Sunday, 30 October 2016

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Ecclesiasticus 35:15-17,20-22; 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18; Luke 18:9-14

What do you see when you look in the mirror - success or failure, weakness or strength, saint or sinner? God sees exactly what there is to be seen but for us it’s not so easy. God’s eyes are clear and can see within us, into our very souls. The eyes of our souls are dulled and damaged by Original Sin and so we see things more as we are than as things are.

Still, there is hope for us; our eyes can be healed. God has given us an antidote to blindness, a simple antidote called prayer. Last week Jesus spoke of it again and told us it should be persistent and full of hope.

Persistent prayer is daily prayer, like the course of antibiotics we take for infections, not skipping a single day for utmost effectiveness - hopeful, with that mysterious confidence prayer gives that the good God is fully aware of our needs.

And our damaged eyes certainly do need to be healed, and so do our wounded hearts. To realise this is already an enormous grace. It is then we seek out the Lord with some degree of fervour; we go looking for him – at Mass, in  the scriptures, in the prayer room, in the Rosary. Our lives become a kind of adventurous ‘tracking down’ of the God who so ardently desires to be found.

On this journey we have three classic enemies – the world, the flesh, and the devil. We know all about them. In all sorts of ways, subtle and obvious, they try to lead us away from the one who calls us. And then there is the ever present, never sleeping ego.

The ego gobbles up everything and turns them to its own ends – and its ends are always to paper the interior walls of our self esteem with false images which give us a false sense of worth and a false resemblance to God. I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.

The Pharisee’s ego had so distorted his image of self that his very prayer was a lie. As he stood in the Temple confidently sharing his self-deception with God he was sadly wasting his time and sinking deeper into sin. His prayer didn’t work; God rejected it.

The Pharisee’s prayer was a lie but he didn’t know it.

He so flatters himself in his mind
that he knows not his guilt. [Ps 35 (36)]

He  wasn’t who he thought he was. His prayer was dreadful, awful, horrible – like some of those offerings presented at auditions for X-Factor or Australian Idol. Red Symons would surely have gonged him out after a few words because they did not harmonise with the ugly melody his life was singing.

For us there is a lesson here. Prayer is not word-driven. Pope Francis re-affirmed this only a few days ago. Prayer gets its power not from the number or cleverness of our words but from the sincerity of our hearts and the truth of our lives. You just can’t sing the words of the Halleluiah Chorus to the tune of Amazing Grace. It won’t work.

The Pharisee invited God to share his lies about himself. God did not accept the invitation. But he did accept the invitation of the poor sinner who lived in the truth of his own sinfulness and asked God for mercy. Indeed, the humble man’s prayer pierces the clouds; and as the gospel tells us, this poor sinner: went home again at rights with God.

Well, there you are. Two men went up to the temple to present themselves to the Lord, much like we are doing today. We stand here before God just as they did all those years ago and we speak to him just as they did. What are we saying to him; how do we see ourselves – saint or sinner?

The Pharisees compared himself first to ‘the rest of mankind’ and then to ‘this tax collector here’. We Catholics have only the mirror of Church teaching in which to truly see ourselves and by which to judge ourselves. It is a mirror of utmost clarity shining with the splendour of absolute truth. It will not deceive the humble man or woman who dares to gaze into it.

The proud, of course, have other mirrors, more flattering, more sympathetic to their failures. Here Church teaching is reflected in a kindlier light, without those nasty obligations or demands. Here Christ does not command, he simply invites, and the invitation is always to ‘niceness’ rather than holiness.

Today we all stand before the Lord. He sees each one separately, he knows each of us by name. He bids us come close. How shall we speak to him? What shall we say to him?

No comments: