Bishop Morneau's Column|
"Reflection on the Readings"
|Bishop Robert Morneau
Spiritual ingredients are here to stay
Prayer, fasting and alms giving provide spiritual balance in our lives
October 28, 2001, Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Bishop Robert Morneau
Questions for reflection:
1. Which of the legs on the spiritual milking stool is strongest/weakest in your life?
2. How do you pray, fast and serve?
3. Why are good works so easily ruined?
Last year Fr. Christopher Rengers, OFM Cap., published a book, The 33 Doctors of the Church. It's a thick tome of nearly 700 pages. Thus far I've only read about three of the great Doctors: St. Therese of Liseux, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Catherine of Siena. In each of their lives there are three major components: prayer, fasting, service.
The Pharisee in today's parable did all three of these spiritual activities but in the wrong way. His attitude was misguided for he thought himself righteous and superior to others. The contempt in his heart for struggling humanity turned everything sour. This Pharisee was a spiritual curmudgeon, surly, ill mannered, bad-tempered. All the good deeds done went right down the drain.
All of us are called to pray, fast and give alms. These three activities are about relationships: prayer connects us to God; fasting and mortification seeks to get our own house in order; giving alms is a call to a life of service and generosity, dealing with our relationship with our brothers and sisters. These three ingredients in the spiritual life are like the third leg of a milking stool. Each of them is necessary for balance. If one leg is missing, we are in deep dung.
The tax collector prayed. It was a simple, humble, contrite petition: "O God, be merciful to me a sinner." He knew that he had done wrong and was in need of redemption. This prayer was also an act of faith. He believed God to be merciful. Surely, on his way home, the tax collector was resolved to fast and serve others. Prayer leads us in that direction.
The Doctors of the Church were committed to listen attentively to the word of God and to respond wholeheartedly. It was the Spirit who enlightened them to see into the mystery of God.
Fasting is an expression of conversation. We voluntarily enter into self-denial for one of three reasons: to seek liberation from the disorders in our life, to grow in compassion with the suffering world, to express a set of values that our culture finds difficult to accept.
But the Doctors of the Church fasted primarily to enter more deeply into the life and suffering of Jesus. They wanted to remove and purge every obstacle that prevented them from living the life of grace.
Alms giving and service to others is a core Gospel value. Jesus came to serve, not to be served. The tax collector, once forgiven, must reach out to others in justice and charity. Otherwise, his prayer would not be authentic. The Pharisee, in giving alms, ruined the whole thing because of his ungraced motivation.
The three Doctors of the Church mentioned above rendered service to others not just in giving their time and talent but their very selves. Self-donation was a way of life for them as they followed Jesus in the way of discipleship. They gave of themselves without reservation. And still, they found the time to also serve by instructing us in the truths of our faith.
Milking parlors are in; milking stools are out. Still, prayer and fasting and almsgiving will never leave us. Technology has no way of replacing them.
(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)