22 -23 October
It is hard to imagine more appropriate readings in anticipation of the 40 Hour Devotion that begins this Friday. For those unfamiliar with this devotion, it is a weekend of prayer, together, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. There are some highlights, such as the opening Mass on Friday at 5.30pm, the Rosary at midday on Saturday, and Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3pm on Saturday and Sunday. The rest of the time we “watch and pray” as the Lord invited his apostles to do with him (Matt 26:41).
The reason this weekend’s readings are so appropriate though, is not only because they speak to us about prayer, but because they speak about the right and wrong disposition for prayer. In summary, Our Lord teaches that pride corrupts virtue, whereas humility raises up the sinful. The pharisee is a warning to us that our prayer never become self-congratulatory. Instead, prayer starts with humility, just like that shown by the tax collector.
Saint Augustine said of the tax collector, “although his conscience distanced him from God, his piety drew him close”. And Saint John Chrysostom commented: “To learn how good it is not to imagine that you are something great picture to yourself two chariots. For one, yoke together a team consisting of justice and arrogance; for the other, a team of sin and humility. You will see that the chariot pulled by the team which includes sin outstrips the team which includes justice. Sin does not win the race because of its own power, but because of the strength of its yokemate, humility. The losing team is not beaten because justice is weak, but because of the weight and mass of arrogance. So, humility, by its surpassing loftiness, overcomes the heaviness of sin and is the first to rise up to God. In the same manner, because of its great weight and mass, pride can overcome the lightness of justice and easily drag it down to earth.” So we can see that pride corrupts virtue whereas humility elevates the sinful.
Over the course of the 40 Hours we will have the opportunity not only to pray, but also to humble ourselves in the presence of God. A priest will be in the confessional for the whole weekend so that we can humbly admit our sinfulness and receive the Lord’s mercy – “those whose sins you forgive are forgiven, those whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:23).
Perhaps we can meditate on the words of King David whose humble prayer is recorded in Psalm 51.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me