Archive for October, 2007

Praying Means Listening

Monday, October 29th, 2007

October 27-28, 2007

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Sir 35: 12-14, 16-18; 2 Tim 4: 6-8, 16-18; Luke 18: 9-14

Dc. Larry Brockman

Does God listen to you when you pray?  Last week, we heard that we should pray persistently.  This week, we hear that we need to pray sincerely and we need to be humble.  It is our challenge to put these three together; to pray persistently, and yet, sincerely and humbly each time we pray.   

Prayer is a relationship.  It is our relationship played out with God.  Think about some key relationship that you have for a moment.  When you communicate with the other person, do you just talk about yourself?  If your message to them is always about what you do and how great you are, does that relationship flourish?  On the other hand, if your relationship is one of mutual understanding and sharing, one in which you both share with each other- the good and the bad- a relationship which is honest, humble and open, where you listen as well as talk; chances are it will flourish.  It will be valued by both parties.   

Today’s parable says that the Pharisee didn’t go home justified, but the Tax Collector did.  Why?  First, because the Pharisee talked just about himself.  He wasn’t humble, and he didn’t recognize that prayer is a relationship.  True, he spoke in thanksgiving to God- but unfortunately, there’s a strong flavor of self righteousness in that thanksgiving.  The Pharisee even served as his own judge- judging himself relative to the Tax Collector- how arrogant.  But the Tax collector’s prayer was like a good relationship.  He recognized it was a two way communications.  He humbly confessed his sins, and asked for mercy.   

There’s a second reason the Tax collector was heard, and the Pharisee was not.  Jesus cleverly used the Pharisee in this role because the pre-condition for being a Pharisee was a reputation; a history.  The Pharisee had a reputation of being a spiritual leader, someone who had made it through the challenges of life successfully; someone who was respected and looked up to.  The Tax Collector, on the other hand, was despised.  I recall the Movie “The Nativity”  It depicted a Tax Collector squeezing everything out of the people in Mary’s community.  He was ruthless- he took a family member to be sold in slavery because one poor person could not pay.  This is the reputation the Tax Collectors had.  Yet, Jesus says the Tax Collector went home justified and the Pharisee did not.  Tax Collectors had power and it was easy for them to abuse it.  Everyone could see their sins.  But, this Tax Collector knew he was a sinful man.  His prayer asked for mercy- that was the essence of his prayer.  The Pharisee neither accepted that he was a sinner; nor did he ask for mercy.  But he should have because all of us are sinners.  For some, the sins are obvious- like the tax collector’s.  For others, the sins can be less public, yet they are surely there. 

For example, a primary sin in our society is self-righteousness.  We are all called to do God’s will.  But it is God’s Spirit and grace working in us that affects all things.  We are only the instruments of that Grace.  The credit goes to God, not to ourselves.  In addition, the Pharisee sins by judging people.   He plays favorites, and he takes pleasure in criticizing others. 

When you are successful in society, it is easy to hide these more subtle sins, just as the Pharisee did.  They are often sins of omission, separation, and inaction.  But today, Sirach has some strong words of warning.  He says that the prayer of the oppressed will be heard  And then says: “nor will it withdraw until the Most High responds, judges justly, and affirms the right”.  Yes, the sins of the Pharisee, are unrecognized, not confessed, and worst of all- ones for which no mercy has been sought.  Even these sins are subject to judgment.  And when one is unrepentant and doesn’t ask for mercy, that’s when the Judgment can be harsh.  That is the essence of why the Pharisee went away ‘Not being justified” in the parable, even though he did all the right things publicly.   

The second reading brings up an interesting contrast, one that helps us to understand true humility.  Paul claims a crown of righteousness based on successfully performing his Mission.  Paul was imprisoned at the time, and that meant his days were numbered.  Is Paul’s claim of righteousness the same as the Pharisee’s self righteous prayer?  Decidedly not.  You see, Paul’s actions were all about serving other people, not himself.  Paul wasn’t concerned about fine dress, taking the high places accorded to those who were successful and taking credit himself for appearing to live according to the law.  Paul was concerned about God’s will for him- preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles; and he did that with vigor.   He didn’t have a home, but traveled and lived on the run.  Paul’s example was one of self-giving, not self absorption.  Paul was looking for that crown in the next world, not this one.  

In CS Lewis’ story “The Great Divorce” the narrator discovers a ravishingly beautiful woman being treated like a queen when he tours heaven.  He discovers that the woman was a poor maid in her worldly life.  She spent her life where God had planted her, scrubbing floors, tending children, serving others.  But in all that time, she prayed constantly to her God- and kept the Faith.  She had a relationship with God.  She humbled herself, and as promised, she was glorified in the end.