Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sunday 30C: 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'

Sirach 35, 12-14.16-18; Psalm 34, 2-3. 17-18.19-23; 2 Timothy 4, 6-8.16-18; St. Luke 18, 9-14

What is the Pharisees' sin? He attends the temple worship as he ought, does he not? To all appearances he performs outwardly all that God demands, and in fine form. His actions are deceiving to all but God, however, for his heart is far from the Lord.

He is blinded by his pride and ends by making himself God's equal. He was "self-righteous" and he held "everyone else in contempt".

When we are unable to simply thank the Lord for our many unmerited gifts, and beg him for his mercy, seeking the grace to return His love for us, we make ourselves God's equal. This is the sin of the Pharisee.

"The first movement of the prayer of petition is asking forgiveness, like the tax collector in the parable: 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' It is a prerequisite for righteous and pure prayer.

A trusting humility brings us back into the light of communion between the Father and his Son Jesus Christ and with one another, so that 'we receive from him whatever we ask.' Asking forgiveness is the prerequisite for both the Eucharistic liturgy and personal prayer." (CCC 2631)

Our prayer in the Liturgy is a great offering before God and brings him glory when it is offered with a contrite and humble heart. We acknowledge our sinfulness at the start of each Mass in the "Penitential Rite" in order that we may properly humble ourselves before the thrice-holy God.

"Prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God." (St. John Damascene, De fide orth. 3, 24:PG 94, 1089C.)

But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or 'out of the depths' of a humble and contrite heart? (Psalm 130:1)

He who humbles himself will be exalted;(Cf. Lk 18:9-14) humility is the foundation of prayer. Only when we humbly acknowledge that 'we do not know how to pray as we ought,' (Rom 8:26) are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. 'Man is a beggar before God.' (St. Augustine, Sermo 56, 6,9:PL 38, 381.)"(CCC 2559)

When we humble ourselves it is then, the Lord promises us, we will be exalted: "He who humbles himself will be exalted". That our deepest longing to share in God's glory forever in heaven may be fulfilled, we must eschew all pride and vainglory. We do this by becoming "little children". We look to the Father in adoration, love and worship.

Every offering of the Mass gives us the perfect opportunity to turn as children back to the Father, to make the prayer of the tax collector our own: "O God, be merciful to me, a sinner." His sincere and humble offering was worth more than all the temple sacrifices, for it was the expression of a "humble, contrite heart".

That we may be "exalted", "raised up" by the Lord who rose from the dead to raise us up, let us treasure every grace of contrition, and respond to every impulse to repeat the blessed prayer we learn from the tax collector, "O God be merciful to me, a sinner".

"Penance requires . . . the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction." (CCC 1450)

In every Mass we begin our worship by examining our consciences that we may offer an acceptable gift at the altar. We place ourselves in our true position before God, needy souls who come to him for every good. In every confession we respond with honesty to our acknowledgement of serious sin.

We tell the priest all of our grave sins by species, that is what we have done, and number, how many times we have committed each sin. This, and sorrow for our sins, are all that are required and, in return, we receive the overflowing mercy of the Father in the priest's prayer of absolution. These are the attitudes of the humble heart that are so pleasing to the Father and thus truly lead to our exaltation as blessed souls in heaven.

(See also Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph numbers 2558 and following.)
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