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.” (Mt. 6:7-15)

During this first week of Lent we are given this instruction by our Lord on prayer – which has often been considered the first “work” of faith.  It is important to note that all the works of faith (which includes the specific disciplines associated with the lenten season: prayer, fasting and almsgiving) are not ways that we earn our salvation.  These are not exercises of our will by which we conquer heaven.  Rather, the works of faith are ways by which we open our hearts to the grace and mercy of God which is already present and has been poured forth in abundance by the sacrifice of Christ. 

It is interesting to note how our Lord connects prayer with forgiveness in this passage from Matthew’s gospel.  This passage on forgiveness or its lack also reflects on the openness or hardness of the human heart.  In the forgiveness we offer we open our own hearts to God’s forgiveness; in the forgiveness we refuse to offer we harden our hearts to God’s forgiveness.    

Bishop Vincenzo Paglia, in reflecting on this passage from Matthew’s gospel, offers these words:

“Today Jesus gives us his prayer, the Our Father. He first warns us that prayer is not just the multiplication of words, as if their quantity were what counted and not the heart with which they are pronounced. Instead he wants to show us the path of direct prayer, which immediately reaches God’s heart. He is the only one who could have taught this. He alone is the perfect Son who knows the Father deeply. Because of this, and because he loves his disciples with a limitless love, he teaches them the highest prayer, the prayer that God cannot help but hear. The character of this prayer can be understood from its first word, Abba (father). With this simple word – used by children everywhere when speaking to their own fathers – Jesus accomplishes a true revolution with respect to the Jewish tradition of never even speaking God’s holy name. He involves us in his own intimacy with the Father. It is not that he “lowers” God to us, but rather that we are raised up to the heavens, to the very heart of God, “who is in heaven” so that we can call him “father.” Even if the Father remains “in heaven” he is the One who embraces us. It is right to do the will of a Father like Him. It is right to ask for his kingdom to come soon, that is, the time when God’s holiness will finally be recognized.”