Sunday, March 10, 2013

"Pride prevents the soul from setting on the path of faith."

Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven. --Saint Ephraem of Syria

(Gospel Text: LK 18:9-14)
Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week,
and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Have you ever tried to take an objective look at yourself? In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus describes two different men and contrasts how each presents himself to God. And as you can see, each man’s prayer reveals a lot about his self-perception.

The first man is a Pharisee, whose self-absorbed prayer is more like an ode to his own piety than an offering to God. Clearly, this is a caricature designed to deflate the kind of self-righteous attitude that Jesus had encountered in some of his contemporaries.

The second man is a tax collector, and by giving him this job description, Jesus has allowed him to be labeled a racketeer. Yet it’s this man, Jesus says, who goes home justified. Why? Because he was more realistic about himself: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). It didn’t matter what everyone else thought of him; he knew he needed mercy. And because of his humble prayer, he received what he asked for.

Jesus’ parables have a way of staying fresh through the centuries, and this one is no exception. Today we still struggle with self-perception. Some of us may be tempted to use our spiritual achievements as a lofty platform from which we can peer down on others. Others of us may feel the exact opposite. As we review our life stories, each chapter seems to be another mistake, another failing, because we feel we just can’t measure up.

However you see yourself, one thing is certain: God sees you the way you really are. He sees the good qualities, and he sees the ones that need work. He sees things that are so deep down that they are in your blind spots. But he still loves you, blind spots and all.

Let that truth sink in: God loves you just as you are. What’s more, he sees your full potential. He sees how you will look when you are perfectly conformed to the image of Jesus—the way he created you to be.

So try to look at yourself through the eyes of your Savior. As you see yourself the way he does, you will be able to receive more of his mercy and grace.

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