This past Sunday we looked at the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Jesus’ story of two people who approached God in prayer with vastly different postures. The Pharisee was proud and self-exalting, the tax collector humble and self-effacing. Here are some wise words from Thomas Merton (No Man is an Island, 1955) on prayer in connection with this parable:
As a man is, so he prays. We make ourselves what we are by the way we address God. The man who never prays is one who has tried to run away from himself because he has run away from God. But unreal though he be, he is more real than the man who prays to God with a false and lying heart.
The sinner who is afraid to pray to God, who tries to deny God in his heart, is, perhaps, closer to confessing God than the sinner who stands before God, proud of his sin because he thinks it is a virtue. The former is more honest than he thinks, for he acknowledges the truth of his own state, confesses that he and God are not at peace with one another. The latter is not only a liar himself, but tries to make God a liar also, by calling upon Him to approve of his own lie. Such was the Pharisee in the parable, the holy man who practiced many virtues, but who lied before God because he thought his piety made him better than other men. He despised sinners, and worshiped a false god who despised them like himself. (pp 42-43)