Every person’s life is a journey. We start out as babies and grow into our true selves. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we realize that our “selves” aren’t really ours, they belong to God. The question is, do we want ourselves to unite with God when our time on Earth is over, or do we spend our lives trying to keep our true selves to ourselves?
In today’s Gospel, Luke tells us Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The interesting thing is both men know their true selves, and they both speak it in their prayers. The Pharisee says he is not greedy, dishonest or adulterous. He fasts and pays his tithes. His examination of conscience determines he does what he is supposed to do.
The tax collector, on the other hand, prays simply that he is a sinner and begs for God’s mercy. He keeps his distance and cannot look up to heaven, in his shame and sorrow. He beats his breast, not from pride but from remorse. He prays, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
The contrast between the two is obvious. The Pharisee takes his position, which would lead one to believe he has earned an assigned spot. Then Jesus says something that I believe is very deliberate: The Pharisee “spoke this prayer to himself.” Jesus did not say he prayed to God. The Pharisee spoke the prayer to himself. And suddenly we know that Jesus is speaking directly to us. Do we pray? Or do we pray to God?
Take as an example the Our Father, the prayer that Jesus taught us. We learn it at a young age, and we pray it often. But all too often I ask myself — or, probably more accurately, the Holy Spirit gives me a poke — am I praying these beautiful, meaningful words from our Lord, or am I just reciting them because I know the words by heart? God have mercy on me!
In our First Reading, Hosea might be talking to Ephraim and Judah, but he’s speaking to me: “Your piety is like a morning cloud, like the dew that early passes away”. I have every intention of being holy, but as the day wears on, that holiness burns off, not because of what happens during the day, but because of my reaction to it. When there is conflict or criticism or distress, I can choose the holy path, but do I? O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
As we continue our Lenten journey, we must remain diligent. We try to deny things from our lives in a spirit of repentance, but that can’t be the whole story. God desires love, not sacrifice. So if we’re giving things up to free our hearts of them, we need to fill our hearts with something else, and that is love. Then, the sacrifice has meaning and worth, because a heart has changed.
Our faith, of course, is a big part of life’s journey. Communion with God is a process. The goal, the destination, is obviously to be with God in heaven, but so often we stray from the proper path. What better time and place to start over, to recommit our faith to being with God, than right here and right now? Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Reading 1 Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95 King Nebuchadnezzar said:“”Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,that you will not serve my god,or worship the golden statue that I set up?Be ready…
Saint of the Day
Saint Ludovico of Casoria
The first part of Saint Ludovico of Casoria’s life was somewhat “ordinary,” but not the second. Having had what he called a mystical experience, he began establishing institutions for all kinds of people in need. He even founded two religious communities.