Today, we meet two praying men in the temple. One stands before God, listing all the good things he has done and thanking God for not making him like other men. He “ticks” all the boxes of the right things to do but maybe there’s a question of the “why” they’re being done. He knows the how but possibly not the why ….
The second man almost hides himself in the temple. Certainly he does not open his eyes to its reality or surroundings. His “inner” vision is focused on God and his prayer, intense; “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner”.
We’re told that this man went home at rights with God whereas the other did not.
It’s a fairly self-explanatory tale of the need for humility and honesty in approaching God in prayer. There’s something there too about the perils of arrogance and pomposity. The Lord feels the closeness of the confessed sinner but little intimacy with the self-praising and “good deeds listing” temple visitor.
I once heard a priest speak at his First Mass. He talked about a man who had been brought up without religion. In his adult life he began his search for God but was unsure where to look. He studied many religions but none really spoke to him. He described an early morning experience in a church he happened to be passing. He went in to see what was happening and stood at the back of the church. His recollection was clear. There was a priest sharing a few words at the front of the church. In the seats nearest him a few elderly people, mostly women, holding beads in their hands (he did not know what the beads were at the time), a few seats back there were a few young mothers with small children – they struggled to keep the children beside them since the children wanted to wander and explore. Behind these a few people of mixed age sat in different places through the church and, on the back seat, just in front of where the man stood, there lay a man – presumably the worse for a night’s drink, sound asleep. The man said he watched it all for a while and then came to a conclusion “Any church that wants to speak to all these people is the church to which I wish to belong”. His decision was made.
This is the church to which we belong – this church that seeks to speak to “all these people” It is the church of today’s Gospel too for, it seems to me, the Lord heard the prayers of both men. He just needed to respond to them in different ways.
Like both men, the church is there for us and like them too, we need to know the “how?” and the “why?” of our prayer.
At the end of the day, it’s not where we stand that is important – it’s what we say and why we say it.