13 Aug Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
Today is the Tenth Sunday After Pentecost.
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1882
“Two men went up into the temple to pray.” Luke 18, 10.
What a remarkable contrast presents itself to our view when we compare the two men. Christ informs us that “they went up into the temple to pray.” The prayer of the Pharisee, properly speaking, was not a prayer, for it contained more self-gratulation than praise of God. Moreover, the very language of the prayer breathed sentiments directly contrary to the precept of fraternal chanty; for the haughty Pharisee looked scornfully down upon the humble publican, and dared to pass sentence upon the state of his soul. If he really believed him to be a sinner, he should have prayed for his conversion; but the prayer to which he did give utterance, was one which certainly did not ascend to God like a sweet odor, for the pride by which it was prompted rendered it most offensive in His sight, but pleasing to the king of hell.
But, dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, what ample reason have we not to lament that, while such numbers among the children of our Holy Church throng to the house of God, but few among them really pray.
On the contrary, those terrible words of the Psalmist: “His prayer shall be turned to sin,” are accomplished in many Christians. And why? Here we need only compare the meaning of the petitions with which Christ taught us to pray, and the dispositions which frequently animate the hearts of those who profess to pray, and we will perceive but too clearly that prayer often becomes a mockery.
Mary, vessel of singular devotion, obtain for us, thy children, the grace of fervent, sincere and humble prayer! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
Our prayer, to be acceptable, must correspond with that one which Christ taught His children, and which is the model of genuine prayer; and we must examine our hearts to discover how it is with us in this regard. So far from this being the case with habitual sinners, they are Pharisees and hypocrites when they pray; and, by their so-called devotions, they offer, not prayers, but insults to God.
“Our Father.” Thus, according to the direction of Christ, should we begin. But to have the right to call God Father, we must be in the state of grace, otherwise one is not a child of God, but a child of the devil a child of Him between whom and his Creator must be perpetual enmity.
To the angels it must be indeed terrible to listen to the prayers of one who, being in mortal sin, and like unto the devil himself, presumes to look up to heaven, and address their Creator by that endearing name.
“Hallowed be Thy name.” Oh, what derision and contempt of God are contained in those words when pronounced by sinful souls! Sinner, with the lips indeed you pray that the name of God may be blessed, while your life and acts profane it fearfully; for every sin that you commit is an insult to that most holy name, to His dominion over all creatures, to His omniscience, to His omnipotence, to His justice and sanctity. Yes, practically, you deny and despise every one of those divine attributes; and how can you dare to say: “Hallowed be Thy name?” You who, perhaps, as the days pass on, can not count a single one in the entire year upon which you have not profaned that sacred name!
“Thy kingdom come.” So has Christ taught us to pray, and so presumes to pray the sinner whose soul is black with guilt. Oh, what an insult to the Lord of that kingdom appears in this mockery of prayer! How easily flow those words from the lips of the sinful Christian; but what says his life? What are we to understand by the words: “Thy kingdom come”? By this we beg that God will come and reign in our hearts by His grace. You say: “Thy kingdom come,” and yet, with deliberate malice, you destroy it continually by committing fresh sins. While the morning service on Sundays witnesses your devotions, the evening revel renders your attendance there indeed a mockery. Your lips cry out: “Thy kingdom come;” but your actions call upon the Lord to remain far away with the kingdom of His grace.
In the second place, this kingdom signifies exteriorly the Church of Christ, which, in accordance with the wish of its divine Founder, each one of its children should strive, with the utmost zeal, to propagate. Sinner, praying sinner, listen to my voice, and believe the words I speak to you today! Instead of propagating it, striving to gain souls for it, seeking to convert infidels from the error of their ways, and to admonish sinners, how is it with you? Instead of inciting, by your example, those who are already holy, to new and greater efforts, you give scandal by your wicked life, and become a snare to innocent souls for their ruin and damnation. Upon you, indeed, might well be fastened that millstone of which Christ speaks, and with which he threatens all who give scandal. Take heed lest by its weight you be drawn one day down, down, to the fathomless abyss of hell!
“Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Christ has taught us to pray in this manner, and the sinner does not stop to reflect upon the mockery which such a petition becomes upon his lips; but dares to present himself before the throne of grace. And what says his miserable, sinful life? So far from caring for those things which he knows well are pleasing to God, and trying to do His holy will, his aim is, by every possible means, to gratify his own sinful propensities. Sinner, do you know what Christ requires of us? “Be ye holy, as your Father in heaven is holy. Be ye perfect, as He is perfect.”
You call yourself a child of the one true Church, and yet it never enters into your thoughts to lead a holy life; perhaps, indeed, never has entered therein, even once, during the days and months and years which God has given you to work out your salvation. Perhaps you have never once thought of breaking the galling chain by which the devil binds you to himself. How then, O sinner, can you dare to say: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?
“Give us this day our daily bread.” This is one of the petitions of that prayer which was taught by the Lord Himself, and the recreant Christian blushes not to join therein; but what says the story of his life?
