The Pharisee and the tax collector went to the Temple to pray, and PRAYER will be my topic today. I will look at three kinds of prayer and Truth Telling will be the first kind.
When the Pharisee went to the Temple, he raised his head and looked up to heaven and said, “O Lord, you should give me a high place in heaven because I’m such a good person and I have done so many good deeds in my life.” He pretended to be a good person but in fact he was a mixture of goodness and sinfulness. He was good in that he followed the laws of his religion. He gave ten per cent of his income to the Temple and he fasted during the Week of Atonement. In fact, he did more than what was required. He fasted twice a week instead of once a year.
But he was also sinful. He despised people who did not fast and tithe. He was boastful and he congratulated himself for doing such a good job of following the Law. And his biggest sin was his failure to tell the truth. He told God about his achievements; but he did not tell God about his sinfulness.
Meanwhile, the tax collector told the truth. He bowed his head and said, “O God, have mercy on me for I am a sinner.” Then God responded to their prayers. God gave praise to the man who was honest and said, “I have prepared a place for you in my Kingdom.” God looked down on the man who was boastful and said, “I cannot save you because you are self-sufficient, and you won’t let anyone help you.”
I think that the moral of the story is quite clear: Jesus wants us to tell the truth whenever we pray. Truth Telling is one kind of prayer.
Another kind of prayer is lamentation. That means that people are complaining bitterly when they are talking to God. There were two prayers of lamentation in our first reading today.
Sirach says that the orphans are wailing as they talk to God. Not just crying but wailing because they have no one to care for them. Secondly, Sirach says that the widows are complaining bitterly as they talk to God. Complaining bitterly because no one will help them feed their children. The best they can do is go through the wheat fields in July and pick up the leftovers from the harvest. And then in September they go through the vineyards and pick up the half rotten dates and figs that were rejected by the workers. And they complain to the Lord as they go about doing these tasks.
Sirach concludes today’s reading by saying that there is reason to be hopeful. Why? Because God is listening. As long as they are talking to God they will be heard. God listens to every prayer….. including those that are filled with pain and bitterness. He says and I Quote: “Those who serve God willingly will heard. The prayer of the lowly pierces through the clouds and reaches the Lord. The Lord will respond and will not delay.” End of quote.
That message is echoed in Psalm 34, today’s responsorial psalm: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor. When the just cry out, the Lord hears them and from all their distress He rescues them.”
The prophet Jeremiah offered prayers of lamentation when enemy soldiers were destroying the city of Jerusalem. When he saw the destruction, he wrote the Book of Lamentations. In Chapter 3 Jeremiah says: “Don’t give up hope! The favors of the Lord are not exhausted. The mercies of God are not used up. God’s mercy is renewed each morning, so great is God’s faithfulness. This I call to mind and therefore I have hope. The favors of the Lord are not exhausted.” End of quote.
When I hear those words, I am reminded of this truth: God is in our future and God will give us many blessings in the future. If today is a pain-filled day the future will not be a repeat of today. The future will contain new blessings from the hand of God.
The most famous Prayer of Lamentation is found in Psalm 22. “My God, my God. Why have you abandoned me.” I say most famous because those are the words that Jesus spoke on the cross. Those words were spoken in pain. But they were not his last words. Before He died, He said, “Father, I place my life into your hands.” And His Heavenly Father responded by giving Him a New Life: A life with no more suffering, no more tears, no more sadness but only the fullness of joy and peace…
My third and final form of prayer is contemplation and by that, I mean contemplating what God has created.
Jesus did that all the time. That’s why he could talk about the lilies of the field and the mustard seed and the birds of the air and the weeds and the wheat when He was preaching. He was part of a long line of people who found spiritual lessons in the natural world.
Saint Francis lived 800 years ago. His attitude toward nature was simple and direct: Francis saw God in everything, and he loved and praised God in all of creation.
Saint Therese of the Little Flower lived in the nineteenth century, and she said: “I don’t look through books for beautiful prayers. Instead, I look to the flowers, and they remind me of God’s love and providence, and they help me to pray.” She also said, “Jesus set us before the book of nature for our inspiration.” Saint Therese often used the imagery of nature to explain how God is everywhere and how God is holding everything in his loving arms.
Saint Kateri Tekawitha lived in the 17th century, and she is often called the Lily of the Mohawks. Saint Kateri often went to the woods - alone - to speak to God and to listen to God in the voice of nature. She was canonized 10 years ago on October 21 by Pope Benedict XVI.
We will celebrate the tenth anniversary of her canonization at Saint Therese Church today. When she was canonized the bishop of Ogdensburg, New York said, “Saint Kateri was a child of nature, and her sainthood will inspire the minds and hearts of those who love nature and work for ecology.”
Moving forward to modern times, we have this quote from Saint Pope John Paul II: “Nature is a gospel that teaches us about God.”
I will close by encouraging you to give yourself permission to try all three forms of prayer that I mentioned today. The Prayer of Truth Telling, The Payer of Lamentation And the Prayer of Contemplating what God is telling you in His creation.