Her Doctrine and Morals

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

29 July 2018


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Dear Friends,

Today's Gospel shows us a parable of two men who went up to the temple to pray. St. Augustine informs us that faith precedes prayer, but that prayer is needed to perfect faith. Those who do not believe in God do not pray, and those who do not pray gradually come to complete loss of faith and soon even deny the existence of God.

When a man was asked by Jesus if he believed, he responded: "Yes, I believe. Help my unbelief." (St. Mark 9:24) Here we see faith preceding prayer, and then prayer obtaining greater faith. The two men in today's parable went up to pray but only one had a petition to put before God. The other, went before God to extoll his personal goodness and glory. As if this were not bad enough, he also went before God to judge his fellow men. For he said, "I thank you, Lord, that I am not like the rest of men." He places himself above all others, and then he places himself above one in particular — the Publican.

It takes humility to know that we need God's help and grace. It is good to be thankful for what He has given us, but it is just as necessary to know what we are lacking in so that we may pray for it. In the mind of the Pharisee, he needed nothing from God. Pride had deluded his conscience, and faith was slipping away. Even in his "gratitude" for his "goodness," he fails to accept that it was the grace of God and not his own efforts that performed any good that was in him. Hence his "prayer" was devolving into non-prayer.

The Pharisee did not come to God in prayer to obtain justification, and so he was not justified. The Publican came seeking mercy, "Lord be merciful to me the sinner." He obtained both mercy and justification. Good works are not to be despised but should truly be sought after. What should be despised is pride and vainglory in our own works. In our prayers, humility raises us higher. "The first shall be last and the last shall be first." Ideally then, we should pursue good works as the Pharisee did, but we should do so with all the humility of the Publican.

We see that pride and vanity weighs down all the good works rendering them useless. No matter how many good works are done, pride quickly robs them of any merit. Humility lifts us up no matter how many sins we have committed. Humility begets contrition and repentance, and this pleases God so that He heals our souls. If we do good works in all humility we rise to ever-increasing heights in our spiritual lives. We draw ever closer to God.

We should also strive to truly pray from our hearts. Too often men commit a prayer to memory and this is all that they know when speaking to God. Their lips move, but their hearts and minds are far from God. Are we truly praying if while our mouths repeat words our minds are absorbed in worldly matters? The Pharisee while speaking to God could only think of himself, and thus from his heart pride poured forth. The Publican was thinking of himself also, but it was with the most profound humility of his unworthiness. He came to prayer emptying himself of all worldly or material things and truly seeking spiritual healing. The Pharisee was not asking for anything and so he obtained what he asked for — nothing. The Publican asked for mercy and he received mercy and justification — much more than he asked for.

Before prayer, we need to consider what is in our hearts. When our hearts are truly humble, we will tend to avoid extolling ourselves, or comparing ourselves to others, when we are before God. It is God who judges, and we should always strive to leave that to Him — especially in our prayers. Our one concern is our own soul as it stands before God — not how our soul stands before other men.

We must also be concerned for those souls that God has placed in our charge. For these, we should pray that God has mercy on their souls too. The father must answer for the sins of his children when he has not done all he could to prevent or correct their sins. If we have caused others to sin, we should realize that for this we are accountable, and this should humble us ever more.

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