My Dear Parishioners,
In this beautiful story from Luke’s Gospel, we learn something important about us and something important about God. We are meant to identify with Zacchaeus in the story, and Zacchaeus was not a perfect person. He was a tax collector. Therefore, he cooperated with the Roman oppressors and often times used his authority to enrich himself. He was a wealthy man, and his hands were not clean. But the best quality about Zacchaeus is that, even though he knew his shortcomings and flaws, he was not afraid to seek God. When he heard about Jesus, he wanted to meet him. He didn’t know what he would find in meeting Jesus, but he was determined to have the experience. So, setting aside any convenience or dignity, he ran ahead and climbed a Sycamore Tree.

All of us are like Zacchaeus. We are not perfect people. There is no one in this church today who is without sin. This is an important thing to acknowledge this weekend when we have invited those who have become estranged from the church to come again and worship with us. Because it is clear that many people stop the practice of their own faith because of the flaws and sins of the church and its members. Since that is the case, then the first order of business today is to apologize. We are not perfect people. If any of you here today have been hurt by a priest or by a church community, I apologize. If you turned to the church at a time of divorce or loss and, instead of experiencing comfort and understanding, you were rejected and judged, I’m very sorry. If you were scandalized by the presence of sexual abuse within the church and indeed even among the priesthood, I apologize, and I assure you that we are taking concrete steps to remove the offenders and protect our children.

It is important for those who have done wrong to change, to say that they are sorry. In that way, we are like Zacchaeus, admitting our flaws and asking for forgiveness. But we should also be like Zacchaeus, in so far as we are willing to continue to seek the way of God. Despite our flaws and at times, because of them, we need one another. Therefore, it is a real value that we come together as a parish community to pray, to learn and to serve.

This leads to the important thing that today’s Gospel tells us about God. Because what it tells us, what God has revealed to us through Jesus Christ, is that whenever anyone takes a step closer to find God’s way, God will never turn that person away. When Jesus saw that Zacchaeus wanted to know him, he did not hesitate. He invited Zacchaeus down and formed a relationship with him. Despite all of Zacchaeus’ flaws, despite the objections of the crowd, Jesus insisted that Zacchaeus could be and should be his follower.

Today, as pastor of St. Philip, on behalf of our church community, I want us to follow the example of Jesus. I warmly welcome any of you who have been away from the church. We are so grateful that you took the step this weekend to come and see, overcoming whatever fears or doubts you may have had. It is our prayer that whatever you are seeking from God might be granted to you. We want to suggest that the way of finding God is to come here again and join with us to be a part of this community. Also, please invite others back to St. Philip’s, especially if they have been away since the outbreak of Covid. It is now time to come home!

The story of Zacchaeus reminds us that nothing we have done should be a reason that we stop seeking God in our life. It only makes sense that we are stronger if we can make that search together. Because then we can as brothers and sisters encourage one another to believe that whatever we have done God will never turn us away. We can support one another and encourage one another to hold fast to the truth that God is always acting to lead us, to guide us, and to find any excuse that will allow God to welcome us home.

Fr. Monteleone

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