30 Sunday C -Humility-Homilies

Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration
 
Today we are going to reflect on self-knowledge and humility. By gathering here in public we are telling the world that we take the need to profess faith in God seriously; we are saying we are people with a definite way of life, that we have taken up the cross of discipleship. But without humble awareness of our faults and our need of God’s mercy, we could be deceiving ourselves. Let us ask the Spirit to enlighten our minds that we might know our failings, and to give us the humility to ask for mercy.
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Michel de Verteuil
 
General Textual comments

General Comments
This Sunday’s gospel reading is in three sections
- verse 9, introduction to the parable
- verses 10 –14a, the parable
- verse 14b, general saying of Jesus.
As always with gospel passages we are free either to focus on the sections independently or to see the connection between them so that each one serves as a guide for interpreting the others.
This is particularly true for verse 14b. It occurs twice in St Luke’s gospel which indicates that it was a favourite saying of Jesus, or of the early Church. We are in line with the movement of the passage then if we choose to meditate on it separately but it is also essential for a correct interpretation of the parable.
The parable of the Pharisee and the Publican is one of the great parables of Jesus, one that has affected the consciousness of people in every age.  It is also one of the best known of the parables, and this can be a disadvantage for meditation: we are so accustomed to the story that our imaginations are dulled, and we read it superficially and abstractly. We must watch every word, therefore, and enter into the concreteness of the story, so that it can touch us as if we were reading it for the first time.
Unlike last week’s parable which focused on the widow alone, this week’s presents us with two characters, the Pharisee (story of sin) and the publican (story of grace) and they are of equal importance. We (or others we have known) have lived both stories as individuals, but we have also lived them as communities – Church, ethnic groups, nations and cultures. The human family as a whole has been both Pharisee and publican.
 Our meditation then will lead to two responses:
- ask God’s mercy for the sin
- celebrate the grace.
We are also free to see a link between the two stories, and interpret the parable as tracing the journey from sin to grace. Consciousness of this journey will lead us to humble thanksgiving and also to petition that we (and others) will continue to make the journey.
At first glance the passage is a teaching about prayer but, as we saw with last week’s passage “prayer” in the Bible includes all our deep attitudes – toward God, life, ourselves, one another, nature – and we must not restrict the scope of the passage. Like all gospel passages it is “catholic” teaching, applicable to life at every level – spiritual growth, personal relationships, the workplace,  politics, international trade, etc.
Verse 9:  “Jesus spoke this parable” must be read creatively. Jesus has many ways of “speaking parables”:
- a teacher (friend, neighbour, fellow worker, member of our family) teaches us a lesson;
- we meet an actual Pharisee or publican at home, in Church, or at work;
- some humiliation reveals to us how much we have the spirit of the Pharisee; the terrorist attacks of September 11 are an obvious example.
The parable. As I explained above, both characters are of equal importance in this parable. You are free then to choose which of the two you want to focus on at this particular moment. Focusing on both at the same time is impossible if you are working through your imagination. You can combine the two in your meditation but must still take one at a time.
Who am I
The Pharisee. Ironically, it is easy to fall into the trap of reading the parable self-righteously. You will avoid this in two ways
- by recognizing yourself in the Pharisee;
- by finding him a person you can sympathies with; if you see him only negatively, you are reading the parable self-righteously.
In fact the Pharisee of the parable is generally the kind of person we would consider “good”. The text gives no indication that he was a hypocrite, as many Pharisees were. According to the text, he was upright and faithful to his religious duties. His two sins (they are always linked, both in the Bible and in real life) were that
- he did not humble himself (omission)
- he looked down on others (commission).
Remember a time when Jesus made you aware that (perhaps subtly) you, your community, or your family were taking pride in your high moral standards. He could have done this in different ways, some of them unexpected:
- one of your children or some member of the Church community criticized you,
- you found yourself committing a sin you never thought you would,
- a failure showed you that you were not as efficient as you thought you were.
However it happened, you celebrate the moment of grace.
The Publican. He too must be correctly interpreted. In Christian spirituality, he is often represented as someone without self-esteem. Jesus could not have presented us with such a role model; this would go against his entire teaching. We avoid this false interpretation by reading this section in the light of verse 14b. We identify the publican with people we admire deeply, whom we have “exalted” – parents, community leaders, entrepreneurs whose greatness is grounded in humility. They are self-confident but have no illusions about themselves and therefore do not despise others; they “dare not raise their eyes to heaven”, but do not grovel.
Verse 14b. Beware of reading this verse in the abstract. Enter into its movement, so that you feel
- the sadness of the first part: how sad that this person (or movement) had so much potential and then fell so low!
- the triumph of the second part: how wonderful that this person who had fallen so low rose so high!
Feel, too, the contrast between the two outcomes (taking one at a time as I explained for the Pharisee and the publican) each one highlighting the other. We should not rejoice that the proud are humbled, only feel sadness at what might have been if the publican had been true to his best self. 
The saying is expressed in the passive voice – “will be humbled”, “will be exalted”. In the Bible these passives are often an act of respect for the transcendence of God but in fact refer to God’s actions – “God will humble”, “God will exalt”. We see the same thing in the petitions of the Our Father: “hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done” are calls on God to intervene in the world. Our meditation here can be a celebration of God (and godly people) seeking out the lowly and “exalting” them. The expressions “exalt himself” and humble himself” will then be interpreted in the light of the Father exalting Jesus as explained in Philippians 2:6-11. It is important to give a correct interpretation to the future tenses “will be humbled” and “will be exalted”.  They can refer to the next life, but on condition that they are based on present experience. Our experience of the lowly being exalted points to (and promises) their final exaltation at the end of time.

