The Golden Rule for Praying: Follow the Rule and Be Blessed
While I was drafting this article, I received a message from a friend requesting me to pray for her as she needed it most. My quick response was in the positive without even inquiring for whom it was intended, whether or not it was for her, what was the problem all about. I gave her an assurance that I will definitely include her in my prayers. Likewise, I informed her to humbly pray to God, to trust Him, and for her to be confident that God will answer her prayers.
This Sunday’s spiritual musing regarding the story about the Pharisee and the tax collector (one of the Sunday Gospel readings for October) shows a very good description of how God wants us to pray. Based on accounts, the Pharisees during the time of Jesus were religious leaders perceived to have strictly obeyed God’s laws and said to be the cream of the crop. On the other hand, the tax collectors were scorned and hated because of their alleged unlawful and corruptible business dealings, hence they were publicly labeled as “sinners”. To most of the people during Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were considered as the good guys and the tax collectors – the bad guys! I find the story strange and sad at the same time as these practices are still recurring and true to these days. We have encountered in one way or another similar incidents these days by Government and business leaders, even in some of the clergy and lay leaders of the Church and likewise with our public officials.
While the Pharisee’s prayer appears to be in order: 1) thanking God for being morally upright, that he was not like the “rest of humanity” who are greedy, dishonest, adulterous, or “even like the tax collector”, and 2) informing God about the good things he did (e.g., fasting twice a week, paying tithes from his own pocket), unfortunately, our Lord Jesus Christ was not pleased by the way he uttered the prayer and the manner by which it was done. The Pharisee seemed to have been lost and blinded by his conceit, personal satisfaction and pride (thinking a lot about himself), leaving his prayer with no humility or a lack thereof. Instead of focusing on his own shortcomings and weaknesses, he started his prayer by criticizing the tax collector and by commending himself for being the best. His contempt for the tax collector was a sure tell that he was self-righteous. And that was his problem basically, God saw his self-righteousness based on the way he prayed. On the other hand, the tax collector delivered a thoughtful and meaningful prayer. He went inside the temple to visit God with a humble and repentant heart, mind and soul, recognizing the grievousness of his wrongdoings and the consequences thereof. He stood far off, bowed his head and would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast with remorse and anguish, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” He acknowledged his sinfulness and pleaded for God’s mercy and compassion. The tax collector obviously heeded the call of God to change his scarred life by returning and humbly submitting himself to Him, leaving behind his old wicked ways to live a renewed life. Because of his humility, he was exalted by God, and he went home “justified”. Truly, God is happy whenever he sees our humble hearts and our genuine faith in Him.
You see, when we pray unceasingly with genuine humility and a contrite heart, we gain the forgiveness of our merciful God and His unfailing love. God will definitely answer our prayers, sometimes soon or at the proper time and what’s best for us. God knows what’s in our hearts and He’s working on our behalf, so let’s put our 100% trust and confidence in Him. Isn’t this a wonderful privilege given to all of us by our dear Lord Jesus Christ? Yes, it is easy to pray, we just have to have the time for it. We are fortunate to grab this opportunity when we can as it is such a privilege to approach God anytime we want, and anywhere we would like to talk to Him. For some of us, it may be quite hard to pray properly, particularly in a chaotic environment as we see nowadays where there are so many disruptions around us. At times, I feel guilty of this. It is quite a challenge to fully concentrate on my prayer, especially on the traditional vocal prayers. So many things just pop up in my mind whenever I recite a prayer, especially in repetitive prayers such as the Holy Rosary. That is why before praying, I try to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to clear my mind from unnecessary thoughts. How much more for a humbling prayer? It could be more challenging. Praying with humility can’t be feigned, thus boasting, arrogance and hypocrisy have no place in a humble heart. It would require some spiritual discipline to have a genuine humble conversation with God. We have to develop the virtue of humility within ourselves. It’s not an overnight thing, it is a process and will require change from us, from our lifestyle. Humbling ourselves before God is a bonus and a wonderful privilege. It can truly change us, for the better for sure. Once we knew that God is with us and we learn to adapt to His teachings, we will start reaping the benefits from spending time with Him and thus be able to apply them to our daily lives and also share the said blessing to others. And that’s what God wants us to do for Him.
So, how often do we approach God in our prayers? How do we pray to God? What is the Golden Rule of praying? Do we have to talk to Jesus often in our daily lives? The habit of frequently praying to God is far better than missing the opportunity to pray. However, we have to be reminded by this parable whenever we pray specifically on the ways on how the tax collector became victorious over the Pharisee who was not able to capture our Lord’s interest. It is probably better to converse with God in an isolated place just like when Jesus woke up very early before dawn to pray in a deserted place. You see Jesus Himself took time to pray, how much more for us? Humility in praying can be achieved and one way to do the same is by praying constantly. If we frequently talk to our Lord as in every day of our lives, it will absolutely help soften our hearts and strong will. Sometimes when we pray for our personal intentions, we earnestly hope and wish that Jesus would listen to us. There are times, we beg on our knees before God, in front of the Crucifix, confiding Him our daily struggles and happiness, like trusting our secrets to a very close friend. There is nothing wrong in begging for God’s mercy since it only shows that we are sincere and humble in our prayers. When we pray humbly, sincerely and reverently, God will answer our prayers. Note that in the said parable, God prefers the man with a humble heart, the one who was lowly of spirit and in deep humility but with a strong faith in Him.
Pope Francis once commented on the said parable. He stated that “Indeed, the proud disdain of the Pharisee for the sinner at his side prevents him from being righteous in God’s sight”. He further mentioned that: “True prayer is born of a heart which repents of its faults and failings, yet pleads for the grace to live the great commandment of love of God and neighbor”. The Holy Father likewise added: “To pray well, then, we need to look into our own hearts and there, in humble silence, let the Lord speak to us. The honesty and humility which God asks of us is the necessary condition for our receiving his mercy. ”
In this time and age, where many of us are striving to be the best in the eyes of man, to be famous and successful in our respective careers and businesses, have we also taken into account on how can we look best in the eyes of God? Have we examined and looked deeply on ourselves on how to better use of the God-given talents and treasures in the service to others? What the tax collector did when he prayed to God serves as the golden rule for praying, which can be emulated by us. We have to humbly pray to God, particularly in seeking God’s forgiveness for our shortcomings, for not being able to help our brothers and sisters who are more deprived than us, for not sharing our time, talents and treasures to others, so that we can be much better followers of Christ in the end.
Our Loving God, we humbly pray and ask forgiveness for our attitudes in praying. Teach us dear Lord on how to pray with humility. May You send forth the Holy Spirit upon us to enlighten and assist us as we discern on how to be pleasing to and exalted in Your eyes every day of our lives. May the Blessed Mother (Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary) guide and help us so that God hears and grants our plea. Amen.
ccto for the featured photo. Thank you.