% surrendered to Him? That should be our goal.
How beautiful the thought that when we go before the Priest at mass and we offer ourselves 100% to Christ, that He in turn offers Himself 100% to us. I am pretty sure we get the better deal!
In conclusion I would like us to mediate on the prayer that is said just before communion of the celebrant:
"O Lord Jesus Christ, let not the partaking of your Body, which I, unworthy as I am, make bold to receive, turn against me into a judgement and condemnation, but through your loving kindness let it be for me a safeguard and healing remedy, both of mind and body; who lives and rules with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.