During this season of Lent, I will be working through Bishop Robert Barron’s Lenten Gospel Reflections (available through Word on Fire). Each day, I will share the readings and the reflection question, followed by my own thoughts.
March 26, 2022
9 Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others:
10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The Holy Bible (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Lk 18:9–14). (2006). Ignatius Press.
When have you made God in your own image, or in other words, positioned him with your own ego-driven needs?
In today’s reading, we see examples of two very different prayers. In the first, we see someone using prayer as simply an opportunity to boast about himself. In the second, we see someone praying in a manner aligned with the will of a merciful God. Though I doubt that many of us phrase our prayers in quite the same way that the Pharisee did, our intentions are often similar: whether in our prayers or in our speech, we presume that our desire is God’s will, that our priorities are God’s priorities. This simply isn’t the case. God has our eternal destiny in mind. He is our Father, and as Jesus tells us, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). This doesn’t mean that we will always get what we desire, or even what we need in this life; however, God works in everything for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). But what is “the good”? St. Thomas Aquinas says this:
Naught can lull man’s will, save the universal good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone; because every creature has goodness by participation. Wherefore God alone can satisfy the will of man, according to the words of Psalm 102:5: “Who satisfieth thy desire with good things.” Therefore God alone constitutes man’s happiness.St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae: First Part of the Second Part, Question 2, Article 8
So if God will work to provide us with the good, and goodness is found only in eternity with God, we can be assured that God will provide us with the opportunities that we need so that we may grow spiritually. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways” (Isaiah 55:8). I think that James’ admonition is fitting: “you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that'” (James 4:15). When we make a prayerful petition, let us also ask that God’s will be done – that our request is only granted if it will be of benefit to our soul and the salvation of others, and that God would align our myopic, selfish hearts to His all-knowing, all-good, all-loving will.