A warm and heartfelt welcome from our parish to all here today associated with the 9th Division and Fr. Connors, and to all veterans who have served in our nation’s military. Your service and many selfless sacrifices to protecting the freedoms we are blessed to live daily – freedoms today that are threatened both outside and within our own country – your service and commitment call forth our gratitude and love.
I would think it’s not so easy being a veteran. Just like it’s not so easy being a priest. But we don’t sign up for easy assignments. Being a veteran means you have been through some difficult encounters that have been cause to see another person as an enemy. That certain type of person – be it according to nationality, or even religion – is viewed as someone, or some group, that needed to be stopped and defeated.
And just looking at the 20th century as we continue to move further away from it, there were a number of groups of nations and nationalities who, in defense of protecting the freedoms we have, it was necessary they be stopped and defeated. The world is a better place because of it. If their ideology and aggressiveness were not met by a strong offense for freedom, which at times is the best defense, then our world today, as unbalanced as it is at times, would look very different. It would be sadly different.
So, the sacrifice and duty of our soldiers – millions of them over the past 100 years alone, has resulted in our capacity to embrace and maintain certain forms of freedom.
Freedom is not a word of nations and humanity. Freedom is a word of God. God created the human race in his image and likeness to be free. This is the fundamental part of our existence. Where freedom fails to exist, such failure rests with human beings. God doesn’t wake up on a Monday morning and say, “Gee, I think I’ll take away some of their freedom today!” Where freedom fails, it rests with us. And if that’s the case, then the protection of freedom – from religious liberty to the freedom to move about in safety – also rests with human beings. But we are to seek freedom’s protection for the reason that this is how God has created us.
Whereas restricting freedom is a human act, defending true, right, just, and moral freedom is of God. Where any attempt at restricting freedom toward a group of law-abiding citizens, such as the ongoing attempt today at restricting religious liberty by our own government, whereas this is caused by persons in authority, any attempt and effort put forth toward defending God-given freedoms is to be centered in our Creator.
In today’s Gospel there’s a battle going on between pride and humility, between the ego and no ego, between “Look at how great I am,” and “Don’t look at my sinfulness.” A battle between “I have no need for God in my life,” which would be the Pharisee, and “I depend upon God’s mercy to bring me home,” which is the tax collector.
In this battle, if you will, the Pharisee represents all those governments, dictators, and any individual or group who goes about making life miserable for others. Their goal each day is to make others feel inferior because somehow they believe they are better than another nationality, another race, another gender, another religion. Such people actually believe, falsely of course, that they have created themselves, and that they have no one to answer to. They have no fear of God, like the judge in the parable we heard from Jesus in last week’s Gospel. To say the Pharisee is filled with pride would be an understatement. It’s more like, if you look up the word pride in the dictionary, guess whose face you’ll see?
The Pharisee is the face of every person in power, and whose ever been in power, who believe they are their own god, that they can restrict the freedoms of others, and that the world revolves around them. This is why pride is the deadliest of sins. It has led and continues to lead to the death of millions of people. And that’s just the 20th and 21st centuries.
On the other side of the battle is the tax collector, one of the most hated and dishonest occupations in the time of Jesus. But instead of counting his dollar bills and coins, he’s instead counting on God’s mercy and forgiveness. This is the good soldier in the eyes of God. A good soldier is one who is willing to lay down his life to save the freedoms of others. But a good soldier is also one who fears God. Meaning, he/she, like the rest of us, allow ourselves to seek out the love and mercy of our Creator. That we approach God in humility, like Fr. Connors, which is true strength.
Jesus is the King of the world. He is the Savior of our souls. There is no one greater than him whom we call Lord. So why isn’t Jesus like the Pharisee going around saying, “Look how great I am! Look at all the miracles I can perform! Look at all the sins I can forgive!”
Instead, the One who is the greatest humbles himself to the point of carrying a Cross, which was the most demeaning act of his time. His greatness is not realized in his miracles. Jesus’ greatness is seen forever seen in his humility. Humility raises us to greatness.
The good soldier does their duty not for man alone, or even for themselves. The good soldier does their duty for God and man. Lose that fear of God, and we end up serving ourselves. Possess the fear of the Lord, and we serve our Creator. This was Fr. Connors, along with countless others.
May God bless all our veterans and those presently serving. In such service to country, service is not for oneself, like the Pharisee. Rather, like the tax collector who sought God’s mercy beating his breast, you served your Creator, thus you served the rest of us freedom-loving people.