24th Sunday of the Year (c) 2016 Before I joined a Religious Order I used to work. Which isn’t to say that I don’t work now. Then one day I decided to become a Priest in the Carmelite Order. I didn’t want to tell my work colleagues because I didn’t think that most of them would appreciate it; and if I told the one or two that would, they’d tell the rest. So I told no one. On my last day at the office, the tea lady came around as usual with her tea and rolls. She knew I was leaving but didn’t know where. She told me she didn’t mind where I was going, as long as I wasn’t going to be a monk! What’s wrong with being a monk? I suppose to many people it’s as odd a way of life as you could choose. Monks were not like other people they were different: and for monks read: Nuns, Priests, Brothers. But, truth to tell, I did feel different. Not different in a arrogant way, but definitely different. And when I visited the lady who was making my habit and looked at myself in the mirror, there could be no doubt. I was different. And I was happy to be different. Just before going to the Novitiate I was drinking at our local pub. There was a crowd of us, as usual. And someone who knew I was going off to be a Carmelite friars said in all seriousness: ‘John, don’t change’. To this day I remember his words and the sincerity with which he said them. But what was I to do? I couldn’t help but change. My whole lifestyle was to change: no more pubs, drinking, parties, girlfriends. In our Carmelite novitiate there was no tv, radio, newspapers. We prayed in the chapel for five hours each day, and the rest of the time we were in our rooms. We were not encouraged to write too often, not at all during Lent. We never ate meat; just fish everyday, even Christmas day. But, yes, I did change. I couldn’t but change. And I was happy to change. And yet my very first experience of Carmelite Life was an eye opener. It took place about six months before I eventually joined. As I entered the chapel all the friars were saying the Miserere, Psalm 50, ‘ have mercy on me God in your kindness, in your compassion blot out my offense’. It was the psalm we read before the gospel. So here were these ‘monks’ admitting to being sinners: But of course I couldn’t believe that they were sinners. You only had to look at them. They were so holy. Not like other people. And I was going to be one of them. But then, one day, I discovered that I wasn’t quite so different from others. Actually, it wasn’t something I discovered in a day, it took years. It took me a long time to acknowledge that I was still very human, with all the selfishness and pride like everyone else. For a long time I was in denial. But then one day I acknowledged that I was a sinner. You notice in today’s Gospel how attractive Jesus is to ‘the tax collectors and sinners’. How they were all seeking his company. Not only that but they also listened to him. Why did they want to listen to him?. There were other teachers, other rabbi’s. But you know that some teachers are off-putting: some because they are too clever; some because they are not good teachers; some because they have so much knowledge they make you feel inadequate. Jesus didn’t make people feel inadequate. He wanted all those who heard him to feel comfortable. He didn’t want to make them feel bad about themselves, as others would have done. Instead he sits down with them and eats with them. No judgement, no condemnation; in anything he feels sorry for them. But we too are sinners. All of us struggle with our fallen humanity. We can pretend, ignore it, not look at that side of our lives that is far from good. Or, we can quietly, gently, acknowledge that we are no better than anyone else; that we are indeed struggling with our humanity; we take two steps forward and one back. Sometimes two! But the irony is that the Christian ho acknowledges that she or he is a sinner will be an attractive person: they will attract others, because they have overcome their pride; in a word they are humble. The more humble you are the more attractive you will be to others. Do not complain when strangers sit beside you on the train or bus, or in the pub, and pour out their hearts to you. It is your opportunity to help these people feel better about themselves, as Christ did with the tax collectors and sinners. So, never be afraid to acknowledge your sinfulness; it won’t make you ugly, on the contrary, you will find that people will be attracted to you.

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