Reflection
As we know, Paul paid the ultimate price for his fidelity to the gospel. He was beheaded in Rome during the persecution undertaken by the Emperor Nero. That he died in this way, surrounded by an outpouring of hate and fear stirred up by a mad ruler, makes his last writing all the more poignant. Paul is the embodiment of the humble man as defined by Sirach: ‘The man who with his whole heart serves God will be accepted.’ He was never distracted from his task, never concerned for his own well being or position. He simply wanted to be true to the good news that Jesus had revealed to him. That makes him a model Christian for all ages. But if we feel we cannot hope to be another Paul we could do worse than model ourselves on the tax collector in the parable.
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Sean Goan
Gospel Notes-1

 Last week’s parable on prayer emphasised the need for perseverance but now, with another wonderful parable, Jesus speaks about another aspect of prayer. The introduction to the parable explains its purpose because we are told it was addressed to people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else. Two very different individuals are then described in the story: the Pharisee and the tax collector. The former is doubtless a person of virtue and he is probably telling the truth about all the good he does. Likewise the tax collector was no doubt a sinner as it was common practice for them to make money by means of extortion. So what are we to learn from them? The first man is so full of himself that there is no room for God. The other man humbly acknowledges his deep need and goes home changed. For our prayer to be real, we need to come before God with empty hands.

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 Gospel Notes-2
This parable is only found in Luke, and is one of those few parables whose key point can still be readily grasped. We are all in need of mercy from God, and everyone needs to approach God with humility.
There are, however, two common blunders in interpreting this parable.
Unmasking
First, t is because of this parable that the Pharisees get an undeserved and unintended ‘bad press’ in the tradition of preaching. It is often read it is as if a Pharisee is there because that group was intrinsically hypocritical — hence in common parlance the descriptions of hypocrite and Pharisee are interchangeable. The meaning is thereby obscured: a Pharisee is chosen precisely because they formed a group who took the demands of the Law seriously. What is wrong is not that the man is a Pharisee or that he did those good actions, but that all that goodness was set at naught by a wrong attitude. The same is true of the Tax Collector — it is his attitude that brings mercy, not that God is indifferent to the practices of the tax collectors in the ancient world. To see the effects of this shift in interpretation it is interesting to read the text replacing ‘a nun’ for the word ‘Pharisee’, and ‘a drug pusher’ for ‘tax collector’.
 
Second, regular prayer, regular fasting, and definite alms giving — what the Pharisee boasts about — were seen as the three characteristic practices needed in the early church to train oneself as a disciple. It is against this church practice that we should view these activities. The message is not that these are simply externals of no consequence or simply ‘add ons’ or ‘optional extras’. Rather, these form the basis for real, lived discipleship, but that must be animated by humility and sorrow for sin. Luke’s audience already knew that they had to pray and fast and provide for the poor; this tale would have reminded them that the performance of the task was not enough, for the Lord also looked at the heart.
 
Homily Notes
 
1. We live in an image-laden world. We talk about organisations getting a ‘new image’. Political parties employ ‘spin doctors.’ Products and companies are ‘re-branded.’ Advertising can change our buying habits, our perceptions of ourselves, our bodies, our politics, and even our religions. In a world of constant’ communications’ there is a premium on being able to make things appear genuine, attractive, wholesome, and good. And for many that is the key demand: appearance. It might be good, but it must appear good; it might not be all its cracked up to be, but so long as it is branded properly and marketed well, then who cares? A newspaper owner once said that when legend replaces fact, then print legend. Another told his editor that selling papers was his business, not news. This is the world of the lie, where reality is in the background and perception is all that matters.
2. We as believers in a Creator have the task of challenging the lie: reality is our business because it comes from God and will return to God, and we shall be asked about our stewardship.
3. Getting behind appearance is, however, always difficult, and it always has been. We have to constantly pull ourselves up and have a reality check. We have to pinch ourselves to make sure that we see beneath the glittering images that strike our senses and which can deceive us. This is the wisdom cap­tured in the proverb, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ – alas, most of us do just that more often than we like to admit and this is proven by the fact that giving a book ‘hype’ works time and again.
4. This task of not being taken in by illusions that we know is important in our everyday lives: we do not want to be fooled, conned, or cheated. But it is also a Christian task for we proclaim the Christ to be the truth. Taking issue with hype and deception is part of our witness to the truth. Making sure that we are not engaged in deceptions is a basic of Christian discipleship.
5. This gospel challenges us at several levels.
First, there is the world of icons and brands. The very model of the devout follower of the Law is the Pharisee. The very model of the ‘bad guy’ is the tax collector. In the world of stereotypes and images we are to admire the first and con­demn the second. But God acts at the level of truth, not the level of stereotypes and manufactured expectations.
Second, there is the contrast between external religiosity and a genuine desire to have a relationship with God. The two should go together, but just as a brand may have high appeal and not be the genuine article, so too with religion. But God does not dwell at the level of external and human display. Third, there is the contrast between self-deception and self­knowledge. We can so easily con ourselves into believing our own propaganda without being aware of our faults and needs. We are all in need of greater integrity and of God’s
mercy.
6. We claim to be the people of ‘The Way’, we claim to follow ‘the way, the truth, and the life’. This is a call to integrity, self­knowledge, and humility: these are not virtues that come naturally to us as beings who love our senses. But these are the virtues that will bring us life with God.

