Tuesday of the First Week of Lent


"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 Lord's Prayer rightfully enjoys enormous respect in every Christian tradition. It seems to have developed early and rapidly in the early church. Saint Luke offers a first draft; Saint Matthew presents the masterpiece. Because it is comprised of short expressions, it is easily recited by congregations in any language. Even a gathering of different languages can pray together, "each in his own tongue!" The Catholic is especially familiar with the prayer because we recite it six times during the rosary, at every Mass, and during Morning and Evening Prayers.
But the Spirit will never let us range very far with warm, fuzzy feelings; the Lord's immediate teaching after his prayer brings us up short, "If you forgive men their transgressions...."
In our western philosophical tradition we like to draw a distinction between the ideal and the real. In response to Jesus' warning about forgiveness we might reply, "Ideally, we should forgive; but realistically we don't. And that's okay because the ideal is only an ideal; by definition it's not attainable." Thus do we nullify the Word of God.
God knows nothing of these "ideals." His commands are quite real; as real as fences, walls and land mines -- and other people. In the ideal world of western philosophy other people don't actually exist. Descartes' cogito -- "I think therefore I am!" -- allows for only one. It's corollary -- "You exist if I think you exist." -- works well for narcissists.
The command of Jesus to forgive stands as a continual, urgent reminder every time we recite his wonderful prayer. There are other people in my life and my personal salvation is enmeshed with theirs. We cannot trip lightly over, "...forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Against whom do I hold a grudge? How deep is my resentment? How long have I held it? How much longer do I intend to hold it?
Does anyone hold a resentment against me? What can I do to bring our relationship back into communion?
The Lord's Prayer does not recognize ideals; they are human fictions with limited utility.
The Lord's Prayer does recognize the urgent, undeniable need we have for communion with other people. Resentments, like disease, have no place among us; nothing good comes of them. When they occur we should postpone our worship until they are resolved; "Leave your gifts at the altar...." If that's not possible we can certainly recognize the crisis. This situation is not acceptable.
One of God's greatest, most delightful and -- ironically -- most common signs of his mercy is my willingness to go first and be reconciled... and then come and offer your gift. With love the most difficult tasks are easy; without love, the easiest problems are intractable.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.