Last week, I talked about the importance of prayer no matter what the obstacles.
Today, as the Gospel shows us clearly the danger of using prayer to feed pride instead of prayer to find God, I want to make a confession: I still go to Reconciliation regularly – about every two to three weeks I participate in the sacrament of Penance, confessing my sins, and returning to loving Father who waits for me, to my Savior who died for me, as much as he died for you.
I was struck by Pope Francis' short description of himself in the interview in Jesuit Magazine America: “I am a sinner.” Today we remember that the prayer of everyone is the prayer of a sinner – a sinner like the tax collector who is just starting to mend his broken heart, or a sinner like the Pharisee who has long since been healed of many sinful habits but still has the cancerous temptation to pride. There is no perfect person other than the Blessed Mother – who even herself relies completely on God every moment. This humble posture of prayer is critical for us as Christians. Phillip Neri's simple morning prayer: “Beware of Philip, O Lord, this day; for, abandoned to myself, I shall surely betray thee. ” Not thinking too much of ourselves is not the same as beating ourselves us. If in the past we may have gone too far in self-abnegation, nowadays we clearly go too far in self-pampering and pretending that “I'm okay. You're okay.” when the fact really is “I'm not okay. You're not okay. But that's okay, because God can change us!”
John Vianney story (humility in letter from brother priest).
The righteous habits of the Pharisee cannot guarantee a proper interior relationship towards God. The sinful habits of the tax collector do not signify hopelessness. That doesn't mean good actions and righteous deeds don't mean anything – they mean a lot! They just don't guarantee conversion; they don't guarantee that we conform our lives to the Cross; they don't guarantee that a person falls in love with God who is Love. They only foster the chance for it.
Examples: Going to Mass every Sunday; praying rote prayers; putting money in the collection weekly; going to confession regularly. Do any of these guarantee a heart will turn to God? No. They only keep someone in front of the door: they still have to open it.
Regular confession is perhaps the greatest: It is so hard to fake! Pope Francis: “…one must do as Paul did – above all, confessing with the same ‘concreteness’. Some say: ‘Ah, I confess to God.’ But it’s easy, it’s like confessing by email, no? God is far away, I say things and there’s no face-to-face, no eye-to-eye contact. Paul confesses his weakness to the brethren face-to-face. Others [say], ‘No, I go to confession,’ but they confess so many ethereal things, so many up-in-the-air things, that they don’t have anything concrete. And that’s the same as not doing it. Confessing our sins is not going to a psychiatrist, or to a torture chamber: it’s saying to the Lord, ‘Lord, I am a sinner,’ but saying it through the brother, because this says it concretely. ‘I am sinner because of this, that and the other thing.
When prayer is dry and tough...when there is a type if persecution for it... : We must persevere in the difficult times, the times of tribulation. As. St. Paul tells Timothy today: it's worth it.