Praying like Christians, First Tuesday of Lent, March 11, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Tuesday of the First Week of Lent
March 11, 2014
Is 55:10-11, Ps 34, Mt 6:7-15

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • The whole purpose of Lent is for us to become fully Christian in identity and behavior and that involves rediscovering or deepening our relationship with God in the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. On Ash Wednesday, we pondered how Jesus calls us to give alms, fast and pray differently from everyone else, doing each of these things in communion with our Father who sees in secret. We’re supposed to give alms recognizing that all that we are able to give to others we have first received from God the Father, and so our giving is an extension of his own loving Providence. We’re supposed to fast in order to hunger for what he hungers for, as he made very clear in our readings on Friday and Saturday last week. And we’re supposed to pray by meeting God the Father in our “inner room,” the locked “store room” in a Jewish house where all valuables were kept, indicating to us not only are we supposed to treasure God most but also his love in coming to meet us in the tiny “closet” of our interior life, whether we’re praying at home or in the middle of a multitude.
  • Today in the Gospel Jesus continues his Ash Wednesday instructions on prayer somewhat literally. Today’s passage is an excision of the Ash Wednesday Gospel passage. After Jesus said the words about the “inner room,” he elaborated about prayer in the words of today’s Gospel. He reiterates that as Christians we’re supposed to pray differently than everyone else, not looking for show like certain Pharisees, but also not “babbling on” like the pagans who think that their prayer will be heard because of the multiplication of words. Because of pagan polytheism, in which gods were warring against each other, pagan prayer would often involve trying to lobby your gods against the gods other people were lobbying, recognizing that for the gods people were no more than mere pawns in their games. Jesus said that not only should we not babble, but that we have to have a totally different conception of prayer altogether.
  • For us as Christians, prayer is to be an intimate conversation with a loving Father who loves us and already knows what we need. The first word he teaches us is “Abba!” We’re to pray to a loving “daddy.” Then we’re supposed to seek what that loving Father who already knows what we need seeks. The first petition is that his name be hallowed rather than ours, and the way is name is hallowed is not just in our prayer but particularly through the Christian life of Christ-like love when others “seeing [our] good deeds glorify [our] Father in heaven” (Mt 5:16). We beg that his kingdom come and his will be done, rather than our own. We begin by asking for everything related to God’s glory, kingdom and will.  A loving son or daughter wants what’s best for a parent — just like a parent wants what’s best for a child — and we begin praying not for ourselves and our needs but for God and his desires, knowing that God’s desires are for us to be holy by hallowing his name (the path to our own happiness!), for us to enter his kingdom fully as heirs, and for us to do his will on earth so that we may do it forever in heaven.
  • From there we turn to our own needs. The first thing we ask the Father is each day to give us our “supersubstantial” (epiousios) bread. This refers not just to the material sustenance we need for the day but also for what goes beyond our material substance, a reference that many of the early saints interpreted as a clear reference to Jesus in the Eucharist, the true Manna whom God the Father rains down each day to help us to hallow his name, enter and proclaim his kingdom and do his will. Next we ask the Father for mercy just as we have been merciful to others. Jesus glosses the entire prayer by reminding us that if we don’t forgive others, the Father won’t forgive us; this isn’t because he’ll punish us by refusing to forgive us but principally because unless we’ve got merciful hearts we can’t receive his mercy. God’s will is for us to become merciful like he is merciful and we ask God for the grace to do so. Finally we ask him not to let us fall when we’re tempted and to deliver us from the clutches of the evil one, a clear recognition not only that the devil exists and will be seeking to tempt us but that we need God’s help, not just will power, to remain faithful to Him. This entire prayer is not just a prayer to the Father but a prayer to help us to become ever more united to and like the Father.
  • The whole mission of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is precisely to reorder us properly to the Father. The Prophet Isaiah tells us today, “Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, … so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” This refers most to the Word, Jesus, who came forth from heaven precisely to water the soil of our hearts, to make us fertile and fruitful, to nourish us in our divine filiation. He himself has already returned to the Father having achieved the end for which he was sent and he wants us to return through, with and in him, in his filial prayer, in his filial fasting, in his filial almsgiving, in his hallowing the Father’s name, announcing his kingdom, doing his will, becoming our supersubstantial bread, forgiving us, strengthening us in temptation and liberating us from the domination of evil. All Jesus has done is to help us to become spiritually fertile and fruitful so that we, too, might achieve the end for which we were made.
  • The mission of the Holy Spirit is likewise to help us to enter into this mystery of divine sonship. St. Paul told the Romans that we do not know how to pray as we ought but the Holy Spirit has been sent into our hearts so that we might cry out “Abba!” The Holy Spirit helps us to pray not by putting words on our lips but by changing who we are as we pray, so that we might pray as beloved children crying out “Daddy!” He convinces us that we’re children of God and if children heirs of the kingdom provided that we suffer with Christ so as to reign with him. That’s precisely what the Holy Spirit wants to do in us each Lent.
  • As we prepare now to receive the answer to our prayer to the Father to give us today our supersubstantial bread, we ask our Dad in heaven to strengthen us through this communion with his only begotten, beloved Son to pray differently than the rest, to pray as Christians, as together as his family we enter into the greatest prayer ever made.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
IS 55:10-11

Thus says the LORD:
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 34:4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19

R. (18b) From all their distress God rescues the just.
Glorify the LORD with me,
let us together extol his name.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
R. From all their distress God rescues the just.
Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
R. From all their distress God rescues the just.
The LORD has eyes for the just,
and ears for their cry.
The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
R. From all their distress God rescues the just.
When the just cry out, the LORD hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
R. From all their distress God rescues the just.

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.”