I find it somewhat disconcerting that the framers of the Lectionary for Mass have excerpted the passage which gives us the Lord's Prayer out of its context. Instead of presenting it as Jesus did, within the context of his three-fold admonition concerning prayer, fasting and almsgiving, they present it to us the next day or, as is the case during Lent, a few days later. I tend to find the context of this prayer very informative, and I also think that it helps to understand Jesus' thought about fasting and almsgiving.
My first thought comes from the very first word of the prayer: "Our." Sometimes I come away from this prayer with the thought that it is the most important word in the entire prayer. I believe that our religious or pious practices sometimes give the impression that the most important aspect of my faith is my "personal" relationship with God or with Jesus. We hear that preached sometimes. "Everyone needs to have a personal relationship with Jesus." We come away from those words thinking "me and Jesus." However, having a personal relationship does not mean that the relationship is exclusive. Rather, it means that we have to relate to God or to Jesus as a person. God is not some general idea. We cannot think of God as a deep sea that envelops the created universe. We relate to God as we would relate to any other person whom we love. In that relationship it is important to remember that God is "our" Father; God loves all of us and has no favorites. So when we pray or fast or give alms, it is important to remember that I am praying or fasting or giving alms in communion with others.
Secondly, I believe the declaration that we need to forgive if we wish to be forgiven also informs the nature of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. If we resolve to pray more often, fast more strictly or give more charity without forgiving the one who has wounded me, it is all for naught. The Gospel could not make this point more clearly. God expects us to be merciful and compassionate as God is with us. It is, perhaps, the most daunting part of being a Christian. We seemed to be wired for grudges and feuds, jealousies and rash judgments. They come so naturally. Wounds may heal, but the scars remain. We tend to like to pick at the scars and scabs so that they will constantly remind us of what the other did to us. God wants us to let all of that go so that we can embrace God with everyone else. Perhaps St. Luke makes this point most clearly when he places the words of forgiveness on Jesus' lips as he hangs from the cross. However, they all make the same point in various ways.
Each time I pray the Lord's Prayer, I am reminded of what one preacher once said, "God helps us if we get what we pray for." If we say these words every day but fail to put them into practice, then all the praying, all the fasting, and all the almsgiving is so much straw in the wind.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator