Homily February 28th, 2023

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent – Mt 6:7-15

            As we continue our Lenten journey, today’s Gospel sets before us the Our Father. Even though we are familiar with the prayer, there are three things that we can consider today as we make our Lenten journey: first, the fact that everything in the prayer is in the first-person plural, second, the word Jesus uses for daily in daily bread, and, thirdly, Jesus’ insistence on forgiveness.

            Regarding the first, although it’s pretty obvious, the prayer is called the “Our Father,” and throughout the prayer, everything is in the plural; there are no verbs in the first person singular. Commenting on this, Saint Cyprian says that “the teacher of peace and master of unity” doesn’t want us to simply pray for ourselves, but rather for everyone. When we pray, we pray as one and for everyone.[1] We’re reminded that both here in Matthew, and in the parallel text in Luke, Jesus teaches the Our Father “to His disciples.” The prayer isn’t just for anyone, but rather only for those who are truly united to Christ and, because of their union with Him, to the entire mystical body. Part of being a Christian, and even more of being a religious, is to be part and to take part in the care and even the sufferings of the whole body, be that in our immediate community, our religious family, or the world at large. To really pray the Our Father, and to mean it, not to simply babble, is to have at heart each and every member of Christ’s Body.

Regarding the second, when Jesus teaches His disciples the Our Father, He tells them to ask for their daily bread, or the bread ἐπιούσιος (epiousios). The word isn’t the common one used for daily in Greek; in fact, the word occurs only in the text of the Our Father, and nowhere else in Bible or even in other Greek writings; Origen even says that the Evangelists came up with the word. One possible meaning is that it refers to “what is necessary for existence,” what we need to survive. As Saint Cyprian points out, only the poor need to ask for bread, and we are all poor beggars in the presence of God; without Him, we can do nothing. We need to ask Him for what we need, and remember that He will give it to us if we ask for it with faith.[2] Again, this is always in the context of the community of believers. We ask, not only for our own needs, but for everyone’s.

            Related to this, the Our Father itself includes the petition for forgiveness, but it deliberately makes the receiving of forgiveness contingent upon our forgiveness of others. Here in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus emphasizes the need for forgiveness, adding, “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.” This is particularly pertinent in daily life, as we have to live with others who often disappoint or hurt us. But C. S. Lewis summarizes the situation well when he writes: “This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life—to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son—how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night ‘forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.’ We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.”[3]

Today, as we continue our Lenten journey, we can ask ourselves about how well we bear in mind the truth that we are all part of Christ’s family, and must help each other get to heaven. Do we recognize the need to forgive in order to be forgiven, and do we really practice that forgiveness? Let us ask, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of All Religious and Our Lady of Sorrows, for the grace to truly mean the words of the Our Father as we pray them, recognizing our own needs and those of our brothers and sisters, who are all part of our family.

[1] Cited in the Catena Aurea of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

[2] For this, see in particular Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2007):150-157.

[3] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 183. Here Lewis also offers a very good distinction between forgiving and excusing.



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