Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary - Homilies


30th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon
October 27th, 2013
Year C

A long-standing, traditional prayer that originated by monks from the ancient Christian East is known as the “Jesus Prayer.” It arose as an inspiration from the tax collector’s prayer in the Gospel reading. It goes like this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” The way in which one is supposed to pray this prayer is by breathing in while saying the first part of the prayer as though inhaling the life of Christ. In speaking the second part one would breathe out, as if exhaling the power of sin. The beauty of this prayer is that it can be prayed all day long, when we feel tempted, when caught in traffic, or a few moments before going to bed. The point of the Jesus Prayer is that it is a reminder of our dependency on God’s mercy. It places within us an attitude of humility.

Notice how this is, in part, the point of the message of the Gospel. There is an obvious dichotomy between the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee takes up his position and prays to himself. He then goes on to list all the things that he is not and what he does for God. He does not pray to God, rather he prays in reference to himself. His prayer is not only exaggerated but it is also false. He declares himself righteous when in reality only God can make one righteous. He therefore, seems to have no need for God. He trusts only in himself and is thus numbered among the proud. The tax collector, on the other hand, dares not even to raise his eyes to heaven. There are four aspects to his humility – 1. He stands far away; 2. He keeps his eyes lowered; 3. He beats his breast (a sign of repentance); 4. He cries out for mercy. The tax collector identifies himself with all the things the Pharisee says that he is not. Thus, he does not declare himself righteous but rather acknowledges the righteousness of God and his dependency on His mercy.

But there is more that meets the eye here. There is a hidden common denominator. The tax collector, aware of his sins, prays for mercy. This self-awareness of his limitations, weakness, and sins, leads him not to run away, not to hide from God, not to despair, but to depend. The Pharisee, however, while it may seem that he is not hiding from God does not acknowledge his need for mercy, he does not recognize his dependency on God, he is not self-aware and thus he hides his sins from God. The tax collector exposes his shame with an eye on the mercy of God.

The catechesis of the past 40 years has convinced many people that there is no such thing as sin. That all you have to do is be a good person and that will be enough. Think of how many people we have lost – those who left the Church and those who remain – due to this tragic misleading. It only leads a person to hide from his or her sins. The problem is this: personal responsibility and humility. The tax collector takes personal responsibility for his sins. The weight of which crushes him, so much so that he cannot even raise his eyes to heaven. This must be our attitude toward sin. They must cause us shame, they must cause the feeling of personal guilt so that we can expose them – not hide from them, bring them to the Lord and experience the reality of His divine mercy. It is true that many will acknowledge the fact he or she is a sinner. But this is to say it dramatically. Pope Francis, in his daily Mass homily on Friday noted that to say it in this way is to say in word only, it becomes only a manner of speaking and there is then no need of forgiveness. He says this:

“Some say: ‘Ah, I confess to God.’ But it’s easy, it’s like confessing by email, no? God is far away, I say things and there’s no face-to-face, no eye-to-eye contact. Paul confesses his weakness to the brethren face-to-face. Others [say], ‘No, I go to confession,’ but they confess so many ethereal things, so many up-in-the-air things, that they don’t have anything concrete. And that’s the same as not doing it. Confessing our sins is not going to a psychiatrist, or to a torture chamber: it’s saying to the Lord, ‘Lord, I am a sinner,’ but saying it through the brother, because this says it concretely. ‘I am sinner because of this, that and the other thing.’”

The point that Pope Francis is making is simple – be direct, be concrete, and take personal responsibility – become more self-aware and humble in order to be able to articulate sins. So many people come to confession, as the Holy Father notes, but have no idea what to say, where to begin. Some people even will tell me how great they are – they obviously miss the point of confession! In light of this, a good examination of conscious is needed to help guide your conversation with the priest. Beyond the particulars of making a good confession is personal responsibility and humility. Why is humility so important? “It is because when we have such high regard for ourselves, when in the presence of God, He quite reasonably abandons us, since we think we have no need of His assistance.”

This is perhaps, what makes the “Jesus Prayer” so powerful. It, of course, does not replace sacramental confession but it does help us to acquire in our hearts a true spirit of humility, a true sense of dependence on God and the need for His mercy. May the practice of reciting this simply prayer move us to a deeper humility before God and the desire for His mercy.










Fr. Jon Reardon

Rev. Jonathan L. Reardon is a priest for the diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.
He serves at Sacred Heart Parish in Pittsfield, MA.



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