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J in Gethsem

Scripture Reflection

 The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
….Solzhenitsyn
Lord, we thank you for those who like Jesus
remind us that we can never pride ourselves on being virtuous,
and that we cannot afford to despise anyone.
Faith is to accept the fact that I am accepted in my total unacceptability.”  Paul Tillich
Lord, when we come into your presence,
help us to be conscious of our sinfulness
so that we recognize how we are in fact grasping, unjust, adulterous,
like all human beings, no different from the sinners we see before us;
and help us to know that our fasting and the tithes we pay
are not worth mentioning.
Then lead us to the deeper level where we are content to stand at a distance from you,
not daring to raise our eyes to you,
but beating our breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
When we have made that inner journey
we go home knowing that we are at rights with you.
“The only real prayer is the one in which we are no longer aware that we are praying.”
…St Anthony
Lord, once we start making a fuss about our prayers,
we find we start talking about good deeds and pointing fingers at people.
Teach us to keep our prayer simple,
       – standing at a distance so that we do not draw attention to ourselves;
       – not daring to raise our eyes lest we disturb you;
       – beating our breasts because we do not feel to look down on anyone.
Those who know their own weakness are greater than those who have seen the angels.” 
 Isaac of Nineveh, Syrian monk of the 7th century
Lord, many people feel burdened by guilt,
imagining that you are angry because they have no good deeds
for which they can stand in the temple and thank you.
Send them Jesus to remind them that if they stay right where they are
and ask for your mercy they will go home at rights with you.
Lord, there are many things which divide people today:
race, culture, education, work.
How sad it is that our worship of you should also divide us.
Going to the temple should be a moment when we do not dare
to raise our eyes to look down on anyone,
but just beat our breasts and say, “God, be merciful to us sinners.”
Our knowledge of God is paradoxically not a knowledge of Him as the object of our scrutiny, but of ourselves as utterly dependent on his saving and merciful knowledge of us.” Thomas Merton
Lord, we thank you for moments when we feel no desire to raise our eyes,
because we do not want to understand or even to question you,
only to experience that you are merciful to us sinners.
Lord, self-righteousness is very insidious.
Even when we try hard to avoid it,
we find that we are self-righteous about our spiritual progress.
We thank you for spiritual guides who, like Jesus,
can perceive the subtle ways in which we pride ourselves on being virtuous
and despise everyone else.
Lord, forgive us that as a Church we are like the Pharisee,
proud that we are virtuous and despising all other Churches,
reminding ourselves of their faults, which we avoid,
and of the good things we achieve.
Be merciful to us sinners.
Lord, we pray for Church leaders and political leaders.
They make great efforts to impress us
by telling us of the faults they avoid and the great things they do,
whereas they are never more at rights with us
than when they ask us to forgive them their sins.
“What worries me … is the growing invisibility of the poor.” Timothy Radcliffe, Master General of the Dominican Order
Lord, our modern world glorifies those who have made it in life –
their faces are always on television, their names in the headlines,
and as a Church we often follow this trend.
Help us to focus rather on exalting the humble.
“I rejoice, my brothers and sisters, that our Church is persecuted for its efforts of incarnation in the interests of the poor.”    …Archbishop Romero
Lord, we pray that your Church may seek only the exaltedness
which Jesus promised to those who make themselves one with the lowly.
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HOMILIES
Fr. John Speekman - 1
 
What do you see when you look in the mirror - success or failure, humility or pride, saint or sinner? God sees exactly what there is to be seen but for us it’s not so easy. God’s eyes are clear and can see within us, into our very souls. The eyes of our souls are dulled and damaged by Original Sin and so we see things more as we are than as things are.
Still, there is hope for us; our eyes can be healed. God has given us an antidote to blindness, a simple antidote called prayer. Last week Jesus spoke of it again and told us it should be persistent and full of hope.
Persistent prayer is daily prayer, like the course of antibiotics we take for infections, not skipping a single day for utmost effectiveness - hopeful, with that mysterious confidence prayer gives that the good God is fully aware of our needs.
And our damaged eyes certainly do need to be healed, and so do our wounded hearts. To realise this is already an enormous grace. It is then we seek out the Lord with some degree of fervour; we go looking for him – at Mass, in  the scriptures, in the prayer room, in the Rosary. Our lives become a kind of adventurous ‘tracking down’ of the God who so ardently desires to be found.
On this journey we have three classic enemies – the world, the flesh, and the devil. We know all about them. In all sorts of ways, subtle and obvious, they try to lead us away from the one who calls us. And then there is the ever present, never sleeping ego.
The ego gobbles up everything and turns them to its own ends – and its ends are always to paper the interior walls of our self esteem with false images which give us a false sense of worth and a false resemblance to God. I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.
The Pharisee’s ego had so distorted his image of self that his very prayer was a lie. As he stood in the Temple confidently sharing his self-deception with God he was sadly wasting his time and sinking deeper into sin. His prayer didn’t work; God rejected it.
The Pharisee’s prayer was a lie but he didn’t know it. He  wasn’t who he thought he was. His prayer was dreadful, awful, horrible – like some of those offerings presented at auditions for X-Factor or Australian Idol. Red Symons would surely have gonged him out after a few words because they did not harmonise with the ugly melody his life was singing.
For us there is a lesson here. Prayer is not word-driven. Pope Francis re-affirmed this only a few days ago. Prayer gets its power not from the number or cleverness of our words but from the sincerity of our hearts and the truth of our lives. You just can’t sing the words of the Halleluiah Chorus to the tune of Amazing Grace. It won’t work.
The Pharisee invited God to share his lies about himself. God did not accept the invitation.
But he did accept the invitation of the poor sinner who lived in the truth of his own sinfulness and asked God for mercy. Indeed, the humble man’s prayer pierces the clouds; and as the gospel tells us, this poor sinner: went home again at rights with God.
Well, there you are. Two men went up to the temple to present themselves to the Lord, much like we are doing today. We stand here before God just as they did all those years ago and we speak to him just as they did. What are we saying to him; how do we see ourselves – saint or sinner?
The Pharisees compared himself first to ‘the rest of mankind’ and then to ‘this tax collector here’. We Catholics have only the mirror of Church teaching in which to truly see ourselves and by which to judge ourselves. It is a mirror of utmost clarity shining with the splendour of absolute truth. It will not deceive the humble man or woman who dares to gaze into it.
The proud, of course, have other mirrors, more flattering, more sympathetic to their failures. Here Church teaching is reflected in a kindlier light, without those nasty obligations or demands. Here Christ does not command, he simply invites, and the invitation is always to ‘niceness’ rather than holiness.

