Updated: Dec 3, 2022
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE].
Between the Pharisee and the tax collector, “the latter went home justified,” says the Lord, “not the former.” The tax collector received mercy. The Pharisee did not. Why?
For a very simple reason: the tax collector asked for mercy. “Ask, and you shall receive,” says the Lord, “Seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door will be opened to you”. That was the entirety of the tax collector's prayer: "O God, be merciful to me a sinner."
In contrast, the Pharisee prayed to himself. That’s literally what our passage says: “The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself…”. As we heard, his prayer was one of self-worship. He was there to feel good about himself and all his achievements. Sadly, all of that simply distracted him from what was essential. He didn’t ask for God’s mercy; and so, he received no mercy.
Jesus gives us the tax collector as a model of prayer; while the Pharisee is given to us as an example to avoid. This parable invites us to examine our own motivations with regard to our attendance at Church.
Honest moment: think of when you arrived at Church today. What were your thoughts as you entered your pew and took your seat? Was it the thought, "I am a sinner and I am here to ask God for his mercy?" Or was it some other thought?
Why do I go to Church? Do I go to Church to celebrate myself or my own achievements? Am I here to simply feel good about myself? It can be dangerously easier than one might to come to Mass for any other reason than for receiving God's mercy.
Thankfully, built into the liturgy is a penitential rite at the beginning of every Mass. Before the Gloria and any other prayer, we’re invited to call to mind our sins and failings over the past week, through that invitation: Brothers and sisters, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries. We then pause in silence, and then pray the prayer known as the Confiteor:
I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; therefore I ask blessed Mary, ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.
Every now and then, I’m asked how one can get more out of the Mass. I offer you two brief suggestions relating to the penitential rite, and they both involve arriving early to Mass:
One way is by simply by making a proper examination of conscience before the start of Mass. The pause before we pray the Confiteor together isn’t very long. It can help to come early to Mass in order to really reflect over our actions of the week, so that when we communally confess our sin, it’s more meaningful at a personal level.
An example of an examination of conscience is in our bulletin this weekend. There are other examples you can find online. Oftentimes, they can be based on the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes. They can help us really reflect on our actions in the light of Christ, so as to ask Jesus for his forgiveness.
The second suggestion is by prayer other penitential prayers before Mass. When we pray the Confiteor together during Mass, it can pass by very quickly. But if we arrive early for Mass, we can take the time to really confess our sin to the Lord in our hearts and express our need for him.
I’ll share an example of this with you from Saint Ambrose. It’s included in a resource I mentioned to you last weekend, the Daily Roman Missal. There’s a whole section in the back of this book with many prayers and other good advice on how to be a good Catholic. This is from Saint Ambrose:
Lord Jesus Christ, I approach your banquet table in fear and trembling, for I am a sinner, and dare not rely on my own worth, but only on your goodness and mercy. I am defiled by many sins in body and soul, and by my unguarded thoughts and words.
Gracious God of majesty and awe, I seek your protection, I look for your healing. Poor troubled sinner that I am, I appeal to you, the fountain of all mercy. I cannot bear your judgment, but I trust in your salvation.
Lord, I show my wounds to you and uncover my shame before you. I know my sins are many and great, and they fill me with fear, but I hope in your mercies, for they cannot be numbered.
Lord Jesus Christ, eternal king, God and man, crucified for mankind, look upon me with mercy and hear my prayer, for I trust in you. Have mercy on me, full of sorrow and sin, for the depth of your compassion never ends.
Praise to you, saving sacrifice, offered on the wood of the cross for me and for all mankind. Praise to the noble and precious blood, flowing from the wounds of the my crucified Lord Jesus Christ and washing away the sins of the whole world.
Remember, Lord your creature, whom you have redeemed with your blood; I repent my sins, and I long to put right what I have done. Merciful Father, take away all my offenses and sins; purify me in body and soul, and make me worthy to taste the holy of holies.
May your body and blood, which I intend to receive, although I am unworthy, be for me the remission of my sins, the washing away of my guilt, the end of my evil thoughts, and the rebirth of my better instincts. May it incite me to do the works pleasing to you and profitable to my health in body and soul, and be a firm defense against the wiles of my enemies. Amen.
As we continue this Mass, let us be mindful for our reason for being here and continue to ask God for his mercy.
 Cf. Mt. 7:7
De Farizeeër en de tollenaar, by Barent Fabritius, c. 1661, oil on canvas, Rijksmuseum. [Public Domain]