Hos 6. 1-6; Ps 51; Lk 18. 9-14
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J. Checking Progress
Remember Jesus’ words to us on Ash Wednesday? …whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. …But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you./1/
A hypocrite puts on an act. Our word hypocrite is a Greek loan word meaning an actor on a stage. In the New Testament it means a religious or moral counterfeit. I don’t know if this comes to your mind, but the image Jesus gives me is that of someone adept at using peripheral vision. Standing on a street corner, in a worship space that means a person pays attention to others: ‘Do they notice me? Do they see what I’m doing? God may be in my words, but my heart is elsewhere.’ Can you see how that is possible?
Jesus made it clear in his parable about the Pharisee and the Publican, the first inside the synagogue, the second standing afar off. Remember the Pharisee’s words? God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. That is praying with peripheral vision.
Remember the publican’s prayer? He would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ That is praying with direct, steady vision. Jesus added that the publican went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. How sweet were the movements of spirit in the publican, even if he struggled still with how he lived! He savored them in the same way as his brave prayer of self-knowledge.
St. Ignatius of Loyola echoed Jesus with the first Jesuit’s practical advice for making spiritual progress. The more we give ourselves to silence, seclusion and solitude “the more fit do we make ourselves to approach and attain our Creator and Lord; and the more we unite ourselves to him in this way, the more do we dispose ourselves to receive graces and gifts from his divine and supreme goodness.”/2/
Lent is the church’s annual way we unite ourselves to our Creator and Lord, that is, to Jesus’ paschal mystery. As we pass the midpoint of Lent, we profit by checking our progress and ask if we persist in using peripheral vision or if we have allowed our lenten practices to help us see ourselves and to pray with direct, steady vision.
1. Matthew 6.5-6.
2. Spiritual Exercises, 20.
Wiki-image of the Publican is in the public domain.