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The Pharisee and the Publican

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This is another great piece by James Behrens. As usual he brings in a

story that goes along with the Scriptures. I have permission to share this.

The Pharisee and the Publican

A friend of mine recently told me that she does not feel God’s presence

in her life. She said that she does not doubt the existence of God but

that she had no sense of his presence in the daily routines of her life.

She is active in her church. She is married and the mother of grown

children. I know her she is a very giving and vulnerable person –

giving of herself to those in her life, vulnerable to the many claims

that life makes on her heart.

As she spoke, the thought occurred to me that many of us are in the same boat.

Souls adrift in this vast sea of life, surrounded by the rising

and falling of waves upon which ride all kinds of flotsam – religious

words, rosaries, prayer books, rituals and other religious artifacts

which, if grabbed and taken on board, bear within themselves a promise

to make God appear and guide us to shore.

Which, of course, never happens. I am reminded of a little card someone

once sent to me. On the card was a picture of a little boat on the

ocean and the words, “Dear God be good to me. Thy sea is so vast and my boat is so small.”

And so we have this gospel this morning about the Pharisee and the

Publican. The Pharisee comforts himself, in the front of the temple,

with self congratulatory words of praise, aglow in the warmth of his

self-assured smugness that he has arrived, made it to a place of favor

in the eyes of God. And the Publican remains in the back of the same

temple, begging for God’s mercy out of a deep awareness of his own


The Pharisee thinks he has it made. All his ducks are in a row, but

unfortunately they are all dead and he does not know it. At least not

yet. He may be closest to the Holy of Holies area of the temple but he

is nowhere near the God whom he addresses.

And the Publican hangs his head low, aware of his sinfulness and his

deserved place in the last pew. He may feel far from God yet God is

nearer to him than he realizes. The man’s aching sense of emptiness and

need is a cry to God, and God hears and draws near, because the man

had room for him in his heart.

The one who thought he knew everything had so much more to learn. And the one who

was stung by his misconceived distance from God had God sitting with him, in that last pew,

though he could not see him or feel his presence.

And so my friend goes through her days, wishing that a sense of God

would become clearer in her life. And all the while, God is in the

details of her life, as she cares for her husband and family, gives of

herself to her church and community.

We search for God who seems all the more absent the more we hear about him and long for him.

It is that very absence that deepens the heart, moving us nearer to each other,

as we sail on the seas of life, looking for the God who has already arrived in the small confines of our boat.

James Stephen Behrens, O.C.S.O.

Monastery of the Holy Spirit

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