Have you heard the one about…
the two men who went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.” The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you, went home again at rights with God; the other did not. For everyone who exalts themselves will be humbled, but the one who humbles themselves will be exalted.
The COVID-19 threat is conversation in every part of the world. We have been shaken from our comforts by an unexpected and unwelcome threat.
Perhaps pride is the societal sin of these early years of the twenty-first century. With technology and other modern resources we have come to think that we are able to achieve every goal and solve any problem if only we work harder and longer with greater focus and discipline. With this dedication we seem to achieve so much, we build and develop and invest and plan increasing the size of our projects and expanding our ambition. Who needs God (we think)? We can achieve all we need on our own.
And then a completely unexpected event brings us back to earth. We are grounded. We are on our knees.
In these days we are all suffering the effects of the Coronavirus. Some people do not realise that they are experiencing anxiety, instead commenting that this is no problem for them adding they are doing fine. Others are more grounded in reality aware that everything they had become attached to might slip from their grasp, acknowledging a healthy and realistic insecurity.
In this way an unwelcome enemy can present an unexpected opportunity for growth into greater personal and therefore spiritual maturity.
When we realise that we are beggars dependant on God for every breath we take then we are on our knees and open to the power and love of God. Until this moment we politely call on God to give us a hand with our projects, our families and our complex lives. This might be ok for a child, but a mature adult will be ready and eager to lose everything if it means knowing Jesus Christ and experiencing the love and power of God-with-us.
If we struggle to see this power and action in our own experience let’s turn to the gospels for evidence that this is a reliable method. In the gospels we see some good people who thought they were doing pretty well (think Pharisees). But those who became the intimate friends of Jesus were instead those who desperately called to Jesus from the depths of human suffering, addiction, anguish and sin. These people came as beggars with great capacity for Jesus. It was Jesus who did the rest making them the first saints and his greatest friends.
It all began for them when they were on their knees.
- Praying on our knees has gone out of fashion a bit. I notice that many people sit instead of kneeling before Mass, and during the parts of the Mass that were traditionally kneeling times. I remember too praying as a child kneeling beside my bed. I’m not sure how it happened that I let go of that practice. SO here’s the invitation…take a minute or two to kneel in prayer during the day, perhaps at the bedside to begin or end the day or at another time when you think of it. This posture itself causes a disposition of humility which is a powerful invitation to Jesus…
- Early in the week I was interviewed about the Coronavirus and Liturgy. If you have a spare half hour you can listen at this link.