(Text: My column in parish bulletin)
Dear Parishioners and Friends,
Today’s gospel (Luke18: 9-14) calls us to have a profound humility. A very smug Pharisee comes to the temple and speaks about himself rather than God. “O God, thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity, greedy, dishonest, adulterous…” Although this posture of prayer is focused on his keeping the rules, the Pharisee’s prayer backfires. His words are self-aggrandizing and there is no place for God to work since his heart is full of himself. The tax collector, in contrast, stays in the rear of the temple and keeps his eyes downcast and prays from his heart. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
The tax collector is already known as an outcast. He comes to prayer realizing that his life is not right. With God, he becomes the real model of prayer. Jesus says the one who becomes humble will be exalted in the Kingdom of God.
Last week, the widow, who had no power in society, receives the attention of the judge. This week, a tax collector, gets the attention of Jesus. Humility changes everything. I have learned how to pray from people who are shunned by society. I have learned how to be honest about my own life from a man who suffered schizophrenia. I still hold him in my heart as a key to honesty.
I have learned dedication to what God can do from a woman who was beaten as a child. I still go to the temple of my own heart and pray for her. I have learned the immensity of God’s mercy from another woman who faced severe poverty, lost her husband and received a regrettable abortion. The situation terrorized her life. God’s forgiveness of her still motivates my own ministry.
I learn every week from people who humble themselves in our confessional. I cannot even imagine the density of loss and grief people face or the stone of sin that weighs down so many. I am humbled by the words of absolution when I raise my arm in prayer over the lives of so many people who struggle to find their way.
We cannot judge people who come to church to pray. We do not know the struggles of their hearts or the circumstances of their lives. We must learn from the humility of the sinner and the complex lives of how people survive in our world. Perhaps you can learn profound humility in your own prayer.
Peace be with you,