Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18
Psalm 34:2-3, 17-19, 23
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Last week the Gospel passages spoke to us of the need for persistence in our prayer, citing the example of the judge who gave in to a persistent woman’s plea for justice regardless of the fact that he didn’t care for her. At the end of that passage the Lord asks an odd question: When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith? To the hearers of that question – both in His own day and in ours – who would be quick to answer ‘Yes!’ He directs the story we heard just now to emphasize the need for humility in prayer even more than persistence.
The story Jesus tells us is one that would have shocked many in the culture, as is often the case. The Pharisee was a Jewish religious leader whose external actions all exceed the minimum requirement. Rather than fasting just once a year he does so twice a week. And rather than tithing only on his portion of crops produces, he tithes on his whole income. These things are good and holy things to do and ought to be imitated, but the problem is that there was nothing behind the actions. We see that by the so-called prayer he offers to himself, wherein he expresses his gratitude that he’s not like all those other people – those horrible sinners! - but instead is so pious and in God’s grace. His pride keeps him from turning to the Lord at all because He didn’t see a need for God in his life. Shockingly, it is the tax collector who is found righteous. Tax collectors were those people who essentially worked for the enemy, the Roman Emperor, and oppressed the people of Israel; they were the lowest of the low. And yet it was this one who is justified by the Lord because he goes before God and keeps his eyes down, beats his breast, and humbly acknowledges his sinfulness and absolute need for God.
It’s about humility. The simple fact is that we can do all the right things – we can attend Mass every Sunday, tithe regularly, say all the right prayers and be on a whole slew of committees and groups - and if we don’t have humility we may still go to Hell. The reason is that humility keeps us turning back to the Lord recognizing our need for His grace to keep us alive and for His mercy to cleanse us of our faults. If we lack humility we can tend to think our gifts come from ourselves rather than a Divine gift-giver, that we are better than others because of our external actions, and ultimately that we deserve Heaven because of all the things we’ve done. We must be people of great humility. In various places throughout the scriptures we are challenged with the teaching, ‘name one things you have that you were not given!’ to remind us that we are poor sinners in need of the Lord.
There are a variety of ways to help us grow in this humility of heart, in imitation of the Lord Jesus who humbled Himself to take on our flesh. The first and most important way is to go to the Sacrament of Confession/Reconciliation regularly. If we go month after month before the Lord and are forced to verbally confess the sins that we have committed, we quickly begin to realize how much we are in need of His grace to help us become the saints we are called to be. We must go to Confession and do so regularly – at least every 2-3 months – to really experience this growth in humility. We can also emphasize in our personal prayer the many gifts that God has bestowed upon His people. We can look at the gifts of others and see the ways that others may be better at certain things than us to help keep us mindful that we are not superior to anyone in the big picture. I also find it helpful to pause at the end of each day or week and reflect back to find the places where God’s hand was at work and we experienced His help and gifts in a particular way. There is a litany of humility to reorient ourselves to keep us free from pride and to encourage us in lowliness. There is also a particular prayer that can be prayed and we find its roots in our Gospel story on the lips of the tax collector.
**Holding up a string of beads** This is what is often known as a Chotki or Jesus Beads. It is an Eastern Catholic prayer that invites us to draw closer to the Lord in humility of heart and to implore His Divine Mercy. The prayer is simple. There are 100 beads on this string and on each of them you pray the ‘Jesus Prayer’. This comes in a variety of forms, taking their lead from the Gospel passage. You can say, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of David, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.” Or “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Or even more simply, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on my.” Or as you draw more deeply into the Heart of Jesus only two words come forth: “Jesus, mercy.”
**For a good book suggestion on the topic, check out 'Humility of Heart' by Fr. Cajetan de Bergamo HERE.**