Today we all stand before the Lord. He sees each one separately, he knows each of us by name. He bids us come close. How shall we speak to him? What shall we say to him?
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ACP -2
 
A Humbled Heart

Opposites Attract: In marriage and other human relationships we often notice how two unlike personalities complement each other, like the positive and negative sides of a magnetic field. One partner shows a natural flair for leadership and the other is happy to follow that lead, at least in many areas. Among ourselves, the taking of initiatives will be shared back and forth of course, neither partner being fully passive with respect to the other; but with God there is only one proper relationship: he is the powerful giver and we the dependent receivers.

This weakness on our side, this dependency towards our Creator and Father, is in fact our way to peace. As Paul so clearly saw: “when I am weak, then am I strong; I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (2 Cor. 12:10; Phil. 4:13.) The apostles attributed all their abilities and successes (cures, conversions) to the power of God, working through them. Only when we are humble in God’s presence can he do great things in us – as Our Lady so well declares, “He casts the mighty from their thrones and exalts the lowly.”
Why Humility? People often feel awkward about regarding humility as a virtue at all. Is it really a good thing to feel small? Or does it harm our ego and our self-confidence. Perhaps the word “humble” is too often misused, applied without much thought to dwellings that are shoddy or neglected, to efforts that are half-hearted failures and to characters who adopt a pose of false modesty in order to win approval.
Genuine humillity is nothing more nor less than recognizing our inward truth. It is seeing ourselves at a profound level, in God’s presence, with no pretences and no poses. Every individual in the presence of the All-Holy, All-Powerful God comes to recognize himself/herself as weak, imperfect and indeed sinful; and with this comes a deep sense of our need for mercy. In this situation, there is no bribe that we can offer, to distract God’s attention from our guilt. There is no pressure we can exert (as we might among ourselves) in order to gain a credit we do not deserve. The only resource that really helps is a humble spirit; only this incentive draws down on us divine mercy and the grace we need for good living. The Publican felt this need for complete honesty, as he stood in the Temple of God. “Lord, be merciful,” he said; and went home with his sins forgiven and with relief in his heart.
Virtue Spoilt By Pride: But tell me, what’s wrong with this Pharisee, if anything? In many ways he leads an admirable life and gives good example within the Jewish tradition. If we accept his own version of himself, he kept all the rules, from fasting and almsgiving to honesty and purity. There was real effort there, an admirable commitment to holiness, within his tradition. But this all caused him to forget that he remained weak and sinful, like other people. His reputed holiness becomes the centre of his prayer. He goes so far as to despise others, while giving thanks for his own good qualities. And by this attitude, he spoils the effect of his other virtues. Pride is like a worm, destroying the apple at its core. Indeed, it turns him from speaking to God, to talking about himself. His prayer dies.
Collective Pharisaism? Can we apply this warning to our personal attitude, towards God and towards others? Do we Catholics sometimes take a stance of collective pride, towards those who don’t belong to our Church. Of course, we rightly regard ours as the fullest expression of Christ’s Church and maintain that Catholicism defends moral standards, a vigorous liturgical life and a visible world-wide unity among believers. And we should be thankful for these things and want to share them with all who are searching for the truth. But isn’t there also a niggling temptation to look down on other churches, to disparage their values or under-rate the sincerity of their members? We must guard against any narrow, self-righteous Catholicism and keep up that respect for other Christian communities that was promoted by our last Church Council. Leave God to judge the merits of other persons and their faiths. It is enough for us to trust in his mercy, recognise our own imperfections and place our hope in the merits of Crist, applied to us through his holy sacrifice.
The Great Achievers: There is a tradition in rural Ireland for men to congregate at the back of the church during Sunday Mass. In the recent past, it was customary for them to take off their caps, place them on the floor and kneel on them on one knee. Generations of peevish parish priests thundered at them from the altar, in an effort to eradicate the custom. But this was one battle the parish priests of Ireland lost. I don’t know when it originated. It has been suggested, with some plausibility, that it derived from the penal times when there were no churches. The Mass-houses and cabin-chapels were small primitive buildings, providing shelter only for the priest and a handful of the faithful. The men remained outside, exposed to the elements, leaving to women and children whatever shelter was available.

