Truth without love is brutality and love without truth is hypocrisy. Warren Wiersbe

After the New Year, I returned to Sunday mass, as though I was visiting, not really planning to stay. And that's when I learned that there'd been changes to the prayers while I was away. Imagine that? Change even there. I didn't object to the new verbiage (not that I had a right to weigh in.) I just couldn't understand what was wrong with the old one.

The answer to the blessing: "The Lord be with you" changed from "And also with you" to "And with your spirit"? It's like changing the simple greeting "Good morning everybody," to "Everybody, good morning to you." It accomplished one thing: Everybody in earshot knew I hadn't been to mass since before the dawn of time. Fine, I thought, I won't say anything and nobody will know.  Meantime, I'm not reading from the ten pound book either. My dang stubborness sure complicates things.

It was hard to return to Sunday mass. Because of my absence, I didn't feel part of it, and so I thought I shouldn't go. I could pray just as easily at home. But we were back. And being present was all about listening, and processing, and making those one (Sun)day at a time decisions, always reviewing the goal.

There's a slogan in twelve steps programs: "Something needs to change and it's probably me." I find that when I am open, I hear what I need to hear. Especially when I'm in the company of people who say what they mean with love, or at least without getting mean about it.

Something fresh occurred on the last Sunday of October. I heard the gospel, really heard it for the first time in -- well, a long time. It was about being honest about who we are and where we're at before God. It made sense that God preferred self-disclosure, since he sees right through to our core. There's nothing new we could say. He'd just like to connect with us in an honest conversation about it. That's what I believe.

So the gospel started out juicy, because Jesus was about to speak to human brokenness and the arrogance of pride. It was perfect timing, because everybody I knew was feeling either broken or mad at somebody over some impossible character flaw. Have you noted a lack of tolerance? I wonder, can we all be victims at once? It's like we'd formed an orchestra of out-of-practice musicians, playing ill-tuned instruments. And we're each winking and smiling at maestro, thinking we're not part of the problem. See jerko over there? See what I put up with?

In the gospel that day, Jesus spoke to that. He introduced two characters. Here's what was read:"Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else."

The tax collector in those times was considered pond scum by most people (I'm paraphrasing.) He worked for the government. The Pharisees, on the other hand, was a representative of spiritual togetherness, and his peacock feathers were fanned out when he arrived for prayer. He was prepared to remind God of all his own goodness. Act One:

"I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income,’" he said. Then he went totally braggadocio: "'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity -- greedy, dishonest, adulterous -- or even like this tax collector," he said.


"The tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven. He beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'"

Jesus said, "I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted." God's system wasn't based on rank the way we humans have it worked out. Fr. Brian spoke about grace, God's mercy and love. He talked about being contrite, confessing, without skulking off in self-deprecation. Because gawd knows that could distract one from his or her path for countless days, weeks, months, years.  And that doesn't serve anybody, least of all God.

I picked up the book. I thought I'd get to know the "new" words.