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213. The ABCs of Success (Luke 18:9-17)

October 19, 2016 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, The Better Part

“Confession heals, confession justifies, confession grants pardon of sin. All hope consists in confession.”  – St. Isidore of Seville

theBetterPartCoverLuke 18:9-17: He spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else, ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get. The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, God, be merciful to me, a sinner. This man, I tell you, went home again at rights with God; the other did not. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’ People even brought little children to him, for him to touch them; but when the disciples saw this they turned them away. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’

Christ the Lord  God has the right to be Lord. He is eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, and all-loving. He created all things, and he keeps all things in existence. Everything (and everyone) else owes everything to him. Without God, we would not even be able to sin – because to sin, first of all we have to exist, and second of all, we have to possess free will. Without God, who supplies both of these requisites, we are nothing. When we address Christ as “Lord,” we acknowledge this utter dependence on him, and we express our trust that he will continue showering his blessings upon us – not because we deserve them, but because who he is: abounding in generosity and loving-kindness.

When we address Christ as “Lord,” we also acknowledge that he deserves our complete fidelity and obedience. And since we are not completely obedient to God (even the just man falls “seven times” a day, cf. Proverbs 24:16), addressing him as Lord needs to include a confident plea for his mercy. This is the bedrock of all true prayer, because it is the bedrock of the truth about us and about God. In this light, the Pharisee’s sin was much greater than “greed, dishonesty, or adultery”; it was the sin of thinking he didn’t need God, that he was independent of the Lord.

By this standard, the Pharisee was not going to make it into the Kingdom of God, because that requires being like children – serenely aware of our dependence. Children aren’t angels, but they certainly are dependent on their parents, and they know it. This is basic humility and, without it, we can never live in communion with the Lord.

Christ the Teacher Through the centuries, the prayer of the publican (i.e., tax collector: a Jew who collaborated with the occupying Roman forces by collecting taxes from fellow Jews, often looked upon as the tissotthephariseeandthepublican for post on Luke 18:9-17epitome of infidelity to God and a betrayer of the Covenant) has been described as a complete summary of Christian spirituality. There are even cases of monks who made this prayer the only words that they spoke, and who reached the heights of sanctity by means of it.

  1. First of all, it recognizes God’s greatest quality – in relation to fallen mankind, that is – his mercy. Mercy is the form love takes in the face of suffering. The word “mercy” comes from the Latin misericors: miser (wretched, miserable) plus cor (heart) – to take someone else’s wretchedness into one’s heart. Because of original sin, and because of our personal sins, we are miserable creatures, and when we bring our misery to God, he takes it up into his heart.
  2. Second, the publican’s prayer recognizes his own need: he accuses himself for being a sinner, someone who has abused the gifts of God, someone who has given into selfishness.

The Pharisee’s prayer shows no knowledge either of God’s mercy or of his own need for God. In truth, it is no prayer at all – there is no connection between God and the one who is praying: it is just an exercise in narcissism, in self-admiration. God wants to connect with us, but he can only do so if we let him.

Christ the Friend Jesus went after the big sinners – you don’t get much bigger than “people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else.” He didn’t just preach to the choir (which, in fact, is why his enemies had to have him killed; his influence was simply becoming too widespread). This shows how much he cared about others, and how little he worried about himself. If he had been after comfortable self-satisfaction, he would never have gone after big sinners. This is confirmed by our own experience: when we don’t go after those who need Christ most, isn’t it because we care more about our own comfortable self-satisfaction than about expanding Christ’s Kingdom?

His concern for big sinners also gives us another reason to trust him without limits. No sinner is too big for Christ’s mercy. His mercy is infinite, like an ocean; even the greatest sins are finite, like a thimble. How foolish we would be to think our thimble was too deep for his ocean!

Christ in My Life You are my Lord. I understand what that means – I owe everything to you. You hold my entire existence in the palm of your hand. You never cease thinking of me and drawing me closer to you. You are my Lord, but you are also my Father, my Brother, and my Friend. Jesus, I trust in you…

I ask you to have mercy on me, for all the selfishness I know about, and for all the selfishness I’m unaware of. And I ask you to have mercy on all sinners. It is your mercy that makes your glory shine! Teach me to confide in your mercy no matter what, and to be merciful, forgiving, gentle, and meek – especially with those who don’t deserve it…

Pour your courage into my heart, Lord. I am hampered in my apostolate and my testimony because I still care too much about what other people will think. I’m glad you didn’t give in to those temptations. Teach me to be adventurous in building your Kingdom and spreading it, even to the “big sinners” who seem so hopeless…


PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.


