The abortionist kneels cowering in a dark corner of the church. Ashamed. Perhaps not even sure why he is there.
Somehow, the blackness of his sin has invaded his conscience. He knows he can't undo what he has done. He's trapped by his actions and yet he wants out of his cage. Maybe he will find liberation here in this church. "Oh God! Let me out of this prison I have created," he moans.
God will surely heal this abortionist if his desire to amend his life is sincere. Moreover, this prayer of the abortionist is a much greater prayer than the prayer of the sinless one or, rather, the one who believes he is sinless. The abortionist has thrown himself at the feet of God, expressing his complete dependence on God's mercy. His is the prayer of poverty of spirit.
Evangelical pastor Steve Brown suggests that we may understand Jesus' story of the Pharisee and the tax collector better if it is re-cast with an abortionist and a clergyman (Approaching God, p. 15). Perhaps with these contemporary characters, we can better understand the shock with which Jesus' contemporaries would have heard his story.
Brown also says, "It's easier to hug a dirty kid than it is to hug a stiff kid" (p. 20). Look at it from God's point of view. It's not so easy to love those who don't feel they need your love. But if a person is in need of that love and is willing to surrender him or herself to you then you must respond.
"Humility is the foundation of prayer," says the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 2559). The prayer of the Pharisee is inauthentic because it is rooted in pride. He thinks he's got it together, that he's close to God, that he's better than others. But if he's got it together, he doesn't need God. He's stiff and he needs to be broken.
We thank God for all the good things in our lives -- good health, financial security, our morally upright and successful children. And we should. These are God's blessings for which we should be grateful.
But God can't get inside us in the places we are strong or where we feel strong. It is only in the places where we feel inadequate, sick or sinful that God can transform us. Only there will we surrender and say, "God, I can't do this. I need you." There is our possibility for praying like the abortionist.
It is in our weakness that we begin to understand why the Easter Vigil refers to the sin of Adam as a "happy fault." We can rejoice over Adam's sin because it makes salvation through God's Son necessary. We can rejoice over our sins because we have places where God can transform our lives to make us more like himself.
God's love can melt our stiffness, our belief that we are so darn good. "Love makes us weak and vulnerable because it breaks down the barriers and protective armor we have built around ourselves," says Jean Vanier (Community and Growth, pp. 18-19). "Love means letting others reach us and becoming sensitive enough to reach them."
If we are going to pray, to let God's love reach us, we have to let the barriers fall. Until we let God see us and love us where we are broken and sinful, our faith is only superficial. We expect that God will love us for our virtues and our accomplishments -- and he does -- but we can be afraid to let him love us where we are not so beautiful. Anyone can delight in the ways we are funny and inspiring; few are willing to love us in the boring and ugly parts of our character. It takes great trust to let someone see that part of oneself.
In the early stages of courtship, the man and the woman each put their best foot forward. It can be a heady time, if things click. But if courtship is to progress into lasting love, the superficialities will be put aside. The couple will grind gears, be at odds with each other, even become unsure as to whether the relationship is worth maintaining.
It is in the realization of each other's brokenness that true love becomes possible. It is in the willingness to bend before the other's oddities and in the acceptance of the not-so-pretty picture of oneself which the relationship holds up, that true love is born. It is out of that bending and in that realization of one's own broken nature that lasting fruit can be born.
So it is with prayer. We are lost. And we have to see how lost we are before we can be found and begin life anew.
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