Prayer That Pierces the Clouds by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
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 whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
Deep down, each of us wants to pray in a way that pleases God. We want our prayers to reach God's ears and to be powerful and effective. The sacred Scriptures offered by the Church for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time offer some profound wisdom for all of us pray-ers.
The inspired author of the book of Sirach gives us the key to this wisdom: "The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds." It is the "prayer of the lowly" that pierces the clouds and gets God's attention. Let me highlight four ways outlined in the Scriptures this week to define the "prayer of the lowly."
First, God is quick to listen to the prayer of the humble. Jesus shouts that truth from the mountaintop in today's Gospel. Our Lord compares two men who enter the temple to pray, and He states quite clearly that one goes home justified and the other doesn't. The first man proclaims that he is better than "the rest of humanity" and extols his own gifts as if they were exclusively the fruit of his own efforts. The second man, a known sinner and religious outcast, bows humbly before the Lord, beats his breast and begs for mercy. The humility of the latter pleases the Lord, prepares his heart to receives an abundance of grace from God, and leads him to be exalted by Jesus. Humility is second only to charity among the great Christian virtues.
Second, the voice of the weak and vulnerable receives a quick audience from our heavenly Father. The author of the book of Sirach teaches "The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint." There is a soft place in Jesus' Sacred Heart for those who suffer from illness or one of life's many other tragedies, like the early death of a husband. The Old and New Testaments are full of stories giving flesh to God's special concern for those who suffer.
A third kind of person that quickly finds favor with God is the one who faces injustice at the hands of his neighbor. Our first reading states in reference to the Lord, "Though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed." When human beings with worldly power exploit those who are weaker and take advantage of them, God is quick to have pity on them and come to their help. He promises to hear their plea for assistance and work to restore justice and charity.
Finally, God listens attentively to the prayers of those who labor for Him in His vineyard. The book of Sirach also says, "The one who serves God willingly is heard." God is pleased when we freely choose to go into the world and proclaim the Good News by deed and word. Humble, loving service rendered in gratitude to God for His bountiful gifts add weight to the prayers of His servant friends.
Lord Jesus, help us to be men and women of deep prayer. Teach us to pray and live so that our prayer pierces the clouds and reaches your ear. Give us hearts that are humble and contrite, help us to be keenly aware of our weakness, make us champions of justice and increase our commitment to serve you willingly. Then will our prayer be powerful.
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