October 27, 2019: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Pastor’s Corner
Lord, teach us to Pray. One of the most poignant requests that the apostles make of Jesus is to ask him to instruct them in the art of prayer. Jesus’ famous response begins by encouraging us to name God as “Our Father.” While the Lord’s Prayer is a remarkable, if familiar summary of the content of prayer, Jesus also speaks to the manner and attitude with which we are to pray. Perhaps we know all the words to the Our Father, but we don’t always appreciate how we are to say these words. In last week’s Gospel, Jesus says that we are to pray with persistence. In the face of prayers which seem unanswered, Jesus tells us that we must persevere and never grow tired of placing our requests in the hands of our loving Father.
This week, Jesus continues his prayer primer as he reveals the secret to receiving God’s blessings. In his famous parable of the Pharisee and Publican, Jesus teaches that humility is the key to effective prayer. When we approach the Lord with humble heart, we are open to obtain Our Father’s bountiful blessings. Prayer which is rooted in humility opens our heart in three ways.
First, humility enables us to see God as the source of blessing. We need God in order to flourish. Without God, we can do nothing. In fact, we all have a God- shaped hole in our hearts, which he alone can fill. In Jesus’ parable, the Pharisee is blind to this reality. He enters the temple and engages in a sort of “humble brag.” He thanks God for all the good things he is able to accomplish in terms of his spiritual practices, but he fails both to recognize God as the source of this goodness and to ask for God’s continue strength. In contrast, the Publican knows that without God he cannot do anything worthwhile and so he simply asks God for mercy. Jesus says only one prayer was answered that day: the prayer which humbly acknowledges God as the source of blessing.
Secondly, humility helps us to distinguish what we want from what we need. The old adage about being careful for what we wish for applies here. We ought not to think that our prayer fails when we don’t receive exactly what we want. Sometimes our wants won’t bring the intended happiness which underlines all prayer. Certainly, we ought to pray for what we want. Jesus tells us that directly. But when we pray with a humble heart we recognize that our perspective is limited and our ways of thinking are not always state of the art. Humility perceives that God knows better than we what we truly need. Humility allows us to pray for what we want and, at the same time, to be open to receive what we need.
Third, humility activates God’s blessings. If it is true that without God we can do nothing, it is also true that, with God, we can do more than we imagine. It is remarkable what God can do in us when we are humble. Over and again in the Scriptures, God promises that the prayer of a humble heart will not fall on deaf ears. No matter the words we say, when we approach God with humility, emptying ourselves of ego and selfishness, God will bestow His gifts and grace in abundance. Humility is not thinking less of ourselves. This would be a slight and insult to God as the one who created us. Rather, humility is about thinking about ourselves less. If we can clean our hearts of the heaping helping of self-interest which clogs our spiritual arteries, then God Spirit can pulse powerfully through us. If we want God to really be present in our lives, humility is virtue that creates a space for God’s grace.
Sometimes we pray as if God is ignorant or indifferent to our needs. We think that if we pray in just the right way, we will convince God to bless us. But prayer doesn’t change God. Prayer changes us. Prayer changes us most profoundly when it comes from a place of humility. Humble prayer works. It enables us to see God as the source of blessings. It pushes us beyond our wants to receive what we really need. It creates the space for God to fill us with his grace. Attentive to Jesus’ final words in the Gospel, let us hear His words afresh: “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
~ Fr. Michael