We all use our bodies to pray because we are a single unity of body and soul, or in Thomistic language, a spiritualized bodies or embodied spirits. We all have the need to worship, because God put that desire in our hearts. The truth is that we cannot pray without our bodies simply because “the body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it” (TOB 19:4).
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. In today’s gospel, both men used their bodies, thoughts, and actions to reveal what was in their hearts. The Pharisee said a prayer to himself, a prayer filled with self-pride. He spoke of all the good things he had done and accomplished, but never recognized that God is the author of all good works. He even went as far as thanking God for not being like the rest of humanity and enumerating the sins of others and mentioning the tax collector who was with him in front of the same God, the God who created them both with equal dignity was separating himself from his fellow humans. It must have been very difficult for the Pharisee’s wife and children to live with him, because he considered himself different from the rest of humanity and that included his own family. Someone who thinks they are perfect is not only blind to their own faults; they are quite conscious of the faults of others and feel it is their duty to constantly point them out.
On the other hand, the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes, but beat his breast imploring God and asking for his mercy. The tax collector recognized his sinful condition and asked God for mercy. He is the one who really prayed an honest prayer. He really connected with God in recognizing his own sinfulness and asking forgiveness. In honesty, connecting with God he was justified, he was forgiven.
Jesus rejects the Pharisee’s prayer, for this kind of prayer is not a dialogue with the God who is love, his prayer was more of a self affirmation of his own ego and therefore, it is a prayer viciously damaged on the root. Thus, it is a prayer that creates division; it is a self-deceiving narcissistic prayer. It is a prayer that does not begin with the fundamental: the recognition of his poverty and the condition of being a creature in front of the Creator. In his prayer the Pharisee was not talking to God, but to himself. His prayer was filled with self-pride, not giving God the credit for his virtuous life, and with contempt of others who were not as good as he thought he was. If he had really thanked God for the help and grace he had received that helped him to be the person he was, if he had said a prayer for the tax-collector who may not have received the same opportunities and blessings in life that the Pharisee had received, then that would have been a good prayer.
Prayer must be an honest act of gratitude for who we are and for what we have, even for the good works we can do. God is the author of everything we do. Prayer should bring us closer to the reality of the other person who is sitting beside you in church and thank God for his presence because “next to the Blessed Sacrament Himself, your neighbor is the holiest object present to your senses” (C.S. Lewis). A real prayer must bring us closer to God and to our neighbor and to recognize and to give thanks to God not for making us different from the rest of humanity, but for making us all in his image and likeness. It is in the human bodies of the fellow human beings that we can experience the presence of God in our lives because “the body in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible and in this way the body enters into the definition of sacrament, which is ‘a visible sign of an invisible reality’ namely, of the spiritual, transcendent, and divine reality. In this sign- and through this sign- God gives himself to man in his transcendent truth and in his love” (TOB 87:5).
I invite you to feel that presence of God today in the person who is sitting beside you and give thanks to God for the presence of another being that has the same dignity that you have and for making present with his body in this visible world the invisible reality of God. During the sign of peace feel in the hands of those around you the fingerprints of God impressed in their hands, and finally when you receive the Most Precious Body of our Lord Jesus Christ remember that next to the Blessed Sacrament, your NEIGHBOR is the holiest object present to your senses and Give thanks to God not for our differences, but for our similarities because also next to the Blessed Sacrament YOU are the holiest object present to your neighbor’s senses. God bless you.
To Download a PDF Version of this Homily, Click Here: 30th Sunday OT Year C
Father Jorge Gomez is the Chancellor of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Father Jorge has attended many courses at the Theology of the Body Institute and has attended the TOB & Priestly Identity and TOB & Priestly Prayer retreats at the Theology of the Body Institute.