Tuesday, March 15, 2011

There is a big difference between saying prayers and praying

The third petition of the Lord's Prayer is repeated daily by millions who have not the slightest intention of letting anyone's will be done but their own. -- Aldous Huxley

(Mt 6:7-15) Jesus said to his disciples:
“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This is how you are to pray:
Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

“If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

The Church gives us the Lord’s Prayer as a Gospel reading twice each year. It deserves much more prayerful reflection than the auto-pilot response we commonly give it. Apart from Jesus’ impassioned plea for unity among His followers (John 17:21), this is the only instruction that we have from Jesus about what we ought to pray for. He tells us to ask God to inaugurate God’s reign, God’s way of doing things, on earth (as in heaven). We too easily slip into thinking of God’s reign as something for the hereafter. But it’s this world that God wants to set right, the world that God found “good” at creation. We’re the ones who have perverted God’s plan for creation. It’s not within our power, unaided, to repair the mess we’ve made of it.. So we have to ask God to impose God’s ways on our world – to do it through us and with our cooperation.

There is material for a whole year of reflections in the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, but let’s concentrate, for today, on just the last two.

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Why? Two reasons: God has first forgiven us; and forgiveness and self-giving are precisely what the life of the kingdom is all about. Forgiving is not a test to see if we’re worthy. We’re not worthy – never could be on our own. There is ingrained in human nature the tendency to think that we have to earn God’s favor, that there are conditions we have to meet. It is expressed in the ancient heresy, Pelagianism – refuted by St. Augustine , but never completely extirpated from the Christian mindset. God’s reign is precisely one of forgiving – God of us, and we of one another – forever. But is forgiving even possible for us? Emphatically, yes, through God’s life in us by virtue of our Baptisms. It is God’s forgiving that we live on earth, as does God in heaven.

And lead us not into temptation.

[Or “do not put us to the test”, as in both Matthew and Luke.] Jesus is not speaking here of personal temptation. He is speaking of the wrenching disruption that will accompany the inauguration of God’s reign for our world. Children will be against parents, parents against children, brother against brother. All of our cherished human value systems and social structures will be turned upside down. The Gospels are emphatic about that. We ask God to help us through this time of trial, to help us choose God’s way over human ways. But this is not just at some remote, future time. It’s now. In every act of self-giving, of justice, God’s reign is coming now. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to act through us to bring about His kingdom.

During Lent, the Church is asking us to deepen in our prayers. «The prayer, our colloquy with God, is our best treasure, because it means (...) being united to him» (Saint John Crisostom). Oh Lord! I need to learn how to pray and how to draw specific benefits for my own life. Mostly to live the virtue of charity: the prayer gives me strength to live it better every day. And this is why I ask him daily to help me to forgive not only the small troubles I may have to face from others but, also, the offensive words and attitudes and, more than that, to bear no malice to my fellow men, so that I can sincerely tell them I have forgiven from the bottom of my heart those who are in debt with me. I will be able to achieve it because God's Mother will help me at all times.

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