I don’t know about you, but prayer is easy; it’s the practice of prayer that I can find myself struggling at. Knowing that prayer characterizes the Christian experience, I can feel quite guilty because of the sporadic nature of my prayer and frustrated because my requests never seem to receive answers or results. (I’m still waiting on the Lotto win!) I often feel praying is reserved for a certain type of Christian that has a special aptitude for it, like those who can sing or speak in public. Many priests and ministers find it difficult to talk about prayer because they are often too aware of their shortcomings and that they have relegated prayer to a priority secondary to social or charitable activities. However, even with all these shortcomings, one never gives up!
Prayer is the predominant theme in Luke’s Gospel. Communion with God lies at the heart of discipleship and faith can be defined in terms of perseverance in prayer.
With the contrast between the Pharisee and the tax collector we can already anticipate who is the good guy and who is the bad in this situation. The Pharisee’s prayer, while in the form of thanksgiving, is really requesting God to confirm that he “is not like other people” and that his rigorous piety is exceptional. There is also an arrogance in his comparison to others that are less religious than himself. Sadly, the Pharisee never gets beyond himself in his prayer.
The key to understanding this type of prayer can be found in contrast to the prayer of the tax collector. The tax collector puts himself in a position of contrition and remorse. He stands at a distance; he cannot bring himself to look up towards heaven and he pounds his chest in deep anguish. The tax collector is clearly aware of the divine judgement of the gap that exists between himself and God. He throws himself at the mercy God. God, in turn, accepts his prayer.
We can learn from both examples. From the Pharisee: to avoid piety that separates us from others, and arrogance from a perceived position of superiority. From the Tax Collector: offers a simple petition, that wasn’t a long list of failures, from the heart he calls out “God be merciful to me”.
Today is Mission Sunday. We offer our prayers and financial resources for the ongoing mission of the Church beyond our borders.
Today is also important to the people of Hungary who on the 23rd October 1956 rebelled against Communist control. My father, with many others, left their homeland for freedom. We continue to pray, in solidarity, with all refugees that they, like Dad, will find a home.
Fr Stephen Berecz