21 March, Saturday – Have mercy on me, a sinner

21 March

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Hosea 5:15-6:6

The Lord says this:

They will search for me in their misery.
‘Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us;
he has struck us down, but he will bandage our wounds;
after a day or two he will bring us back to life,
on the third day he will raise us
and we shall live in his presence.
Let us set ourselves to know the Lord;
that he will come is as certain as the dawn
his judgement will rise like the light,
he will come to us as showers come,
like spring rains watering the earth.’

What am I to do with you, Ephraim?
What am I to do with you, Judah?
This love of yours is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that quickly disappears.
This is why I have torn them to pieces by the prophets,
why I slaughtered them with the words from my mouth,
since what I want is love, not sacrifice;
knowledge of God, not holocausts.

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Luke 18:9-14

Jesus spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else: ‘Two men 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 himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’

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God, be merciful to me, a sinner

In this period where we are not able to attend mass and receive the Eucharist, I have been reading articles and listening to podcasts in an attempt to fill the spiritual gap. One of the recommendations I came across is to pray the Jesus prayer. The prayer goes like this: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me.” It originated from the desert fathers, who repeated the prayer continually (akin to reciting the rosary) as part of their ascetic practice. The Jesus prayer is a combination of three bible verses from Philippians 2:6-11, Luke 1:31-35 and the parable in today’s Gospel passage.

In his boastful “prayer” to God, the Pharisee gauged the level of his sinfulness by the sins that he did not commit. There was no mention of his own sins, and he also took the opportunity to take a dig at the tax collector whom he obviously despised. He also seemed to take pride in his “holy” actions of fasting and tithing, as if these would protect him from sin. The tax collector, in contrast, simply opened his heart to God, acknowledged his sins and appealed to God for mercy and forgiveness.

We may think that we are not like the Pharisee, so self-absorbed in his rituals and religious practices. The recent unprecedented absence of mass attendance in my life has led me to realise that I have always relied on my participation at weekly mass as a kind of crutch to assure myself that at least I am in contact with God once a week. Whether I do my daily prayers and reflections may not be that important. Now that my crutch is gone, I am forced to re-look at my own spirituality. I was also struck by an article I read that described how people in the past had little access to priests and would receive the Eucharist only once a year. That really led me to wonder how I take the Eucharist for granted. Mass is always a privilege, and should come on top of daily communion with God through constant prayer and surrender. “What I want is love, not sacrifice; knowledge of God, not holocausts.” (Hosea 6:6)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for the opportunity to grow closer to Him, to ponder in silence at His will, while we continue to pray for greater wisdom in dealing with the current pandemic.

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