Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (2016)
By Fr. Leroy Clementich, CSC
I imagine it is true to say that many lay folks must often wonder what it is like to live in a religious community of men or women. Perhaps the image portrayed from reading pious books or lives of the saints may even give them a sense that the common life is all peaches and cream or roses and honey. Let me assure you however, as one who has lived this life for a lot of years, that such an impression is far from the truth. People who enter the life of a religious, whether as priest, sister or brother, are scarcely different from folks who live in families or other communities of the laity: they run the gamut of the quiet reflective person, the brassy, loud and strident person, even those whose self perception makes you feel as though you don’t measure up and should not even hang out here in this house with the rest the self-righteous. In short we are hardly any different from the run of the mill folks who have made a choice and are now duty-bound to stick it out.
In my own experience, these wide varieties of human character become most obvious when people pray together. Obviously, we pray in the manner we have personally learned or according to the way we perceive our relationship with God, whether confident and self assured or lowly and modest. Obviously, this is simply the way we are and there is not much we can do about it.
None-the-less, if you happen to be designated as the leader of prayer in such a community there is a strong chance that you will irritate the person praying along side of you. Once again, we are who we are and we probably will not change much; praying together is a tough job.
Perhaps that is why the disciples occasionally asked Jesus how to pray: In one instance he simply replied, “Just say Our Father, hallowed be your name, that’s enough.”
On another occasion, as we discover in the gospel of Luke for this Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus went into detail, describing for them the two modes of prayer we have come to know them in the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. You could not imagine any two more dissimilar styles of prayer than these two. From his own experience Jesus first chooses the Pharisee as an example of one who enters the temple and immediately assures God that he needs no divine help; he is not like other Jewish people of his acquaintance: “grasping, crooked, adulterous” or especially like tax collectors he knows. Then, as though God does not already know about his life, he recites his virtues: fasting, the paying of taxes on all he owns and so forth. Then Jesus stops and let us decide whether or not this is truly prayer
Then, in order to accentuate the proper way to pray, Jesus introduces us to the tax collector standing afar off in the far-off confines the temple with head bowed, fully cognizant of his unworthiness of even being present before God. He does not recite his virtues but simply admits his unworthiness as an ordinary sinful person and asks forgiveness.
Interestingly, Jesus created this story out of his own experience and the real life circumstances of his own time. The two characters may have been fictional but they obviously represented for Jesus how people actually did pray or should have prayed. He could end the story by pointing out that one of the two men at prayer went home justified before God and other not. We readers/hearers should now know the difference and learn from it. That’s what Jesus’ parables are all about.
I dearly hope that this short reflection will not be understood as my own way to instruct others how to pray whether in common or in private; I’m having a hard enough time myself trying to figure out each day how to pray like the tax collector. All the same, having read this story again for the thousandth time, it may help me rein in my patience at Morning Prayer or Vespers when one of my brothers does not lead the common prayer exactly the way I may prefer. Oh well, we’ll see!!
The scriptures: Sirach 35: 12-14 • 2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18 • Luke 18: 9-14
USCCB Bible Daily Readings: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time