A most unassuming Jesuit brother died a number of years ago. His name was Julius Petrik, always known to us as just Brother Petrik. I miss him. He had been a quiet presence ever since I was a very young man in the Jesuits. He did not attract attention. He took pains to avoid it.
In one sense I never knew him, such was his silence. His gentle eyes pointed down, he carried out his tasks without fuss, and—for a long time, maybe always—he ate his meals by himself. I suppose some would just have called him a “character,” or have branded him as pathologically shy.
My intuition gave me a different message. I sensed something very holy about Brother. As the years went by I would take care to greet him when I would meet him and he would smile with a wide grin and greet me back with real gladness. We would exchange some small talk and then each go back to our tasks. His being an introvert took second place to the palpable spirit of love within him.
I speak of this good man not to publicize him, something he would have quietly refused, but because my heart is more at ease for my encounters with him. In a word, Julius was a humble man. His prayer surely must have reached God. He served gladly.
I think such meekness is the key to this Sunday’s scripture. Listen to what the First Reading says:
The one who serves God willingly is heard;
his petition reaches the heavens.
The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds;
it does not rest till it reaches its goal,
nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds,
judges justly and affirms the right,
and the Lord will not delay.
Prayer that pierces the clouds and does not rest till it finds its goal! With these words my mind trips forward to the notion of power: anyone who can force his prayers through to heaven must be able to get everything he wants.
At least it is tempting to think that way. But look closely. The prayer that finds heaven is that of the lowly. It stands before God’s throne not because it is forceful or adamant but because it embodies the hushed spirit of truth. It whispers humble needs to the very one who can answer them. It has no hidden purpose.
Which of the following two people do you think embodies such lowliness? The Pharisee?
O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—
greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector;
or the Publican?
O God, be merciful to me a sinner.
We know what Jesus thinks. In the Gospel he says, “I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Whatever internal battles Brother Petrik may have faced, I thank God that I was blessed to receive his gracious, shy, unassuming love.
I would love to be like him.