The Redemptorist Father Ferreol Girardey illustrates in the following twelve Gospel narratives the proper dispositions which should accompany our prayers.
The first narrative he cites is the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Lk 18:10-14): “Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, the other a publican. The Pharisee, standing, prayed thus within himself: O God, I give Thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican. I fast twice in a week; I give tithes of all I possess to the poor. And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven, but struck his breast, saying: O God, be merciful to me, a sinner. I say to you, this man went down into his house justified, rather than the other; because everyone that exalteth himself, shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
Father Girardey comments: “Here are two persons performing the same action, praying to God. But how different before God are these acts! . . . The Pharisee aims at publicity, at being considered holy by his fellow-men.” . . . But the publican “is a model of a penitential humility. The humility of his posture, attitude, bearing and words attest his sincerity. His words are few but evince the deep earnestness and emotion of a truly contrite heart. He thinks not of others, but only of his own failings, in order to bewail them and implore their forgiveness. His is a prayer full of humility, confidence and of the spirit of penance. He is sure to obtain forgiveness, for ‘God does not despise a contrite and humble heart’ (Ps 50).”
“God does not judge from appearances, but from our interior dispositions, for He sees our heart, our inmost thoughts, and can never be deceived. ‘He is therefore moved to show mercy only by a heart full of compunction,’ says St. Bernard. ‘He resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble’ (1 Pt 5:5). Hence, in heaven only the humble are found. Let us, then, take to heart the admonition of St. Peter: ‘Be you humbled therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in the time of visitation’ (1 Pt 5:6).”
Quotations from Ferreol Girardey, Prayer: Its Necessity, Its Power, Its Conditions (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1916).