As you all know at this point, the Church strongly encourages us to practice prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent. In the past few days, the readings have given us insight into fasting and almsgiving; today, the focus is on prayer.
The first reading and the Psalm help us to see that prayer really is worthwhile. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God’s word is powerful and effective. God created the world with His word; nothing is impossible for Him. Furthermore, the psalm describes how God listens to the poor and the distressed, especially those who are faithful to Him despite their difficulties.
Once it is thus established that God is able and willing to help us if we ask, Our Lord in the Gospel today teaches us how to ask. First, He tells that we don’t need to try to convince God or explain our needs to Him with eloquence and with lengthy discourses or empty repetition (unlike repetitive prayers such as the Rosary, where repetition serves to help us to meditate and pray better). He is our Father who loves us and knows what we need. St Augustine says that prayer is necessary above all to help us be properly prepared to receive whatever God already wants to give us.
Then, we have Jesus’ explanation of how to pray. He doesn’t say we always have to use these exact words, but of course, we quite often do. The “Our Father” is both a perfect prayer in itself and a model for the way we should form our own prayers. Many homilies, books, and discourses have been written analyzing it, but for now I’d just like to point out some key elements that Christ teaches us in this prayer.
First of all, there is praise, which is always due to God, and loving trust, since we address Him as Father. Secondly, like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, we pray that God’s will be done, at the same time as we ask Him to supply for our needs. This is particularly important, because often what we want is not what God wants for us, because it is not what is truly best for us. Lastly, we ask God to free us from sin and its effects, by both forgiving the sins we have committed and protecting us from future temptations and evils of any kind. Importantly, our petition for forgiveness is premised on our own willingness to forgive others.
All of our prayer, then, should contain praise and thanksgiving, trust and confident petition for our needs according to God’s plan, and true humility in forgiving and asking forgiveness. May these attitudes shape all our Lenten prayers, so we will be able to say with the psalmist, “Glorify the Lord with me, let us together praise His name. I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”