Sinner, you know well that while solicitous for the good things of this life, you act as if you scorned the idea of a divine Providence, and were able to procure all temporal blessings of yourself alone. You allow the thorns of worldly cares to grow up so fast and thick that they destroy the good seed of the Divine Word, and prevent the calls of grace being heard. You are not content with bread alone, that is, with the necessaries of life; but crave for more, that you may give yourself up entirely to your evil passions, and gratify the demands of that pride of life to which you are a slave, you give no thought to the supernatural daily bread of the altar, except when the Church, laying aside that voice of entreaty which at other periods of the year her maternal heart impels her to use, threatens you with all the penalties of ecclesiastical severity. Even then, it may be, O sinner, that you approach the sacred table only to burden your soul with the additional crime of sacrilege; but may God, in His infinite mercy, preserve you from so great an evil.
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Oh, divine words of Christ, too often made the subject of mockery and blasphemy by the unforgiving Christian. Why? Dearly beloved in Christ, we need only consider the petition itself: “Forgive me as I forgive.” Yet you do not forgive, therefore your prayer is a petition for God to condemn you to hell! Oh, what blasphemy!
“Lead us not into temptation.” Presumptuous sinner! so do you venture to speak and to pray to God, and yet you go in search of temptation, and regret when the occasion is wanting to gratify lust.
“But deliver us from evil.” How can this be done, when you encourage such evil dispositions? Can it be? No; a thousand times no! Therefore, to all here present, who feel that they have offended God by mortal sin, I would say: When you feel moved to pray, from the depths of your heart, first cry out: “Have mercy on me, O Lord.” Then, without ceasing, call upon God, asking Him to give you the grace of repentance, that you may return to Him, and live as His true child; that thus your prayer, rising up to heaven, may find favor with our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen!
“O God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”–Luke 18.
“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” was the prayer of the repentant publican, who, venturing not to lift his eyes to heaven, found grace before God, and “went home justified.”
Our Lord specifies the principal reason for this reconciliation with God in the words: “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted!” Dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, we have heretofore, in reading this Gospel, considered the wide difference of the prayers addressed to their Creator by the two men “who went into the temple to pray.” Too often in our own day it is the case that Christians go to the temple of God to offer up their petitions; but how do they pray? Alas! their prayers are an insult to the adorable majesty of God. Mark it well; both of those men went to the temple of the Lord, and both were sinners. One recognized and confessed his fault, and went home justified. Far different was it with the other, who was blinded by pride and self-sufficiency.
I will make the application to our lives as children of the Church in another relation, and say: How often do we not see Christians thronging in crowds to the confessional, that they may be cleansed from their sins; yet how often are their confessions the semblance only of confession, the absolution of the priest an illusion, the reception of the Most Holy Sacrament a profanation! And why? Because there is such a want of humility among those who profess to be penitent, that they find their prototypes in the proud Pharisee instead of the humble publican.
Mary, virgin most humble, obtain for us true humility of heart, that we may be effectually cleansed from every stain of sin in the sacred tribunal of penance! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
“Learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart,” says our divine Lord. “Humility is the foundation of all virtues,” the holy fathers cry out. St. Augustine writes: “Ask me what is virtue, and I answer humility; ask me again, and I say humility; ask me yet a third time, and a third time would my answer be, humility.” So it is; even as, according to the declaration of Holy Scripture, pride is the root of every vice, so is humility the beginning of every virtue; nay, even more, it is the foundation of the conditions necessary for the forgiveness of sins. It constitutes that disposition of heart upon which depends our reconciliation with God, if we have had the misfortune of being separated from Him by sin. The reason for this is given, in the declaration of the Council of Trent, which teaches that man of himself is not able, without a particular grace, to arrive at a proper knowledge of his sins, much less to deplore and confess them, in order to obtain forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance.
Now, Holy Scripture expressly declares that “God gives grace to the humble.” If you wish to receive the Sacrament of Penance worthily and in an effective manner, the first requisite it can not be too often repeated is humility. This can be seen from the examples in Holy Scripture, wherein, whenever there is question of the pardon of sin, this virtue is spoken of. David humbled himself, Nineveh humbled itself, the prodigal son threw himself at the feet of his father, the publican ventured not even to lift up his eyes, Mary Magdalen is everywhere represented kneeling at the feet of Christ; all these illustrious penitents were penetrated with that deep and heart-felt humility which is but too often lacking in those who seek pardon for their sins in the Sacrament of Penance. O my dear Christians! pray to God for an increase of this virtue, for, be assured, that no prayer but that of the humble will pierce the clouds, and ascend like incense before the Lord.
Many approach this Sacrament with their hearts puffed up with self-conceit, and without a trace of that suppliant entreaty to God: “O Lord, enlighten me, and have mercy on me, that I may know my sins, and confess them so as to obtain through thy infinite merits a full pardon, and that peace which the world can not give!”
