“Two men went up to the temple to pray,” Jesus says. They could, of course, pray at home, over a meal, in the street, in the midst of business by short recollections and ceremonies. They could pray anywhere to the God who is the “hope of all the ends of the earth and of the seas that are far away” (Ps. 65:5). The womb of Mary carried Jesus from place to place, and even after his birth the Christ Child was often held by his mother, cheek to cheek, in an image of lovingkindness. Where Mary is, her Son is. Together, they are a temple of holiness and beauty. The sons and daughters of God are temples also in whom Christ dwells. Christ-bearers are walking in the world. In a sense, there is no fixed temple, for the center of the universe is the home of Christ and Christ is at home everywhere.
And yet, “You are to be praised, O God, in Zion; to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem” (Ps. 65:1). We may pray anywhere, but in the temple of Zion, in the body of a Church, we do nothing but pray. “To you that hear prayers shall all flesh come, because of their transgressions” (Ps. 65:2). There are many good reasons to attend the Sunday liturgy, but one which has been somewhat eclipsed in recent years is the importance of repentance and the acknowledgement of one’s transgressions. The beauty of God’s house, the holiness of the temple, the awesome wonders recalled cast a blazing light upon sins known and unknown. (Ps. 65:4)
The Church is the home of humility. No right prayer, therefore, will sound like this: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income” (Luke 18:11-12). Such a person has forgotten that God resists the proud in their strength. There is another way to pray: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” “For all,” Jesus says, “who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). The church is a confessional, a humble reckoning with oneself before God. It is a step down. It is the lowest place. It is the bowed head and the beaten breast. Repentance is a broken and contrite heart, and a broken heart is an open door.
The God of all forgiveness comes to his people. He pours out life-giving water, fills the threshing floors with grain, and overflows the vats with wine and oil. Grace upon grace come to the sinner. God is a river of goodness and plenty, of wealth and joy and singing. Forgiving, God gives God in full measure. The sinner has taken the lowest place, and God says, come up higher. Come to my side and my throne. Dip in the river of love, and walk in the pilgrim’s way. “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16).
This is the time in which we live. “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughter shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28). This is God’s gift to the humble. This is the sinner’s hope. Forgiven and filled with God, there is something to do. We are each, in our own way, relative to our state and condition life, and under providential care, called to pour out our lives as a libation (2 Tim. 4:6). We hold Jesus and we give him for the life of the world.
Look It Up: Read Luke 18:13.
Think About It: Try gestures of humility in private prayer.