Key to encountering love is to ask for it
Oftentimes during our lives, we may look at the world through the lens of our egos. The view we have of the world and even ourselves becomes distorted and our prayer misdirected.
Jesus offers us a cautionary parable warning us of the spiritual danger this type of vision can cause.
The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable offers thanks to God for his own good qualities and success. He truly is overwhelmed by his own goodness and righteousness rather than being overwhelmed by the goodness and righteousness of God.
His ego gets in the way of any real encounter with God and sullies his prayer. He sets himself apart from his neighbor and prays a prayer of self-love. His spiritual arrogance and blindness inhibit God’s ability to truly heal or transform him. Thus he leaves the temple unjustified.
True and effective prayer demands a humble disposition. The posture of the tax collector exhibits this perfectly. He solely seeks mercy for his many deeds of impropriety. The Pharisee contrasts his virtues against the sinfulness of the tax collector, while the tax collector contrasts his own sinfulness against the virtuousness of God. Through his humble prayer he is overwhelmed by the grace and mercy of God’s love for him and thus he leaves the temple justified.
The penitential rite that begins each Mass recalls the humble prayer of the tax collector. During this sacred moment, we acknowledge our sins before God, calling upon his mercy so we can encounter him in the holy Eucharist.
We also remember his words when we enter the confessional, admitting our sins and allowing the healing words of absolution to wash over us and bathe us in his mercy and forgiveness.
Who do you identify with best in Jesus’ parable? Do you view the world through the lens of your own self-righteousness like the Pharisee or are you more aware of your sins like the tax collector? Either way, we all are in need of his mercy, whether we know it or not. We all need to encounter his love. The key is to ask for it.
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." (Jesus Prayer)
Father Walter Nolte is pastor of St. Bernard Parish in Omaha. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.