Is 55:10,11; Ps 34:4-7,16-19; Mt 6:7-15: All through Lent the church prays, “Restore my joy in your salvation; sustain in me a willing spirit.” This urgent plea comes from Psalm 51; it is King David’s act of repentance and ours as a church on this Lenten Pilgrimage. Already, the LORD has begun to answer our prayer. Every time we enter into the sacrament of reconciliation, every time we go to confession, the Lord Jesus helps us to recognize how weak we are and that is our strength. When we humbly and honestly admit our failure and sin, we become more aware of the near occasions of sin in our lives. At these moments the Lord has already given us help by providing a glimpse of our great need for the Lord’s grace and mercy to be strong in resisting temptation by avoiding the near occasions of sin. Indeed as today’s psalm proclaims, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted, and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.” It is in our distress that the LORD rescues us. When we cry out to the LORD we are heard. We who are poor and helpless are strong and resourceful when we seek the LORD. We who look to him are radiant with joy and our faces do not blush with shame. When it is his face that we seek and his will that we strive to do our focus is off our own wants, needs and desires. We have no time to entertain the tempter. We have no more room for vices and self-pity. The Word of the Lord has come down from heaven and it has already begun to accomplish that for which it was sent. Even as we pray, “your kingdom come;” we have begun to surrender to the joy of our salvation. Indeed it is the willing spirit within us that enables us to cry out, “Abba, Father!”
In one of his encyclicals, Pope Benedict XVI has taught about how urgent it is for us to let the Word of the Lord inform our prayer. The actual content of our prayer must be serious and Christian. The Pope teaches that we can never pray that anyone is harmed. We can never curse our enemies in prayer. Trivial pursuits of our own pleasure or purpose, like winning a card game or enjoying the snowfall, cannot take up valuable space in our hearts or preoccupy our imaginations. We must also pray for that which lasts, that which is vital and life-giving. Indeed, we must pray that God’s will is done. The prophet Isaiah also teaches us about the power of God’s word and will. From heaven, the rain and snow water the earth, this moisture is essential for human life. So too, the word of God comes down from heaven, and this word is essential for human life. It is the word of God found in sacred scripture and in our daily lives that inspires our prayer. We ask the LORD for all that is necessary to accomplish his will in our lives. God’s Word is sown recklessly and abundantly like seed upon the earth. This word informs us about God’s will and purpose for our lives. This word plants his dream in our hearts. This word gives us the wisdom we need to grow in virtue. This word accomplishes a mighty deed in bringing the Kingdom of God into our history by bringing it into our hearts. Such is the power of his word, of his seed that takes root, grows and bears fruit, a fruit that will last unto the ages of ages.
Our hearts are radiant with joy only when we have learned how to pray as the Lord Jesus prayed. In his life prayer is that moment when the Lord Jesus is most completely himself. As the Pope writes elsewhere, the Lord Jesus is most himself when we see him as the Son praying to the Father in the Holy Spirit. This is his identity from all eternity. Before his incarnation, the Eternal Son of the Father enjoyed the intimacy of seeing the Father face to face. This eternal gaze of love is what we have been invited to share in the power of the Holy Spirit. In today’s gospel, we hear the Lord Jesus teaching his first disciples and his present-day disciples how to pray, how to gaze with love upon the Father’s face in Christ. We have no time for trivialities, for vanities; we have no time for babbling like those who do not know Christ. Indeed, Our Father knows well what we need, long before we ask. However, we ask so that our faith is exercised and strengthened. God doesn’t need us to inform him about what we need, but we need to trust the Father with our every need and in so doing recognize that which is truly urgent and that which is trivial. Saint Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is the version closest to our Eucharist, Liturgy of the Hours, and other devotional practices. We pray first for Our Father’s Name to be held holy, for his Kingdom to come, and for his Will to be done, here and now, as it is in the eternity of the Kingdom. These three petitions teach us that our prayer is about God not about us, about his glory, purpose, will and not ours. Then we pray for ourselves and our neighbors that we might have daily nourishment, strength to forgive, as we want to be forgiven, power to overcome temptation and delivery from the final assault of the evil one. All these petitions will enable us to live for the honor of the Father’s name, for the hastening of his Kingdom and in surrender to his will all the days of our life. This well-known prayer teaches us as much about how to pray as it does about what is essential for our prayer.