Pharisee and Tax Collector

If we could get this story into my heart, we would be helped enormously in our grasp and practice of the gospel. It spells out how to come before God and how not to come before God.
A newly commissioned colonel had just moved into his office, when a private entered with a toolbox. To impress the private, the colonel said “be with you in a moment, soldier! I just got a call as you were knocking.” Picking up the phone, the colonel said “General, it’s you! How can I help you?” A dramatic pause followed. Then the colonel said “No problem. I’ll phone Washington and speak to the President about it.” Putting down the phone, the colonel said to the private “Now, what can I do for you?” The private shuffled his feet and said sheepishly, “Oh, just a little thing, sir. They sent me to hook up your phone’!
My generation were given all the rules and regulations and we were told to remain faithful to those and not deviate in any way and that we would so merit heaven. The religion I had growing up was to keep people from going to hell. Spirituality, on the other hand, is the only thing that frees those who have already been in hell. – Ask anybody in recovery from addictions, compulsions, etc. Religion is about externals, it’s what we do and it’s about control. Spirituality, on the other hand, is what God does, it is internal and it’s about surrender.
But the way to holiness is to discover that I’m a bigger sinner than I ever thought I was! The closer I come to God, the more obvious the sin is. It is a long journey from the Pharisee at the front to the Publican at the back. It is a journey of repentance and of facing up to the truth. It is a journey that Life will provide if I have the courage and honesty to find it. If I still think that I should be still up at the front with the Pharisee, then my life will be riddled with guilt and I will never find peace.
The Publican knew his place before God. God is the Creator, I am the creature. I am a sinner, Jesus is Saviour. Unlike the Pharisee, I have no right to compare myself to anyone else. All judgement is to be left to God. I can look at the most hardened criminal and say “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” I have no reason to boast whatever. I could have been born to any parents, in any country, at any time. I did not select my sexuality, the colour of my skin, or my religious beliefs. With total conviction, I can stand before God and pray “Oh, God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
Check your own attitude before God. It is like going out into the back garden on a warm sunny day, lying back in a deckchair and getting a suntan. The only thing you did was to make yourself available; the sun did all the rest. Don’t ever over-emphasise the importance of your contribution when you stand before God.
We are all the same when we stand before God!

