The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes
Homily for the
Thirtieth Sunday of the Year
Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
October 23, 2016
The famous Irish playwright, poet, and novelist, Oscar Wilde, was an iconic and interesting man, to say the least. He is remembered well for his great works, like his novel A Picture of Dorian Gray and his play The Importance of Being Earnest, as well as for his wit, his humor, and his intelligence. He was personable, more than a tad flamboyant, and quite charming in his own way. But he is also remembered for his short-comings. He would be the first to tell you that he wasn’t exactly the poster boy for Christian morality. Wilde lived a very decadent and, at times, outrageous lifestyle. He was well-known for his extra-marital affairs and numerous sexual liaisons with both women and men. In fact, in 1895 Wilde was charged with gross indecency and sent to prison in London for two years. When he got out of prison, his life turned to shambles and he declined into depression and alcoholism. But it was after all of this, after all his exciting, complicated, sinful, human experiences, that Oscar Wilde began to realize that there is more to this life than one’s accomplishments or sins…in fact, he began to realize that there is more than just this life. Deep in his soul he struggled terribly as he felt a need to connect with God…and by encountering the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Wilde began to see himself and his own life through new eyes. He made his intentions known that he would soon be converting to Catholicism. Before this would come to pass, though, he developed cerebral meningitis and found himself with only days to live. As he lay on his death bed, Fr. Cuthbert Dunne, a priest from Ireland, received him into the Church and administered the Last Rites, absolving Oscar Wilde of his sins and anointing him for his journey to God. On November 30, 1900, he departed this life for eternity…leaving his sins and failings behind him. Wilde knew, as we all do deep down, that God was going to lay a claim on him, which is perhaps why he put those now famous words into the mouth of Lord Illingworth in the play A Woman of No Importance:
“The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.”
In our Gospel today, Jesus sets before us the example of two men. On the surface they couldn’t be more different. The Pharisee was himself an example of virtuous living and external holiness…he lived a blameless life, abstained from vice, fasted twice a week, and gave much to the poor. He would have appeared to us, who couldn’t see his heart as Jesus could, as a walking saint. Then you have the tax collector…a prime example of sinful and unholy living. He took money from the poor, ripped off his own people, and grew fat and happy. He would have appeared to us, who couldn’t see his heart as Jesus could, as a miserable sinner. But at the end of the day, in their heart of hearts and in the sight of God, these men are not as different as they appear or as they might like to believe. They both lived and struggled and sinned. The tax collector’s sins are a little more obvious than the Pharisee’s, but despite all of his virtue the Pharisee is not without sin himself. What separates these two men is not how they have sinned, but rather the recognition that they have sinned and the subsequent turning towards God for forgiveness. The Pharisee – the parable’s saint – forgot that he had a past to repent of…while the tax collector – the parable’s sinner – remembered that he had a future to turn towards.
I’m going to make this short, sweet, and to the point today. My friends, it doesn’t matter how good or bad you’ve been in this life. It doesn’t matter if you’re a great saint or a terrible sinner. What matters is that you have an honest recognition of your past and a firm hope in God for your future. Each one of us needs God more than the earth needs the sun. He puts breath in our lungs and grace in our souls…without Him we would be nothing. We can’t fool ourselves into thinking, like the Pharisee, that we’re simply “all set” – even if we have progressed so far in the spiritual life that we have left most of the “big” sins behind, we must still admit where we have come from and who brought us from there. On the flip side, we also have to guard ourselves from thinking that our sinfulness is in any way beyond God’s mercy…like the tax collector, like Oscar Wilde, we have to ask that God forgive our past and give us a future in His Son.
As we come to the altar today, let us remember in truth who we are, where we came from, but also what the future holds in store. No saint in history ever dared approach the altar without first admitting his or her sins and shortcomings…and no repentant sinner in history ever left the altar without becoming a saint. I pray that we, the regular old Joe Shmoes of this life, will come to realize and rejoice in what Oscar Wilde himself discovered, that every saint indeed has a past and every sinner has a future.