Fr. Roberto Rodriguez, MM, describes how the depths of a person's spiritual life must be reflected in his or her actions.
The readings for this Sunday present to us two different models of faith and prayer. The first reading reminds us that God is a God of Justice who hears the cry of the poor. The responsorial psalm reaffirms this truth about God. Saint Paul, in the second reading, knowing that he is about to finish his time in this world, tells us also that truly God is a just Judge, who is always close to his people.
In the gospel we see a man in the temple whose prayer consists of a long enumeration of attributes he sees in himself to the point of believing that he is better than the other man who is also praying there too. This man belonged to the religious group of the Pharisees, who were known for fulfilling their religious practices scrupulously. However, in doing so, according to Jesus, sometimes they missed the main reason for practicing their religion. That is, being close and humble before God, not looking down on others and living by the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Our religious practices, as good as they can be, cannot be the measurement of our spiritual life and our relationship with God or one another. Our spiritual life, nourished by our faith and daily prayer, needs to be deeper than that. Our faith and prayer need to become the springboard for us to grow in intimacy with God and sensitivity towards others, specially the poor and those in need. Praying should help us to become better human beings seeking what is just and good in our daily life.
On the other hand, in today’s gospel we see the other man, who was a tax collector. He is totally different in his way of praying, not even daring to look up towards heaven, ashamed of all the bad things he recognized within himself. In the gospel today, Jesus tell us that of the two men, the tax collector went back home reconciled and in the grace of God. The problem with the first man praying was that when we are absorbed so much into our own self-grandeur there is not room for others, much less for God. There is not room for improving oneself or helping others too. Indeed, we cannot hear the cry of the poor.
Our faith, our way of praying and our spiritual life needs to be different than that. It needs to become the spiritual wheelhouse from which we draw the motivation for our efforts to make a better world, to care for the environment, to help people in need, the sick, the lonely and to build a Christian community centered around Christ and based on peace, justice and love. Our prayer shall be like the one displayed by the second man in today’s gospel, recognizing our need to be forgiven by God. As people of faith we must care and do as much as we can to help others, protect our ecological surroundings, assist the poor, the migrant and marginalized in our communities. We must strive to see one another as brothers and sisters sharing one beautiful planet that is in need of our care and attention before it is too late and destroyed due to greed and economic self-interest.