Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Hypocrisy in Prayer
Earlier today, when praying the Office of Readings, I was growing very, very discouraged. I absolutely love praying the Liturgy of the Hours, but there is one psalm which, every time I pray it or similar ones, I cringe.
He rewarded me because I was just,
repaid me, for my hands were clean,
for I have kept the way of the Lord
and have not fallen away from my God.
For his judgments are all before me;
I have never neglected his commands.
I have always been upright before him;
I have kept myself from guilt.
He repaid me because I was just
and my hands were clean in his eyes.
Uh...right. Every time I pray that psalm, I apologize. I pray the words because they are there, but I know the words are empty shells. They mean nothing. I'm a hypocrite, for I have never lived up to that psalm. I don't think I've ONCE prayed it without the following dialogue:
He rewarded me because I was just, (When have I been just?)
repaid me, for my hands were clean, (My hands are filthy!)
for I have kept the way of the Lord (No, I haven't)
and have not fallen away from my God. (Yes, I have)
For his judgments are all before me; (He holds up a powerful mirror)
I have never neglected his commands. (I've neglected all of them)
I have always been upright before him; (Am I supposed to pray this with a straight face?)
I have kept myself from guilt. (Uh...no. I haven't. Guiltier than Judas, here.)
He repaid me because I was just (Again...when have I been just?)
and my hands were clean in his eyes. (my hands are rarely clean)
You get the picture.
I don't honestly know how to pray those kinds of psalms. They seem arrogant to me, for really...who, in the history of the world (barring our Blessed Mother) has EVER been able to truly claim those words? We can claim to have TRIED, but...who doesn't fail, over and over again?
So it was that I spent some time on that psalm today, turning it over in my mind. The psalms are very human, and maybe sometimes we pray what we wish we could say, even when we know we haven't lived up to our end of the bargain. I know that when I am faced with my own hypocrisy, I cringe, and perhaps that's intended to force us to honestly examine our consciences.
One of my pitfalls, I've learned, is that I become easily discouraged, never seeming to make any spiritual progress, and so I become a bit...well...gloomy. This afternoon as I prayed, I nearly broke down in tears and had to remember that contrition is a good thing, recognizing our failures is a good thing...and that Jesus hung on a cross because I can't get my life together. He can, though, and He doesn't want us to focus on what we've done wrong, but rather, rejoice in His Mercy. As a priest once told me, "Don't give the devil a back door!"
My problem is that's exactly what I do: I give the devil a back door, through which he enters to discourage me and focus on the lost ground. And every time I do that, I take my eyes from Christ, forget His love, doubt in his Love, and...I quit praying.
Yup. one of the signs that I need to go to Confession is that I quit praying, or find it nearly impossible. I find I can barely address God at all, and isn't that what the devil wants? Doesn't he want to make us believe we can't go to Our Father in Heaven? Doesn't he want us to doubt in his mercy?
I've also at times considered NOT going to Confession if I'm dealing with a habitual sin that seems to be rooted deeply. Sometimes I think that maybe I'm just not sorrowful enough, or maybe not at all, and so I shouldn't go to Confession. I begin to resign myself to attending Mass without going to Communion until I can have the proper attitude towards my sin and confess it fully and sincerely and with whatever I might finally judge is the proper amount of contrition.
You see, of course, the problem in that thought process, don't you?
And there, the words of another priest come back to me, and save me from myself. One day in discussing teens and confession, specifically, he brought up the necessity of their being able to confess anonymously. He noted that when he hears their confessions behind the screen versus face to face, the serious sins are more likely to be confessed (and not tiptoed around) when they know he can't see them. And he observed, "When they stop confessing those sins...then we've lost them."
That's not just true of teens. It's true of adults, too. Because if we stop confessing our sins...then we've forfeited ourselves to the enemy. It is better to go to Confession, and maybe confess our imperfect or lack of contrition, than not to go at all. We need grace, and if we are truly struggling with sorrow for sin, avoiding the Sacrament will not help us find that sorrow.
So I will go to Confession, praying for perfect contrition, real sorrow for my sin, lest I be one of those who are lost.
I'll pray the psalms that make me cringe, and thank God that I CAN cringe, for it means that even if my conscience has been damaged, it's still working somehow, and God's grace is present in my life, drawing me to Him.
So, yes, I'm a hypocrite when I pray that I've toed the line and have remained upright in God's eyes. He and I both know that I can make no such claim. What God does is sets the bar, gives us a goal to reach. Do we reach it on the first try? Never. It takes time, we need reminders, and we don't pray those psalms in order to destroy hope, but rather, to better know ourselves in relation to God, and in recognition of our sinfulness, realize what we must do if we truly seek to become holy.
I have a very, very long ways to go.