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When I first came to St. Clement, the back of the church was taking in rainwater. Apparently, the façade caps needed some serious work so I called a company that rents hydraulic lifts. I got the secretary and I asked if I could talk to the president of the company. “May I ask who is calling?” she asked. I politely told her who I was and she forwarded me over. The president answered the phone, and I said “I am Fr. Peter at St. Clement. We have some repair work to do and we do not have a lot of money so I was wondering if we could rent one of your lifts with a little discount.” He said, “All you priests are the same. You always call looking for a handout. How am I supposed to run a business if I can’t get paid? I will see what I can do.” I rented the lift, and a few weeks later I got the bill. At the top of the bill, it gave the price for the rental, which was a few thousand dollars. At the bottom of the page, the YOU Pay column had two zeros. Naturally, I was happy to see that and I thought, “I like that guy.” True, he was a little arrogant on the phone, but I can handle arrogance. I don’t mind it when I am shown such generosity. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the Pharisee appears a little arrogant. Still, the guy is generous, he tithes his wealth and gives to those who need. It is the guy in the back of the temple, the tax collector, that will rob my grandmother of her social security check. Just this one time, I am in favor of the Pharisee.
Jesus amazingly chooses the tax collector. Why? Let me offer an analogy. I am an apple guy. That is because I like apple pie. I have nothing against pears, but you can’t make an apple pie with pears. So let’s say that an apple represents one of my good works. So I go to the seminary to be a priest, and that is an apple. Then I go to school and really hard. That is another apple. Then I am ordained a priest. Another apple. I presided in a wedding that was enjoyed by everyone, another nice apple. I helped out at one of the parishes the other day, that is an apple. So at the end of my life, I go to God with a truckload of apples from all my good works. God says to me, “There is only one problem: I am a pear guy.” “What is a pear?” I ask. He said, “A pear is humility, and turning to God when you are in need.”
In the parable the Pharisee brings to the Lord a lot of apples, but God is looking for pears.
I had to give a talk to a parish group somewhere on the other side of the archdiocese. They gave me directions, and I got lost. I followed the instructions. I took the right exit off the highway. I made a right at the Shell station. I look to the right for the church and there was no church. I turned around and looked again. No church. Maybe I didn’t go down the road far enough so I keep going. I ended up in a dead-end street with no church in sight. So I pulled over and looked at my watch. It was 7:28 p.m. I was scheduled to give my talk at 7:30 p.m., so I called the parish. A man answered the phone and I told him who I was and where I pulled off the road. He then asked me a number of questions and I gave him my answers: “Yes, I took the right exit, Yes, I took a right at the Shell station, yes I looked for the church on the right and there was no church… and yes I drove further down the road.” After a few minutes on the phone, a car pulled up beside me and rolled down the window. He said, “Father Peter, follow me.” He pulled out in front and I followed him. He took a right, left, a few more turns and we were there. I said to him, that wasn’t way according to my directions. He said, “I took a short cut.”
Sometimes we just get lost in life. Sometimes we lose our moral compass or our direction to heaven and we have no way of knowing where to go. It is at that moment you do what I did. You make a phone call. That is what the tax collector did in the Gospel. “I am lost. Can you help me?” The Lord is not going to give you a copy of MapQuest. He is going to pull up beside you and say, follow me. And you will be sure you are going to get there by way of a short cut. Here is the moral of the story. It is okay to need God. God loves to be God. Remember, God seeks out those who are humility and depend on God. Make sure when we turn to God that we give Him what he wants: pears.Back to All Homilies