Sunday, October 24, 2010

No Favorites

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

For he is a God of justice, who knows no favorites. Though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed. Sirach 35:12-13

But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.' I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18:13-14

The Lord gradually strips us of all the pious practices we do for the sake of looking holy. Gradually we come to realize that only God is holy and we surrender to the work of the Lord in us. We draw closer to the Lord as we pray from the distance our humility gives us. Our spiritual righteousness can get us into trouble. When Paul talks about his righteousness, he says he has competed well. He talks about having finished the race. He has kept the faith. Paul accepts the fact that Christ is his justification. Paul has soaked his life with Christ. He has died with Christ so that he might rise in Christ. The closeness to Christ is the race he is on. Paul sees Christ through the eyes of Christ, the just judge. Paul longs for the closeness to Christ that is the crown of righteousness that awaits us for the good we have done in our lives. Our piety is made u p with all the ways we have lived out Christ’s way of doing things. To long for the appearance of Christ is to long for finding ourselves in Christ.

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is a case study on how to pray. Honesty makes me challenge myself on how I pray. The Pharisee lives in me when I am going through the routine of community prayer without my heart in what I am doing. Humility is what the tax collector teaches. His cry for mercy is seen in his prayer of the body. He does not raise his eyes to heaven because he knows himself as a sinner. He beats his breast as a sign of his sinfulness and his need to put his heart into the prayer. He is exalted because he humbled himself. The Pharisee is humbled because he exalted himself. Our reading from Sirach says it all. “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds.” The one who serves God willingly has prayer heard by God and answered. The Lord does not delay to judge justly. Psalm 34 says it neatly. “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” The Lord redeems the lives of his servants.

I put my heart into my prayer by focusing the Lord as best I can. I look at the eyes of Christ on the cross and see the world through his eyes. I see the look he gives his Father and the look Christ has for me. My prayer goes to God through Christ. Christ is the Word of the Father’s love for us in his dying on the cross for our redemption. Christ would be my word to the Father asking from him forgiveness for all my ingratitude for what he Christ has done for me. Again and again I will bring my prayer to the Christ of the Cross to feel his embrace and forgiveness of the sinfulness I bring to his embrace from the cross. Christ is our hope for the mercy of God. All our trust in self must give way to oneness with the love of Christ who dies for us that we might have his life.