Yesterday’s gospel hit me over the head. It made me realize I need to re-learn how to pray.
For those of you who didn’t hear the entire gospel over your children, or who happen to attend a church of a different denomination, it was Luke 18:9-14. The parable of the pharisee and the tax collector. They were both in the temple area praying.
This is how the pharisee prayed:
“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.”
The tax collector, on the other hand, would not even look up to heaven and prayed like this:
“O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
Who went home justified?
The tax collector, of course. He recognizes his unworthiness and simply humbles himself.
The pharisee, however, exalts himself. He pats himself on the back for how much better he does in his faith than the others.
And as I listened to the homily, I thought about how I suffer from the sin of pride: I expect myself to be perfect when it comes to my practice of the faith.
I am a harsh judge.
Not of other people, of course. I don’t believe that I am in a position to judge anyone else. (Truly.) But I do judge myself. A lot.
You see, I’m a little type-A. In school, I never met a rubric I didn’t like. I like knowing what is expected of me and exceeding expectations. I like having a scorecard with which to grade myself.
And as I sat in mass, I realized that I have been keeping score in my faith as well.
My cycle goes something like this:
I sinned. Oh no!
Go to confession, check.
Check out the Enchiridion of Indulgences. Perform penance. Check.
Pray. Pray some more. check.
Do some good deed. check.
I spin around trying to even out my soul’s balance sheet as though there is anything I could ever do to repay the debt I owe to Christ.
Instead, this is how I will try to pray:
Lord, I’m sorry.
I don’t deserve the grace you endow or the forgiveness you constantly give.
Help me to humble myself.
Teach me to give without keeping score.
Show me how to do good things out of love, and not because I’m trying to get myself into heaven.
Be merciful to me, and teach me to trust in your unending mercy.
Help me to be better in the future. Not because I want to be the best, but because I love you.
Give me a servant’s heart.
Help me to expect nothing in return.