In today's Gospel (Matthew 6:7-15) we hear the Jesus teaching the disciples what we have come to know as the Lord's Prayer. It is probably the best known prayer in history, repeated millions of times each day. But I wonder if we realize just what we are asking in this prayer. Jesus was careful to point it out, highlighting the fact that prayer does have an effect.
After giving them the formula, He reiterates the part about forgiveness. When we say "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" we are asking God to use the same standard in forgiving us that we use in forgiving others. The words "as we forgive" mean in the same way that we forgive. And the Lord reassures us that this will happen.
We traditionally use the season of Lent to focus on forgiveness. There are usually long lines for Reconciliation, and most parishes offer Penance Services. But the focus cannot only be on our need to be forgiven. We also need to think about our need to forgive, since this will determine what we receive from God.
Often our willingness to forgive depends on the person's attitude. We want to make sure that they are really sorry, and we sometimes make them jump through hoops to prove their sincerity. I can just imagine God demanding the same from me. What would me reaction be to someone who was asking me to forgive them for some offense against me if they approached it the same way I do when I ask God to forgive me? I shudder to think about it. We are so very casual and assured when we think about God's forgiveness. "Of course God forgives me. He loves me!" And while we cannot doubt His love and willingness to forgive, I wonder if we sometimes tie His hands be asking to be forgiven in the same way we forgive others.
Now the solution is not refraining from praying "Our Father..." No, it has to be a reevaluation of our own willingness to forgive, and what we do to facilitate that process.Lent can be a wonderful time of forgiveness, but it has to start with me. I need to concentrate more on being a person who willingly and easily forgives. In this way I can guarantee that God will do the same with me. And i hope that every time we use the Lord's Prayer, we will renew our determination to be the first to forgive, so that we can be forgiven. After all, that is the standard we ask God to use.