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Fr Sahaya, sdb -3

A few years ago, I came up with this definition of prayer: “Prayer is becoming aware of who I am in the presence of God.”  I could also consistently explain the different forms of prayers within this definition.  When I become aware of my dependence on God, it is the prayer of intercession.  When I become aware of my sinfulness, I begin the prayer of repentance. When I become aware of what God has done for me, I express it in prayer of praise and thanksgiving.
I was quite fond of using this definition in my retreats with young people.  It was very impressive. But that was until one day. That fine day this beautiful definition was threatened by a question from a young participant.  “Father,” she said, “What is God like in all this?”  The question set me thinking: who is the centre of my prayer?  Who holds the reins in my prayer?  Myself or God? I realised there were too many I’s in my prayer.
In the gospel text of this Sunday, Jesus brings to conclusion his trilogy on prayer: (a) from the story of the grateful Samaritan (who used to be a person with leprosy), Jesus taught us that gratitude, rather than just intercession, offers us a possibility of a personal encounter with God; (b) through the parable of the persistent widow, Jesus taught us to be constant in prayer.  Today we have the third story.  This story invites us to examine our inner attitude in prayer.
The evangelist Luke is a master storyteller.  His stories are not to be taken just for their face value.  To understand the depth of meaning, we need to dig deeper into his narrative style. We might have to pay attention to the final twist in the story. See, for instance, the story of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37), the story of the Unrepentant Son (Lk 15:11-32), and the story that we heard read in the liturgy of today (Lk 18:9-14).
My reflections on the text helped me become aware of five aspects of prayer and spirituality, which I would like to share with you.  These five aspects, I feel, are invitations from God towards deepening my prayer and life. They indicate a process, or a journey, that God invites me to embark on.
From an I-focussed prayer to a God-centred prayer
“The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself…” (Lk 18:11).  Though his prayer begins with the word ‘God’, it seems not to be addressed to God.  Even without running a digital word-frequency count on his prayer, we can notice that his prayer has too many I’s (six, to be precise): “I thank you…; I am not grasping…; I am like this tax collector…; I fast…; I pay tithes….”  The pronoun ‘I’ is the subject of his prayer.
Sometime back, when we were praying the Magnificat – the prayer of Mary during the visitation (Lk 1:46-55) – it seemed to me that Mary was very proud, and I was reminded of the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican.  So I started comparing the two texts.  What I discovered was very uplifting.  In contrast to the prayer of the Pharisee, Mary’s prayer is God-centred.  Almost every clause begins with a ‘He’ (at least nine times); when she refers to herself, it is only as an object of the action of God.  True, Mary feels exalted, but it is because of HIM. It is a similar attitude that we recognise in the prayer of the Tax Collector. He focuses on the mercy of God. He sees himself as the object of God’s mercy.
So, who is the centre of my own prayer?  What is God like in my prayer?
From a wordy prayer to a silent prayer
The second contrast between the prayer of the Pharisee and that of the Tax Collector is that the first prayer is too verbose. The prayer of the Tax collector is brief but deep.  Jesus seems to be consistently sceptical about long vocal prayers.  Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus would say, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and love salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretence make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation” (Lk 20: 46-47, RSV; and the same text in Mk 12:38-40).
Again in Mt 6:7, He says, “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”  He goes on to teach the ‘Our Father’, with the words: “Pray then like this… (Mt 6:9). It is only a model of our own attitude in prayer.
I am not implying that we do not need words in prayer.  We need them, particularly when we are gathered as a community.  Human language brings people together, even in prayer.  However, at a deeper level, am I willing to move beyond words to listening to God in the recesses of my heart?   The movement from words to silence in prayer also signifies a movement from the head to the heart.
From self-justification to being justified by God
The opening sentence of the gospel text of today declares the intention of Jesus: “He spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else…” (Lk 18:9).  The conclusion of the story again reminds us that it is only God who can justify us.
The Pharisee becomes a victim of the cancerous comparison even in prayer.  He justifies himself and despises his neighbour in the temple. The Pharisee is ‘justified’ in condemning the tax collector, given the historical context of that prayer.  Tax-collectors were seen as collaborators with the Roman colonialists. The Pharisee is not able to reject his social prejudices in prayer.  He knows that the tax-collector wields greater power in the social realm, but the he prides himself that he has an edge over him in the religious realm.  But he was mistaken. He went one step too far – he exalts himself even above the rest of humanity. By judging the inner life of others, the Pharisee makes himself a god.  Therefore, at the end of the story the tables are turned.  It was the tax collector who went home justified. He was justified by God.
Do I spend my time in prayer, putting myself on the throne of judgement, passing condemnation on others?  Am I justifying myself, or am I open to the saving grace of God?
From self-sufficiency to God-necessity
The prayer of thanksgiving offered by the Pharisee subtly hides his pride.  He is actually thanking God for what he is capable of doing for God: “I am not unjust, I fast, I pay tithes…” Originally, the people of Israel were obliged to ‘fast’ only once a year. That was on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29-31; Num 30:13). Later other ‘fasts’ were added around the attack of Nebuchadnezzar (Jer 39:2). But this fasting may not have meant forgoing food, because Dan 10:3 speaks of ‘unleavened bread’, and Deut 16:3 speaks of ‘the bread of affliction’ in connection to fasting. In general, it was referred to as ‘self-affliction’ or ‘humbling of oneself’. It is possible that by the time of the prophets there were greater efforts in fasting, forgetting its original meaning.  Therefore the prophets (Is 58:4-7; Jer 52:4; Mal 3:14) warn the people ofIsraelto return to the original spirit of the law: to humble oneself before God!
The Pharisee, in the story of today, “stands there” reminding God that he fasts twice a week.  He seems to imply that he does not need to beg the mercy of God. He has done enough to automatically merit it.  Instead of his fast being an act of ‘self-humiliation’, it becomes a reason for his pride.  Pride is an attitude of living in an illusion about ourselves.  Pride is a false belief that I don’t need God: God is for the weak and the poor!  This is the pride of the contemporary world.
The word ‘humility’, on the other hand, is related to the Latin word ‘humus’, which means, ‘earth’.  So humility could mean lowering ourselves to the ground.  That is what the Tax Collector does: “he stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven…” (Lk 18:13). Humility also reminds us that we need God, as much as we need the earth to stand on.
From a doing-spirituality to a being-spirituality
This takes us to the last point of our reflection.  Yes, the Pharisee scores very high on practices of piety and good works. But his spiritual ‘activities’ could become the source of his fall. They deceive him.  The Pharisee is not able to listen to the God who invites him to just BE in His Holy Presence.
Am I willing to BE in the presence of God, or am I busy DOING many things for God – even in prayer?  Doing exaggerates the role of human efforts in experiencing God. Being, on the contrary, opens me up to His grace.
So what then is true prayer?  Prayer is becoming aware of HE WHO IS – God!

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ILLUTRATIONS:

The famous actor Gregory Peck was once standing in line with a friend, waiting for a table in a crowded Los Angeles restaurant. They had been waiting for some time, the diners seemed to be taking their time eating and new tables weren't opening up very fast. They weren't even that close to the front of the line. Peck's friend became impatient, and he said to Gregory Peck, "Why don't you tell the maitre d' who you are?" Gregory Peck responded with great wisdom. "No," he said, "if you have to tell them who you are, then you aren't."

That's a lesson that the Pharisee in our gospel reading apparently had never learned. His prayer, if it can be called that, is largely an advertisement for himself. He's selling himself to God. Little wonder that Luke describes him in the way he does, "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself." That's a very apt description, isn't it -- he prayed with himself. He would have done better had he had Gregory Peck there to whisper in his ear that if he had to remind God who he was, then he wasn't.

The tax collector, on the other hand, didn't have to tell God who he was. He knew who he was and he knew that God knew who he was. His prayer is not an exercise in self-promotion, but a confession and a plea for mercy. He is not selling himself, but opening himself. And Jesus says, "It is this man who went home justified." To be justified means to be declared "not guilty." It means to be declared right. The tax collector is declared to be in the right relationship to God while the Pharisee, who is so certain of his own righteousness, is shown to be in the wrong relationship with God. He is not justified before the bar of God's justice which is the court of ultimate consequence.

