Donate now

L'Osservatore Romano

General Audience: On Praying With Humility

“It is necessary to learn to rediscover the way to our heart, to recover the value of intimacy and silence, because it is there that God meets us and speaks to us”

Here is a ZENIT translation of the address Pope Francis gave at this morning’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

Last Wednesday we heard the parable of the judge and the widow, on the need to pray with perseverance. Today, with another parable, Jesus wishes to teach us the right attitude with which to pray and to invoke the Father’s mercy; how one must pray, the right attitude to pray. It is the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (cf. Luke 18:9-14).

Both the protagonists go to the Temple to pray, but they act in very different ways, obtaining opposite results. The Pharisee “stood” (v. 11) to pray, and used many words. His prayer was one of thanksgiving addressed to God, but in reality it was a display of his merits, with a sense of superiority vis-a-vis “other men,” described as “extortioners, unjust, adulterers,” as, for example — and he points to the other who was there – “this tax collector” (v. 11). But the problem is precisely here: the Pharisee prays to God, but in truth he looks at himself. He prays to himself! Instead of having the Lord before his eyes, he has a mirror. Although being in the Temple, he does not feel the need to be prostrate before God’s majesty; he is standing, he feels sure of himself, as if he were the owner of the Temple! He lists the good works he has done: he is irreproachable, observant of the Law beyond what is due, he fasts “twice a week” and pays “tithes” of all that he gets. In sum, more than praying, the Pharisee is pleased with his observance of the precepts. Yet his attitude and his words are far from the way of acting and of speaking of God, who loves all men and does not scorn sinners. On the contrary, that Pharisee scorns sinners, also when he points out the other who is there. In sum, the Pharisee, who considers himself just, neglects the most important Commandment: love of God and of one’s neighbor.

Therefore, it is not enough to ask ourselves how much we pray; we must also ask ourselves how we pray, or better, how our heart is: it is important to examine it to evaluate our thoughts, our feelings, and to extirpate arrogance and hypocrisy. But, I ask: can one pray with arrogance? No. Can one pray with hypocrisy? No. We must only pray by putting ourselves before God as we are, not like the Pharisee who prayed with arrogance and hypocrisy. We are all prey of a frenetic daily rhythm, often at the mercy of sensations, bewildered, confused. It is necessary to learn to rediscover the way to our heart, to recover the value of intimacy and silence, because it is there that God meets us and speaks to us. Only beginning from there can we in turn encounter others and speak with them. The Pharisee went to the Temple, he is sure of himself, but he does not realize that he has lost the way of his heart.

The other, instead, the tax collector presents himself in the Temple with a humble and repentant spirit: “Standing far off, he would not even lift up his eyes to Heaven, but beat his breast “ (v. 13). His prayer was very brief, it was not so long as that of the Pharisee: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” — nothing more, a beautiful prayer! In fact, the tax collectors, called precisely “Publicans,” were considered impure persons, subject to foreign dominators, they were not regarded well by the people and in general were associated with “sinners.” The parable teaches that one is just or a sinner not because of one’s social belonging, but by the way of relating to God and by the way of relating to one’s brothers. The Publican’s gestures of penance and his few and simple words attest to his awareness of his miserable condition. His prayer is essential. He acts humbly, certain only of being a sinner in need of mercy. If the Pharisee did not ask for anything because he already had everything, the Publican could only beg for God’s mercy. And this is beautiful: to beg for God’s mercy! Presenting himself with “empty hands,” with a naked heart and acknowledging himself a sinner, the Publican shows all of us the necessary condition to receive the Lord’s forgiveness. In the end, he who in fact was so scorned becomes an icon of the true believer.

Jesus ends the parable with a sentence: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 14). Of these two, who is the one who is corrupt? The Pharisee. The Pharisee is in fact the icon of the corrupt one that feigns to pray, but only succeeds in strutting in front of a mirror. He is corrupt and feigns to pray. So, in life, one who believes himself just and judges others and scorns them, is corrupt and hypocritical. Arrogance compromises every good action, empties prayer, distances one from God and from others. If God favors humility, it is not to humiliate us: rather humility is the necessary condition to be raised by Him, so as to experience the mercy that comes to fill our emptiness. If the prayer of the arrogant does not reach God’s heart, the humility of the miserable one opens it wide. God has a weakness: a weakness for the humble. Before a humble heart, God opens His heart totally. It is this humility that the Virgin Mary expressed in the canticle of the Magnificat: “He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden. […] His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:48.50). May she, our Mother, help us to pray with a humble heart, and let us repeat three times that beautiful prayer: “O God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

[Original text: Italian]  [Translation by ZENIT]

Greeting in Italian

I give a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking faithful. In particular, I greet the faithful of the dioceses of Mondovi and of Casale Monferrato, with the Bishop, Monsignor Alceste Catella; the parish groups, the Associations and the schools: I invite you all to persevere in your respective commitments with humility, spreading around you Christian mercy and consolation, especially to those that live in need. I greet the participants in the Course promoted by the Congregation for Saints’ Causes: dear brothers and sisters, I exhort you to work, so that the causes of Beatification and Canonization re-launch in dioceses and Religious Institutes the enthusiasm of the faith and a re-flowering commitment for the mission and your own sanctification.

Friday is the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, enriched this year by the Jubilee of priests. I invite all to pray the whole of the month of June to the Heart of Jesus and to support your priests with closeness and affection, so that they are always an image of that Heart full of merciful love.

A special thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Dear young people, draw from Jesus’ Heart the nourishment of your spiritual life and the source of your hope; dear sick, offer your suffering to the Lord, that He may continue to spread His love in men’s hearts; and you, dear newlyweds, approach the Eucharist often so that, nourished by Christ, you are Christian families touched by the love of the Divine Heart.

[Original text: Italian]  [Translation by ZENIT]

About ZENIT Staff

Share this Entry

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation