|Icon of the Pharisee and Publican as they enter the temple and as they leave the temple. One was justified the other was not|
I've been to several Red Sox World Series games. I'm not a season ticket holder. Somebody else invited me to those games. I've been to nice restaurants here and there because somebody took me. And one of my favorites is being at the dinner table with families that aren't my own. The family members are all at that table because they rightfully belong there. When I'm there, sitting among them, I know I'm there because they invited and welcomed me into their home. I don't have a right to be there. I love that feeling. I love working with people or serving people whose goodness awakens within me that sense of, "How did I get here?!"
If I should be welcomed into heaven some day, it won't be because I belong there by right. I will be there because the Lord took pity on me, invited me, and welcomed me. If heaven were a place that I possessed by right, I think it wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable. I imagine that heaven will be the penultimate experience of, "Who am I that I should be here?"
Today in the Gospel, we are told that two men went into the temple. One acted as though he belonged there. He kind of owned the place. He went right up front, and basically had the attitude of, "Of course, I'm up front. I do everything right. I've earned this place." The other fellow, stayed in the back. He knew he didn't belong there. If he were even in the Temple, it was because the Lord took pity on him. He kept his head down. Ever snuck in someplace where you don't really belong and are trying to keep your head down so that somebody doesn't come throw you out? (I have!) That's what I imagine the tax collector felt like. "I'm in here, but I sure as heck don't belong in here."
The other thing that I love is when I'm able to get others in with me. Over the years, for instance, when somebody has given me tickets to a Sox game, I like being able to invite someone else into that experience. It's great seeing their faces as they realize that we are going to be in some great seats. Or, when I've become close to parish families, I've always wanted other priests and seminarians to be welcomed into their home as well. The experience of being invited and welcomed is even better when I can extend it towards others.
And this to me is the life of the Church, the life of the Sacraments, the life of heaven. It's the joy of experiencing a taste of a life that doesn't belong to me as a right or as something I've earned. It's humbly acknowledging that I'm really a guest at a banquet. And the host is so gracious that even though I myself am a guest, he allows me to bring whomever I want with me. "Invite as many others as you want. And we're going to treat them just as well as we treat you."
The great masters of the spiritual life teach us that the foundation of the spiritual life is humility. It's a constant recognition that if I find myself in the Church, it's not because I'm holy enough or virtuous enough that I've deserved the right to be there. It's because the Lord is merciful enough to invite me. He gives me not what I deserve (thanks be to God) but rather what I don't deserve. He gives me entrance into his Divine Life. He welcomes me into the Eucharistic Banquet. He seats me where I don't rightfully belong. Then, he becomes even more ridiculously generous. He allows me the privilege to be a giver of his own generous gifts. He says, "Even though you don't belong here by right, I want you to go and invite people as though you were inviting them to your own banquet."
Heaven must be a perpetual state of amazement that the Lord is so good and merciful to allow us to be there. The best way to prepare for that heavenly amazement is to live in humble amazement here and now. The one who is justified before God is not the one who claims it for himself. The one who is justified is the one who receives the mercy of God. The invitation to eternal life is engraved in the Blood of Christ. The RSVP to that invitation is, "O God, be merciful to me, a sinner."