We hasten to add, however, that this does not mean that the Pharisee was a bad person and the tax collector really a good person. There's no suggestion of that in this parable...  

Who doesn't like an "attaboy!" when they do something good? It's why we have "honor society" in school. It is the reason we have scholarship awards as we head into college. "Attaboy!" stands behind all those accolades high achievers get throughout life - Rhode's scholarships, purple hearts, Silver stars, gold statues, merit raises for school teachers, making partner in a big firm, getting re-elected (in any organization, at any level). "Attaboys!" reward the gracious, good, above-and-beyond behaviors we see in others. Good persons deserve good things.  

The problem is that our vision of "good behavior" can get extremely myopic, extremely near-sighted. We only are able to see the good in those who stand closest to us. Those far off become, if not "bad," at least "other." "Otherness" is perhaps the most insidious form of prejudice. Why? Because "otherness" makes close closed. "Otherness" disassociates our close family and other loved ones from outsiders and strangers. As soon as we identify some people as "others," the game is over. We have drawn up "us" vs. "them" battle-lines. 

In this week's gospel parable the good-living, well-meaning Pharisee and the ne'r-do-well tax collector are set up as ideal types of the "acceptable" vs. the "other." The contrast could not be sharper. The Pharisee examines himself, and finds no fault with himself. The tax collector lets God examine him, and throws himself on the bar of God's justice (receiving mercy as God does). Ironically, the Pharisee treats God as a debt collector and the Tax collector, who IS a debt collector, treats God as a Savior...

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Loneliness 

The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence. 

Thomas Wolfe
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The Law and the Gospel

The primary purpose of the Law is, like a mirror, to teach man the true knowledge of his sin. We see this in the example of the publican.

The publicans were tax-collectors for the Roman imperialists. They were Jews, but were not respected by their people. They were considered traitors and thieves, with some justification.

So the publican did not approach God with pride, demanding what was owed him. On the contrary, he approached the Lord with maximum humility and true repentance. Repentance is essential to receive the forgiveness of sins in Christ. That is why the Law should be preached to unrepentant sinners, but the Gospel to those who are troubled by their sins and terrified of damnation.

The Law demands, threatens and condemns; the Gospel promises, gives and confirms our forgiveness and salvation. God offers forgiveness of sins only in the Good News that we are saved because Christ fulfilled the Law, suffered, died and rose from the dead for us.

So let us draw near to God in humility and repentance, of course, but also in the hope and faith that we are justified through faith, not by works, and that in Christ we are children of God.

David Ernst, By Faith, Not by Works
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Pride


I heard about a fifth grader that came home from school so excited. She had been voted "prettiest girl in the class." The next day she was even more excited when she came home, for the class had voted her "the most likely to succeed." The next day she came home and told her mother she had won a third contest, being voted "the most popular."

But the next day she came home extremely upset. The mother said, "What happened, did you lose this time?" She said, "Oh no, I won the vote again." The mother said, "What were you voted this time?" She said, "most stuck up."

Well this Pharisee would have won that contest hands down. He had an "i" problem. Five times you will read the little pronoun "i" in these two verses. He was stoned on the drug of self. He suffered from two problems: inflation and deflation. He had an inflated view of who he was, and a deflated view of who God was.

His pride had made him too big for his spiritual britches. C. S. Lewis once said, "A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and of course, as long as you are looking down, you can't see something that's above you."

James Merritt, Collected Sermons, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc.
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How Is John Quincy Adams? 

On his eightieth birthday, John Quincy Adams was walking slowly along a Boston street. A friend asked him "How is John Quincy Adams today?" The former president replied graciously, "Thank you, John Quincy Adams is well, sir, quite well, I thank you. But the house in which he lives at present is becoming dilapidated. It is tottering upon the foundations. Time and the seasons have nearly destroyed it. Its roof is pretty well worn out, its walls are shattered, and it trembles with every wind. The old tenement is becoming almost uninhabitable, and I think John Quincy Adams will have to move out of it soon; but he himself is quite well, sir, quite well." That is the attitude we need to cultivate so that when the call home comes we may say with Paul: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." 

Unknown
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An Absolute Standard 

One rabbi said, "If there are only two righteous men in the world, I and my son are these two; if there is only one, I am he!" -Reminds me of two friends talking, one said, "We're the only two honest people left in the world, and sometimes I'm not so sure about you!"

With a human measure, righteousness is relative, you can always find someone better and someone worse. Take the right point of comparison and you feel pretty good about yourself.

A little boy announced to his mother, "I'm like Goliath. I'm 9 feet tall." "Why do you say that?" asked his mother. "Well, I made a little ruler and measured myself with it; I'm 9 feet tall!"

Human standards don't count. The only evaluation that counts is by an absolute standard! The righteousness of God Himself; with that measuring stick, we all come up short!

Lee Compson, Holier Than Who?
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The Race We Are In 

Several years ago, I told you a story about one of my all-time favorite people. Not that I know her, or have even met her. But I admire her. Because one day, at age 42, in beautiful downtown Cleveland, she ran a marathon by accident (all 26 miles, 385 yards of it). Her name was Georgene Johnson. Still is. As you will recall, she lined up with the wrong group at the starting line. Not the 10K group, where she belonged. But the 26 mile group, where she didn't. It wasn't until the four mile mark that she realized her mistake. So she just kept going, finishing the race in four hours and four minutes. But it's what she said later (by way of explanation) that has stayed with me since. Said Georgene: "This isn't the race I trained for. This isn't the race I entered. But, for better or worse, this is the race I'm in." 

