God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” These words are words I often use when sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament. These words are a reminder to me, and to all of us, that none of us have got it sussed. We, as a Church are full of sinners. Elsewhere in Luke’s Gospel we hear that Jesus said those who are well do not need a doctor, but the sick, “I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance” [Luk 5:31-32]. This tax collector, this sinner, is a role model for us, as sinners, in how to approach Jesus.

The Pharisee in the parable was not looking at himself correctly. He was comparing himself to others and basically saying I am better than them so I must be good. Jesus is warning us, through this parable to stay away from those games.

Remember when we point a finger there are three other fingers pointing back at ourselves.

Look at the difference in these prayers, first of all Jesus says the Pharisee ‘said this prayer to himself’, he starts his prayer with ‘I’ and the word ‘I’ appears another five times in his short prayer. He is in effect praying to himself. The tax collector addresses his prayer to God, it is short and to the point, acknowledging his frailty and spoken in all humility as he can barely raise his eyes towards heaven.

Are there times when we are more like the Pharisee than the tax-collector in the way we pray?

I think the times when we compare ourselves to others in the way the Pharisee did are the times when the enemy is exercising influence over our conscience. Those times when we think I’m not as bad as so and so, or I get to Mass more often than that person or I attend Confession once a month and they don’t. Those times of self-congratulation or self-justification do not come from God.

If we look at the first reading; written 1000 years before Jesus walked the earth; we see that ‘The humble man’s prayer pierces the clouds, until it arrives he is inconsolable.’ Jesus is pointing to this teaching in his parable about the self-absorbent Pharisee and the self-aware tax collector. Jesus is asking us to be self aware; aware of our frailties; and to bring them to Him.

In the second reading it almost sounds like St Paul is speaking in a similar way to the Pharisee in the parable, the big difference here is that St Paul is not stating all of these things to say look how good he had been. St Paul is giving all of the praise, all of the credit to God. He is stating that none of the things he managed to achieve and none of the sufferings he endured would have been possible without God and the faith that he had in God.

Today’s scripture readings highlight two key truths about prayer. Prayer is about God and prayer needs to be honest. As prayer is the way we communicate with God it cannot be anything else other than about God and honest. There is nothing we can hide from God.

Last week in the Pastoral letter from Bishop Philip, he encouraged us to look at the document ‘You will be My Witnesses’. This is outlining the ten-year plan for our Diocese and will affect all of us. Simple question – has everyone taken the chance to read it? This is crucial for all of us. The second thing Bishop Philip asked us to do was to establish or pledge to develop six holy habits:

  • to keep Sunday special, a family day, by attending Mass;
  • to spend 5 minutes a day in prayer using the Scriptures;
  • to do penance on Fridays, and to serve the poor and needy;
  • every fortnight to make a Holy Half Hour before the Blessed Sacrament;
  • to go to Confession once a month; and
  • to join a small group for formation, prayer and fellowship.

Have we given this serious consideration since last Sunday? For those who have, thank you. If not, why not? The future of our Church in this Diocese is dependent on all of us participating. I would like to encourage everyone who has not downloaded or obtained a hard copy of the document to do so and to read through it.

I’d also like to encourage everyone to look at those six holy habits, but not in a way that the Pharisee would have done. For example, if I look at the six habits and start to think I keep Sunday special already, I go to Mass, then I am not enriching what I already do. I am treating the holy habits as a tick list. Maybe I should be thinking about the part that says, ‘family day’ and ask myself who in my family should I be encouraging more to come to Mass?

I’d like to encourage us all to look at those six holy habits the way the remorseful tax-collector would have done; with honesty, humility and focused on God. If we can all develop those six holy habits then our Catholic Church in this Diocese will become more vibrant, welcoming and Spirit filled.

This is not about us and where we worship, this is about us as Stewards of the Faith; still having a Faith to hand on to those who come after us. Then we can use the words of St Paul honestly “I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith.”

Further Reading

Bop PL31 161022 (Ten Year Mission Strat).pdf

Ten Year Plan – Portsmouth Diocese, Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth

The Catechism of the Catholic Church

CCC 588, 2559, 2613, 2631: humility as the foundation of prayer
CCC 2616: Jesus hears prayer made in faith
CCC 2628: adoration as the attitude of man who knows he is a creature
CCC 2631: prayer for pardon as the first kind of prayer of petition

Please keep in your prayers this week

  • The Ukrainian and Russian people, may they be able to live in peace.
  • Those who are sick, those recovering from surgery, those who are dying, the recently deceased and those who mourn.
  • All those struggling to feed their families at this time.
  • Those working to help others who are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.
  • Those in business who have the power to make decisions to help the poor.
  • The political crisis affecting our country.
  • All those working in Parishes and the Diocese on the ten year plan
  • The three children being baptised this weekend in St Bede’s Laila, Sofia and Jamie.