For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Jesus said to his disciples, "When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
"Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Each Lent we focus on hearing and pondering God's word. Carefully listening to the word, of appreciating and absorbing it, of responding to it obediently, is a lifelong task. This cycle of life is symbolized by rain and snow, falling from the sky and soaking the earth, then rising towards heaven as bushes and trees. Divine inspiration is the rain and snow, our inspired lives are the bushes and trees. This image concludes the great section of Isaiah 40-55, some of the most sublime literature of the Old Testament. The lines of this exalted poem show all the hallmarks of human genius, well trained and carefully exercised. They seethe with hopes and ideals, with courage and persistence, calling us to trust in God. The author of this sublime poetry was "Second Isaiah" the great unknown genius of the Old Testament.
"See!" God says through the anonymous prophet, "upon the palms of my hands I have written your name" (Is 49:16). And the reason is "because you are precious in my eyes and because I love you" (43:4). Divine love is portrayed in terms of unconditional forgiveness. And this is exactly the type of love which Jesus teaches us when he taught us to pray the Our Father. Hope, confidence and security are planted in our hearts and genuinely confessed, when we say: "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, forgive us . . . and deliver us. . ." These beautiful words (of a kingdom to come, of fresh, daily bread, of gentle forgiveness from depths of understanding, of deliverance from anxiety, of soothing every wrong) allow the soul to develope from a new embryo into a fully formed man and woman of God.
A gentle, persistent concern reaches us through the liturgy of Lent. This year let it not be just another Lent, but a time for the divine word to be fully alive in us, "achieving the end for which I sent it." From all their needs God will deliver his people. Look to him that you may be radiant with joy!
The gospels portray Jesus at prayer many times, and sometimes they give us the content of his prayer. However, only once is Jesus presented as teaching his disciples a prayer for them to pray, and that prayer has become known to us as the Lord's Prayer. It is a prayer that has had a privileged place within the Christian tradition because it is the only prayer that Jesus explicitly taught us to pray. For all the differences across the various Christian denominations, this prayer is one that we all have in common. It is a prayer we can all pray together. In giving us this prayer, Jesus was also giving us a lesson on how to pray. The first part of the prayer is focused on God rather than on ourselves, God's name, God's kingdom, God's will. Jesus is teaching us that prayer is a letting go to God, a yielding to what God wants for his world and for ourselves. Only after those petitions that focus on God does Jesus teach us to focus on our own needs. The Lord's Prayer encourages us to pray out of our fundamental needs, our need for sustenance, both material and spiritual, our need for forgiveness, our need for God's deliverance when evil in whatever form puts our faithfulness to the Lord to the test. It is significant that in those second set of petitions, the Lord's Prayer teaches us to focus on ourselves not as individuals but as members of a community; that is why the language of the second part of the prayer is 'our' rather than 'my.' In praying those petitions, I am praying not just for myself but for others. We pray this prayer as members of a community of faith. Through the two sets of petitions that make up this prayer, Jesus is teaching us that prayer is always a going out of ourselves towards God and towards others. [MH]