Let us consider the conditions necessary for making a good confession. First, we must know our sins; humility will guide us to self-knowledge. The proud man does not readily admit his failings, but finds ample excuse for what, in another, he would deem sins of wonderful magnitude. Pride steps in, and not only enables him to palliate, but even to transform evil-doings into what has at least the semblance of right, and sometimes of virtue.
Whosoever is thus disposed will give himself but little anxiety about cleansing his soul from venial faults in the sacrament of reconciliation; for to him it may even seem a condescension to declare the transgressions he admits to be mortal.
Humble yourselves, and you will receive light from the Spirit of Light, the Holy Ghost, to know your sins; and grace will be added for the obtaining of true contrition for them, which may be called the most important requisite for making a good confession. For what will a thorough knowledge of your sins avail if you be not sorry for them? This self-knowledge and contrition must be accompanied by a firm resolution to sin no more, and this resolution must be based on humility.
But the proud man does not feel that grief and horror for sin which its enormity should inspire. Therefore he contents himself with but little preparation for confession. Oh! how different are the sentiments of the truly humble Christian, who, when he has had the misfortune to fall into sin, exclaims with the deepest contrition: “O my God and my all! God of infinite goodness and holiness, my God and Creator, my Redeemer and Father, my only Benefactor, how have I dared to oppose myself to Thee, to offend Thee? No more sin, O my God!”
Mark it well: “No more sin” for what is the sentiment of sorrow without a resolution of amendment, but a mere illusion? And what will enable you to keep that resolution? I say, and repeat humility, humility! This golden virtue removes the bandage from the eyes of the sinner, the penitent sinner, and teaches him to distrust his own strength, and to follow the admonition of Christ: ” If thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out; or if thy hand or thy foot, cut it off.” Cost what it may, the Christian who wishes to save his soul must avoid every occasion of sin, and distrust himself. This the proud man does not, and consequently his resolutions are not kept. But how is it with the second part of this Sacrament confession? What renders so many confessions not only imperfect, but sacrilegious? The concealment of some mortal sin; for men do not confess as fully as they should.
And why is this? Dearly beloved in Christ, they listen to the promptings of shame. Oh, wretched shame! which closes the lips of so many in this sacred tribunal, and leads its victims to ruin and to hell! Too often does it transform the soul of the penitent into a sealed book, the secrets of which the confessor can not penetrate. And this is especially so if the latter be the pastor or parish priest, as is generally the case. Oh, how many reasons there are to urge any well instructed child of the Catholic Church to conquer this false shame, and to encourage every faithful soul to confess without reserve! The priest is the representative of God, of His infinite mercy. He is a type of the good Samaritan, of the Good Shepherd, of the loving Father. What he hears as confessor he hears not at all as man. Even looking upon him as man and your pastor, you would wish to stand high in his estimation. Oh, let him feel, then, that you truly confess every mortal sin that lies upon your conscience, and every circumstance connected therewith, and he will from his very heart, thank God who has bestowed upon you such lively faith and such confidence in Him, as well as such profound humility. He will rejoice that he has been an instrument in the hands of God to save your soul from perdition. Therefore, O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, be merciful unto us, and so penetrate our hearts with the virtue of humility that we may be enabled to conquer and trample upon that false shame, which, if yielded to, will bring eternal ruin! Amen! (2)
CONCERNING PRIDE AND VAIN GLORY
We should especially learn from this gospel, that God looks upon the humble, but is far from the proud (Ps.cxxxvii. 6.), and that He resists the proud and exalts the humble. The Pharisee went to the temple entirely wrapt up in himself, fancying himself replete with good works, but returned empty and hated by God; the Publican, on the contrary, appearing before God as a public but penitent sinner, returns justified. Truly an humble sinner is better in the sight of God than a proud just man!
He who glories in his own good works, or performs them to please men and to win their praise, loses their merit in the eyes of the most High, for Christ says: Take heed that you do not your justice before men, that you may be seen by them: otherwise you shall not have a reward from your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. vi. 1.)
In order that we may learn to despise vain glory, these teachings should be well borne in mind. We should consider, that, it will happen to the seeker after vain glory, as to the man who made many toilsome journeys on land and sea in order to heap up wealth, and had no sooner acquired it than he was shipwrecked and lost all. Thus the ambitious man avariciously seeking glory and honor, will find, when dying that the merit which he might have had for his good works, is now lost to him, because he did not labor for the honor of God. To prevent such an evil, strive at the commencement of every good work which you undertake to turn your heart by a good intention to God.
But that you may plainly recognize the vice of pride, which generally keeps itself concealed, and that you may avoid it, know that pride is an inordinate love of ostentation, and an immoderate desire to surpass others in honor and praise. The proud man goes beyond himself, so to speak, makes himself out far more than he really is, and, like the Pharisee, despises others; the humble man, on the contrary, has a low estimate of himself, looks upon himself as nothing and, like the Publican, despises no one but himself, and thus is pleasing in the sight of God. (1)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff