Vatican City — Arrogance not only distances us from God but compromises each of our actions and makes our prayer useless, Pope Francis warned in his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square Wednesday.
Reflecting on the Gospel parable comparing the ways that a Pharisee and a tax collector pray at the Jewish Temple, the pontiff said that humility is "the necessary condition to be raised up by God, to experience the mercy that fills to the brim our emptiness."
"Whoever believes themselves just and judges others and scorns them is corrupt and a hypocrite," the pope exhorted. "Arrogance compromises every good action, empties prayer, distances from God and others."
"If the prayer of the arrogant doesn't reach the heart of God, the humility of the miserable opens it wide," he said.
The pontiff was reflecting Wednesday on a parable found in Luke's Gospel, in which Jesus describes two men who pray in very different ways. The Pharisee thanks God that he is "not like the rest of humanity." The tax collector instead beats his breast, asking: "O God, be merciful to me a sinner."
"It's not enough to ask ourselves how much we pray," Francis told the crowds in the square for the audience. "We must also ask ourselves how we pray, or better, how is out heart? It is important to examine it to value its thoughts, its sentiments and to eradicate arrogance and hypocrisy."
"Can you pray with arrogance?" the pontiff asked aloud. "No."
"Can you pray with hypocrisy?" he continued. "No."
"We must pray putting ourselves before God just as we are," said Francis. "Not like the Pharisee who prayed with arrogance and hypocrisy."
The pope called the tax collector's prayer "very short" but "very beautiful."
"His prayer is essential," said Francis. "He acts with humility, only sure of being a sinner in need of compassion."
"If the Pharisee doesn't ask for anything because he already has everything, the tax collector can only beg for the mercy of God," said the pontiff.
"This is beautiful: Begging for the mercy of God!" the pope continued. "Presenting himself with empty hands, with a naked heart and recognizing himself as a sinner, the tax collector shows all of us the necessary condition to receive the Lord's forgiveness. In the end he, so despised, becomes an icon of the true believer."
"Of these two, who is the corrupt one?" asked Francis. "The Pharisee. The Pharisee is truly the icon of the corrupt and makes the pretense of praying."
[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]