Grace to you!
What is the true spirit of prayer? Is it holiness of life? Using the right words? Praying in the Spirit? What’s your opinion?
Jesus told the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14) to show the true spirit of prayer.
The story speaks to recurrent situations in our everyday spiritual life. Don’t we, from time to time, meet people who are very self-centered? They are the people this parable addresses. If we hastily jump to the conclusion that “I am not one of those” without thinking through this bible message, we are likely wrong.
Who are the self-centered people and why are their prayers not answered?
They are those who are self-serving. The Pharisee thought of God as one who serves his needs. Sometimes, we tend to assume God is to serve our needs. We call this functional prayer-life comparable to magic.
Secondly, the self-centered are people who believe they are self-sufficient and don’t need help. Scripture, speaking about the Pharisee, says he “prayed to himself” (vs. 11). His prayer was to himself and not to God.
Thirdly, they are those who are self-righteous. They suppose they are good enough for God to accept them. Self-righteousness can also manifest in a subtle way through scrupulosity. It makes us assume that our “perfect” practices of good works and prayer-routine matters more than our deep need for God and his mercy.
Finally are those who despise others, the “I am better than another” mindset. It is a feeling of spiritual superiority over others. Any time we feel a sense of spiritual superiority because of our claimed knowledge of the faith or our practice of virtues, we may have, unwittingly, become like the Pharisee in this story.
Note the central message here. The prideful, self-serving, self-righteous and despiteful prayer was not answered. Instead, Jesus spoke of the prayer of the Tax Collector, a public sinner, with justifying tenderness because he prayed to God with true humility and a contrite heart.
Thus, the right disposition to prayer is a humble, contrite spirit. Mercy embraces a contrite heart.
As we journey through Lent, let us pray in the words of prophet Hosea: “Come let us return to the Lord” (Hosea 6:1). Remember, “The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those whose spirit is crushed” (Psalm 34:18).
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Saturday, Lent, Week 3: Hosea 6:1-6; Luke 18:9-14]
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.