This morning began as any other morning. The kids and I got ready to journey out into the world of the hustle and bustle of life. The sun was shining and while it was cold outside it was truly a beautiful moment. We talked those inconsequential, non substantial words that make up the average daily conversation. The crossing guards waved as we passed by, probably thankful that I had finally fixed my muffler and was no longer a primary source of their hearing loss. Everyone seemed to be in a fairly good mood, no real arguments and no pouting. The sun was rising over the tops of the trees and glistening off the frosted dew that coating the world like gravy on a spoon.
Two cars in front of me something was happening. I don’t know if their morning was worse than mine or better. They began to turn into a side street when out of nowhere came barrelling two large semi trailers, drones from the beehive targeting an aggressor. They quickly dodged back into their own lane and came to a screeching halt. The next car sprang into action, and like a broken slinky I too bounced and pressed to a halt. Behind me came a sensation of disorientation as unforgiven steel was pressed mouth to lip as two lovers in a passionate moment. I took inventory of the car, asking if everyone was ok and stepped out asking God for this to be a calm moment. I was worried. Were those behind me ok? Were they angry? Were they aggressive? What kind of moment was I about to have?
There he was, Jesus standing in the form of one of my former confirmation students. “Hello, Mr. Mullins,” he said. Relief flooded through me. “Are you ok?” Only a dent on my car, nothing to be concerned with.. but my heart went out to this young man. I remember those days when I was younger and in those situations. After a phone call the local police arrived and we traded information. Then Jesus turned to me in the sparkling eyes of a female police officer and said “Have a better day.” So I did. That’s what happens when we get out of the way. Life doesn’t get easier. It isn’t always a bed of roses. It has accidents, bumps and bruises. It has moments of tension, moments of fear, moments of anxiety. In all of these though, we look for Jesus.
Tomorrow’s Gospel shows another side. One man stands up and declares himself pious. He lists off all of his attributes and thanks God for them, thanks God that he is so good. The other comes to him in repentance, and knows he is mortal, frail, unworthy. The one who is humble is the one who Jesus says goes away justified. Humility is the foundation of prayer (CCC §2559). There is this beautiful Psalm composed by King David in which he shows us exactly what that looks like. He doesn’t list his goodness, or his piety, but instead comes broken and bruised before God. True prayer comes from a man who knows his imperfections, and seeks the mercy of God with on sense of entitlement. David says:
Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offense.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.
My offenses truly I know them;
my sin is always before me
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done.
That you may be justified when you give sentence
and be without reproach when you judge,
O see, in guilt I was born,
a sinner was I conceived.
Indeed you love truth in the heart;
then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.
O purify me, then I shall be clean;
O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me hear rejoicing and gladness,
that the bones you have crushed may thrill.
From my sins turn away your face
and blot out all my guilt.
A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit.
Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervor sustain me,
that I may teach transgressors your ways
and sinners may return to you.
O rescue me, God, my helper,
and my tongue shall ring out your goodness.
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise.
For in sacrifice you take no delight,
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice, a contrite spirit,
a humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.
In your goodness, show favor to Zion:
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will be pleased with lawful sacrifice,
(burnt offerings wholly consumed),
then you will be offered young bulls on your altar.
Sometimes when I read this Psalm I am broken. I find myself in tears unable to speak and unable to continue my prayers. I find all of those sins which I have poured onto Jesus shoulders rushing back into my periphery, calling out to me and saying “Remember me?” It’s those moments, those moments when I say with the tax collector “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Authentic prayer. That’s what God asks. He isn’t asking you to be perfect, but to be trying. He wants to hear your good and your bad, your comforts and discomforts, your angers, sadnesses, joys, and pleasures.
The Pharisee made the major mistake of believing that he did not need repentance. The truth is we all need forgiveness, all have fallen short of the glory of God. The Catechism says “since sin is universal, those who pretend not to need salvation are blind to themselves.” (CCC §588) Jesus came to heal the blind. Not just the physically blind but the spiritually blind as well. These readings remind us of that stoic pillar of Lent that is every important in our relationship with Christ, prayer. Let us use this moment in Lent to listen to Hosea as he calls out to us through the chasm of eternity to say “Come, let us return to the Lord, it she who rent, but he will heal us; he has struck us, but will bind our wounds. “ Spend some time in these last days of Lent to ask yourself.. where am I blind? Where am I unable to see? Where do I lack humility? How can I grow closer to God? Then let us remember as we stand before Christ’s sacramental presence in preparation for reception of the Eucharist, that we too must cry out in humility with the tax collector and say:
Kyrie eleison (Κύριε ἐλέησον)
Lord, have mercy
Christe eleison (Χριστέ ἐλέησον)
Christ, have mercy
Kyrie eleison (Κύριε ἐλέησον)
Lord, have mercy
His servant and yours,
“He must increase, I must decrease.”