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Sister, how do you pray?

By Niobe Rodrigues

Luke’s Gospel often mentions the topic of prayer. Perhaps the reason for this is often our attitude towards it. In my mind, at least, there are prayers and there is prayer. I categorise prayers as the rote, formulaic type that all good Catholics know: Our Father, Hail Mary, Rosary, Grace Before Meals, Act of Contrition.

Whereas prayer is a conscious effort I make to communicate with God. Each of these has its place and both are necessary yet there are times when the routine prayers may more be for show than for worship. Let’s look at two persons at prayer.

The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’


It is my suspicion that this is a prayer that the Pharisee said often. What tells us this? He “took up his position”. This is how the Pharisee prayed. How many of us attending Mass would sit in a particular seat, perhaps because it’s close to the windows, the fans, or even the exit?

The Pharisee was comfortable with where his prayer life was and what he was saying, and it was evident in his prayer so much so that he looked around for others who were not like him.

His prayer may have sounded like, “Ay! God! Is me, yuh boy! Ent you know me? Of course. I mean I here every week, every prayer meeting, every retreat, I inside. And yuh done know how much money I does put in collection every month! Me eh want nothing you know God! I good.”

He had even satisfied the requirement of daily prayer so everything in his life was in order. He may have left the temple after this brief discourse.

But what about the other visitor to the temple: the tax collector?

But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’

This approach to prayer reminds me more of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament where we come face to face with our nothingness before God. We

are there not to talk but to listen; not to beg but to receive; not to exalt ourselves and our deeds but to thank the one who has given so much.

While the Pharisee did not see it, he was on par with the tax collector. The Pharisee with his sin of pride, and the tax collector with his unnamed for which he desired mercy. The thing is Jesus had come to save both.

The song this week is ‘Nobody’ by Bertille Hunt (

The song names those in the Bible who Jesus came to save and whose sins would have been glaringly obvious: the woman at the well; Zacchaeus; the woman who wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. But what of those whose sin is more cleverly hidden?

The singer ponders: “Sometimes I wonder if I woulda saved somebody like me?” No matter what, we all have done things of which we are ashamed. The important thing is when we come to prayer are we aware of it.

Are we only going through the motions and reciting words but not allowing the intent of the scripted prayers to penetrate our hearts and minds? Are we participating in too few instances of personal prayer?

Let us incorporate both prayers and prayers, and so hope to find ourselves justified with God.