Art: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. The Pharisee and the Publican, James Tissot, 1886-1894, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • patricia

    Hi Father this is such key to how I feel as the tax collector this I believe when we come to God with poverty in spirit he can not help but to lift us in his arms (Elevator) which is Jesus to his heart the Eucharist and bring us to God the Father. I can not want even more to approach the sacraments which much more fervent devotion and love and gratitude. Is this the Fathers love the sacraments so tangible. Baptism, confirmation, marriage, reconciliation and communion the Holy Eucharist. I grew up with out a father a dad in my life. I am wondering seriously have I missed the boat and have not recognize this in the first place this is the Loving Father and he gives so much more. I have been challenged to look honestly at God and contemplate his paternal love and mercy except I don’t know true paternity ever in my life so I believe this is deeper than biological paternity and it got me thinking well this is maybe what Father is Meaning God the Father. I question well do I love God because of all the graces and gifts he gives me or do I love him for who he is and gracious of his love and mercy towards his prodical daughter is this not deeply felt in reconciliation and in the Eucharist. I would like to see others comment on thier relationship with God the Father so I can learn as mine is all new. Thanks and God Bless!

    • RobinJeanne

      My relationship with God the Father is relitively new, about 8 yrs. My earthly dad was a good provider of nine and worked a lot, so there was no closeness. He was the disciplinarian. In my rescent discovery of God the Father, He became my go-to divine Person of the Most Holy Trinity, for being held. He is the one I ask “how may I please You?” “How can I live more purfectly for You oh Lord?” It is He, that I thanked and continue to be grateful to for holding me in His lap as I battled the greatest storm of my life, thus far, and showed me He is with me ALWAYS. It is my Father in Heaven who let me experience His love for me, even “while I was a sinner, He sent His beloved Son to die for me”

      Scripture says for those who have had much sins forgiven, loves much. I ask myself sometimes the same question “do I love God because of all the graces and gifts he gives me or do I love him for who He is….?” I think it’s both. I think being thankful for all He has given us and done for us, that awareness, keeps us humble and grateful. From there, hopefully, we give to others, share with others, what God has given to us. He is with me always, to the end of time… I know this and believe it with all my being. how I ever got through life without Him is a miracle. With a dead wish on my mind alot before He became part of my life. My soul was empty and the search for love was dissapointing till my eyes were open to to God the Father. He sustains my every breath and beat of my heart. He leads me, hand in hand as a father does his little daughter.

      • patricia

        Thank you for sharing your soulful experience. I appreciate it.

    • RobinJeanne

      I just gave a 30 min. talk on “Love of the Father” for a Born of the Spirit seminar. The relationship begins with trust, “no trust, no relationship”

      • patricia

        Trust in the relationship is hard I can say this is a purified by the fact no one earth other than God’s representatives have I really called Father. In some way it makes it very special in which that word is reserved only for God. Ok my problem is I have a blank image of what is a Father and a blank image of what it is to be a child. I am encouraged to meditate and contemplate and grow in this yet my difficulty I can not relate it to anything. So I rely on the saints and my experiences i have of paternal love of God in the sacraments. This however makes me wonder how can I ever love God for who he is and not what he has given? I ask this in all sincerity. I am learning about filial fear and love but it is still a blurr for me. It seems like I take the elevator to God the Father through the arms of Jesus but never arrive to know or experience God the Father. Only thru the saints and thier writings can I understand what God the Father is. Any suggestions other than trust in the relationship.

        • RobinJeanne

          In a way you are blessed not to have the earthly father to which most of us attribute qualities of him to that of God the Father. Even with the best of fathers, like I had, they are still imperfect. God created us with an imagination, so use it. Take all that you learned about God the Father from the saints and others experiences and imagine being in those lovingly perfect arms.

          • patricia

            This is a confirmation that i am not being dullutional and that if I can picture myself in the disposition of the saints I get the entire relationship the filial love and trust and filial fear to not want to offend God. I will bring it up in spiritual direction. Because I do want to grow in this. Thank you yes I will give you my email.

        • RobinJeanne

          I would like to share with you my witness to “Love of God” so if you are interested, message me on my FB and I will give you my email or you give me
          yours and I’ll email you.

          Dan I know you monitor these and I’d be happy to email my talk to you so that you can see that what I share is wholesome and good

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