From the Deacon’s Desk: Prayer and Inspirational Thoughts
October 23 – Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“The Lord is a God of justice who knows no favorites.” Really? We hear this in our first reading. But how does that square with the notion that he has a preferential option for the poor? After all, that seems to almost say that he absolutely has favorites. And read further – it says “the one who serves God willingly is heard, his petition reaches the heavens.” BUT “the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest until it reaches its goal.” And our psalm sings out “the Lord hears the cry of the poor.” Clearly the weak, the lowly, the poor have an inside track. So what gives? Jesus gives us a hint in the gospel when he says, “for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Our readings bring together two concepts Jesus has been teaching about over the last few weeks – prayer and humility. Said even better – humility in prayer. God absolutely is fair and he hears the prayers of the rich and righteous just as surely as he hears the prayers of the poor. Last week we learned the importance of persistence in our prayers. This week is all about the intent and quality of our prayer. Prayer is our love relationship and communication with God. He knows our heart and he wants honesty, sincerity, and humility in our prayers. Humility calls us to recognize who God is and who we are in a relationship. It calls us to recognize our dependence on God. All the blessings we have in life are thanks to God and only by his grace. We should not tout them as accomplishments, like the Pharisee does, but rather use them as gifts they are for the benefit of others.
St. Paul reminds us that we will each face struggles in life. No matter how well “we keep the faith” and “run the race”, sin, sickness, evil and death await each of us. It is “the Lord himself who will rescue us from every evil threat and bring us safe to his heavenly kingdom.” WE NEED GOD! We are nothing without him. We are everything to him. Like the tax collector, we should throw ourselves at his mercy and ask his forgiveness. We should recognize our need for him.
Each of us has a choice to make every time we come to God in prayer. Will we be like the Pharisee, giving thanks for all the blessings we have, and ‘remembering’ our obedience to God and all that we do for Him? God doesn’t ignore this prayer – but he waits patiently for us and draws us continually into a more complete prayer – recognizing our true needs and seeking those. Or will we be like the tax collector – coming in humility and asking for mercy for our sinfulness? Those who are weak and lowly already recognize their total dependence on God. They will be exalted because they can teach the righteous acceptance of God’s will and trust in His plan. The Pharisee focuses on himself. Truth be told, I suspect we all have some of the Pharisees in us – I know I do. But God waits for us to place ourselves in God’s hands as the tax collector does. When we do, He will answer us!
As Vincentians, we do many good works. We are generous. We are kind. And we are hopefully patient. But it is easy to sometimes forget that what we do is by the grace of God. Sometimes it is easy to become judgmental. This is why our prayerful reflection with each other, about our visits with those we serve, is so important. It is here that we search out how Christ was present in them and manifested himself to us through them. It is here that we recognize our pride that gets in the way and that we work to wash that pride away by growing in humility. It is through the poor that God gifts us with humility if we will be present to them and to Him. How have your encounters with those in need helped you to pray more like the tax collector and less like the Pharisee?
Lord Jesus, help me to learn humility and faith through the example of the poor. Be merciful to me, a sinner! We pray all of this in your name. Amen