Which is true more often than you might think. Relatively few of us are exactly where we figured we'd be....doing exactly what we figured we'd be doing. But we are where we are, and (for better or worse) we're keeping our feet moving. 

William A. Ritter, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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No Black Dots

When Benjamin Franklin was 27 years old, he decided he would take control of his life. He selected 12 virtues he wanted to acquire, and kept a daily chart of his progress in the development of each one. Whenever he missed the mark, he put a black dot beside that virtue. His goal was to ultimately have no dots on the chart. This method contributed to Franklin's success as an inventor, publisher, and statesman. 

Unknown
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The Best Treatment for Loneliness 

Dr. Karl Menninger, the famous American psychiatrist, once gave a lecture on mental health & was answering questions from the audience. One man asked, "What would you advise a person to do if that person felt a nervous breakdown coming on?" Everyone there expected him to answer, "Consult a psychiatrist." To their astonishment he replied: Leave your house, go across the railroad tracks, find someone who is in need, and do something to help that person. 

Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com
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 Are You Really Listening? 

In his book Directions, author James Hamilton shares this insight about listening to God: "Before refrigerators, people used icehouses to preserve their food. Icehouses had thick walls, no windows, and a tightly fitted door. In winter, when streams and lakes were frozen, large blocks of ice were cut, hauled to the icehouses, and covered with sawdust. Often the ice would last well into the summer. 

One man lost a valuable watch while working in an icehouse. He searched diligently for it, carefully raking through the sawdust, but didn't find it. His fellow workers also looked, but their efforts, too, proved futile. A small boy who heard about the fruitless search slipped into the icehouse during the noon hour and soon emerged with the watch.

Amazed, the men asked him how he found it...

"I closed the door,' the boy replied, 'lay down in the sawdust, and kept very still. Soon I heard the watch ticking.' "
Often the question is not whether God is speaking, but whether we are being still enough, and quiet enough, to hear.

— Phillip Gunter Los Alamos, New Mexico
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Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection

1: "Proud about what?"
 
A news reporter once asked Mother Teresa if she had ever been tempted to be proud.  Mother Theresa retorted with a smile, "Proud about what?"  The reporter replied, 'Why, about the wonderful things you have been doing for the poorest of the poor!”  Then came her answer, "I never knew I had done anything, because it was God who worked in and through my Sisters and volunteers.”  True humility differentiates a saint from a sinner.  If we are proud of our talents, our family connections, our reputation, or our achievements in life, today’s Gospel tells us that we need Jesus to rid us of our pride and make us truly humble.

2: “No, Madam, he did not.”
 
William Barclay tells the story of the woman tourist in Germany. The guide took a group through Beethoven's house. He showed them the piano on which the genius had composed his Moonlight Sonata. A woman in the group immediately sat down and played some bars from the sonata. The guide told the group that Padarewski (world renowned Polish pianist and composer) had recently been shown the piano. The woman gushed, "And I wager he sat down and played just as I did." Archly the guide said, "No, Madam. He said he was not worthy to touch those keys."

3: We are all the same when we stand before God:
 
Here is a funny story.  A clergyman had reached the end of his rope, and he decided to try some other way of life that might give him a greater personal satisfaction. He was very disappointed to discover that a job was hard to come by. At last, he landed a job in the local zoo. Unfortunately, when he went there, the job was not exactly available just yet, but the manager asked him to consider taking a temporary job, until the other one was vacant. As it happened the chimpanzee had died, and had not yet been replaced. The chimp was a great favorite with the children, and the cage could not be left empty for long. They had a chimp suit, and the man was asked if he would mind getting into the suit, and taking the place of the chimp. All he’d have to do was to roll around a few times, eat a banana, go back in the back for a rest, etc. He decided to give it a go. He was an instant success. The children gathered around his cage. He soon discovered that he was now getting much more attention than he ever got in the pulpit. One day, he decided to really get into the act. He jumped up, grabbed an overhead bar, and began to swing to and fro, to the delighted screams of the children. He got carried away with himself, and he really began to swing with gusto. Unfortunately, after one huge effort, his hands (paws?) slipped, and he went flying over the partition into the cage next door. A huge tiger approached, and, forgetting that he was supposed to be a chimp, he screamed ‘Help! Help!’, to which the tiger whispered sharply, ‘Shut up, you fool; I’m a minister too!’ We are all the same when we stand before God….! (Jack McArdle in And That’s the Gospel Truth!)

 4: Truly humble of heart:
 
Dorothy Day died in November 1980 at the age of 84. Reporting on her death, the New York Times called her the most influential person in the history of American Catholicism. In her book, From Union Square to Rome, she describes her conversion to Christ. One of her first attractions came in childhood. One day she discovered the mother of one of her girlfriends kneeling in prayer. The sight of this kneeling woman moved her deeply. She never forgot it. In the same book she tells how, in the days before her conversion, she often spent the entire night in a tavern. Then she would go to an early morning Mass at St. Joseph’s Church on Sixth Avenue. What attracted her to St. Joseph’s were the people kneeling in prayer. She writes: “I longed for their faith… So I used to go in and kneel in a back pew.” Eventually Dorothy Day received the gift of faith and entered the Church. (Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies)’