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God's Word on Sunday: Those ‘tuned in’ to God resonate in His heart

  • October 23, 2022

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Oct. 23 (Sirach 35:15-17, 20-22; Psalm 34; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14)

What does it take to get a hearing before the throne of God? How should we pray? Many prayers are directed heavenward each day — each minute and second of the day — but not all of them seem to be answered. The problem is that we fashion the prayer out of what is in our own heart. If our prayer is filled with egotism, selfishness, cynicism and smugness, the prayer is really directed towards ourselves.

Sirach clarifies what it means to pray: who we are matters little — our station in life, personal connections, importance and wealth will not move us to the head of the line. God is utterly impartial, taking the side only of the vulnerable and the one to whom justice has been denied. The most effective prayer is not one that is eloquent or pious, but one that is sincere and humble. Even a simple cry of pain from the heart will suffice.

Those who spend their lives in humble and loving service to others can be assured that their prayers are heard and answered. They are “tuned in” to God and the harmony of their hearts will resonate in the heart of God. Prayers that are voiced mechanically and without feeling — not coming from the heart — will have a difficult time on their heavenward journey.

There is no “prayer technique” or “correct” way to pray. As a well-known spiritual writer said over a hundred years ago, “pray as you can, not as you can’t.” Prayer will be different for each person, and prayers will be fashioned by one’s life experience and personal knowledge of God. Can a person who is not just or loving pray? Absolutely — but the prayer must be uttered in humility, honesty and willingness to change. The number of our prayers mean little — it is their quality and sincerity that count.

Paul was very aware that his time on Earth had grown short but that did not fill him with dread. He felt that he had fought the good fight and finished the race. That is important: one need not win the good fight or the race, but it is important to finish it. Trying — and trying repeatedly — is more important than winning. For Paul, he had a deep sense of satisfaction that he had kept the faith through all his trials and tribulations. Paul remembered ruefully that people had often let him down, but that the Lord had always been there for him. We should hold fast to this promise regardless of what happens to us or the betrayals we might suffer. The Lord’s support and loving presence will never waver.

Jesus gives us a beautiful example of what it means to pray in the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee. The Pharisees were no worse than others. They were human, and humans hide behind masks and fool themselves into thinking they are superior to others. We are surrounded by “Pharisees” every day and perhaps we have elements of this tendency in ourselves. The Pharisee in the story — the fall guy for the tale — is quite smug and contented with himself. He does everything perfectly and bases his “gratitude” on this “perfection.” He is most grateful that he is not like others — especially the wretched tax collector praying in the temple with him. The tax collector — one loathed and despised by all — cannot even bring himself to draw closer or raise his gaze heavenward. He beat his breast and cried out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” All self-delusion, pride, smugness and sense of superiority had been stripped away. He was filled with self-knowledge and humility. His prayer sailed heavenward, and as Jesus insisted, he was the one who returned home justified in God’s eyes.

We need to have the experience of the tax collector some time in our lives. We cannot live like the Pharisee in the story for long, for Jesus warns that those who exalt themselves will be humbled. Life itself will strip away all that is false and lead us to a space where we can experience God’s mercy and grace. The Church is not an elite club for the perfect, but a communion of sinners loved by God.