Forgive Us Our Trespasses As We Forgive

Jesus is adamant that we cannot receive God’s forgiveness unless we forgive others who have hurt us.

Far from being a simplistic admonition to “be nice,” this petition teaches us an invaluable truth about the spiritual life. If we are so caught up in our own grievances that we nurse grudges and refuse to forgive, our hearts are not open to God: we do not have the capacity to receive His mercy.

The Lord doesn’t want us to be turned in on ourselves, and our pain, but instead to give it to Him. We can do this by making an act of the will to forgive.

That doesn’t mean we can easily forget the offense, or trivialize it, or that we no longer feel the hurt. Rather, our decision to forgive is a step in our healing, which also serves to identify us with Christ.

If God Himself on the cross forgave those who were crucifying Him, how much more should we forgive our fellow frail human beings! By experiencing what it means to forgive an offense, we develop a greater appreciation for what God continually does for us. Despite our many failures to love Him, He is always eager to forgive us and begin anew.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2838-45.

Thy Kingdom Come

Although the Kingdom of God has begun to come in Christ, and continues among us through His Real Presence in the Eucharist, and in the Church, it has not yet reached its final consummation.

We therefore pray for its perfect fulfillment, when Christ returns in glory, and hands over the Kingdom to God the Father.

By looking forward to the Lord’s coming, our minds turn to the last things – death, judgment, heaven, and hell. We recognize our own need to prepare, so that we may be ready to welcome the Lord whenever He comes for us.

The liturgical season of Advent is focused upon the theme of preparation for His coming. We most often associate Advent with salvation history, setting the stage for our celebration of Christmas, the mystery of God’s becoming a newborn baby.

But Christ’s coming is not just a single historical event. We experience many comings of the Lord: He regularly enters our hearts through His grace, pre-eminently when we receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Let us reflect upon the ways that Christ comes to us, in history, in our lives, and in His ultimate return at the end of time.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2816-21.

The Lord’s Prayer

Jesus Himself taught us to say the “Our Father.” Accordingly called the “Lord’s Prayer,” it is an extraordinary gift to us: the very words that flow from the Son’s heart, we now make our own.

Moreover, we have received the Holy Spirit, Who cries “Abba! Father!” within us, and empowers us to pray in spirit and truth.

Thus when we say the Our Father, we are not merely to parrot the familiar phrases as though on auto-pilot. Rather, let us be enveloped in the love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Let us also be mindful of our place in the communion of saints, who have said this prayer with devotion down through the ages.

Ever present in the Church’s liturgy from the beginning, the Our Father “is truly a summary of the whole Gospel” (Catechism paragraph 2761), and we will examine its petitions in the weeks to come.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2759-76.

Jesus Teaches Us to Pray

Jesus shows us how to pray by example, through His own prayers of love, thanksgiving, petition, and obedience to the Father’s will, and He also explains how we are to pray.

Understanding us better than we know ourselves, Jesus sees our struggles and shortcomings in prayer, and He wants to help us through them: “Like a wise teacher, He takes hold of us where we are and leads us progressively toward the Father” (Catechism paragraph 2607).

Jesus first calls us to true conversion of heart, then urges us to have faith, encourages us to ask for our needs with a “filial boldness,” teaches us to pray in His name, counsels us to embrace the Father’s will in all things, and emphasizes the importance of persistence and perseverance in prayer.

Whenever we feel inadequate in our prayer, we should never get discouraged. Instead, let us honestly open up to the Lord about our difficulty, and that in itself will be a true and heartfelt prayer.

Jesus’ most memorable prayer is the one He crafted for us to say – the “Our Father,” which we will examine in upcoming posts.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2607-15.

Uniting with Jesus’ Prayer

We should never feel alone or isolated in prayer: made God’s children in Baptism, we are conformed to Christ, and so caught up in the Son’s “filial prayer” to the Father.

Jesus’ prayer is described in the Gospels – His great love for the Father, absolute acceptance of His will, and heartfelt thanksgiving, poured out even before His request is granted.

Now enthroned at the Father’s right hand, Christ continues to pray unceasingly as our High Priest in heaven.

And because we are members of the Body of Christ, He actually prays within us!

St. Augustine captures this beautiful mystery:

He prays for us as our priest, prays in us as our Head, and is prayed to by us as our God. Therefore let us acknowledge our voice in Him and His in us.

–quoted in Catechism paragraph 2616.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2598-2606, 2746-51.

God Thirsts for Us

Having completed the survey of the first three parts of the Catechism — the Profession of Faith (summarized here on the pages Faith Seeking Understanding and Truths of the Faith), the Celebration of the Christian Mystery (Liturgy and Sacraments), and Life in Christ — we now enter Part Four on Christian Prayer.

While we most often think of prayer as our addressing God, we can overlook the fact that it is God Who seeks us first. Even when we’re asking God for things, our prayer is actually a response to His stirring deep within us.

This amazing truth is reflected in the Gospel story of Jesus’ meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, where He asks her for water (John 4:5-26).

As the Catechism explains,

Jesus thirsts; His asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for Him.

— paragraph 2560.

Prayer is thus an intimate communion with God that takes place in our hearts, an expression of our covenant relationship with Him. We go within to meet the God Who ardently awaits us, our cries, our longings, our thanks and praise.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2558-67.

Cultivate Purity of Heart

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2514-57:

  • With our nature wounded by original sin, we are given to “concupiscence,” an immoderate desire that goes beyond the bounds of reason, and thereby predisposes us to commit sin.
  • If our hearts are dominated by concupiscence, whether toward physical pleasure or material goods, then we cannot open ourselves up to God; this is why we must put a proper check on our worldly desires, so that we are free to allow God to fill us with His desires – the far superior desires of the Spirit.
  • For this reason, God counsels us to keep a strict guard over our desires; the Ninth Commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,” and the Tenth Commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods,” together identify the roots of sin and prepare us for spiritual growth.
  • Jesus calls us to purity of heart, including chastity, charity toward others, and a love for the truths of the faith; although God gives us grace to help us, we must also cooperate with Him by waging a spiritual battle against our unruly flesh.
  • We must strive for purity of heart by praying consistently for the gift of chastity, disciplining ourselves not to indulge in impure thoughts, and avoiding situations (real or virtual) that tempt us or cause us to fall.
  • Modesty is a prerequisite for purity, for it recognizes and safeguards the dignity of the human person; while this relates primarily to how we dress, modesty also pertains to feelings and emotions; we should avoid all forms of “entertainment” in which people’s lives are exploited or belittled for our amusement.
  • Just as sexual sins originate in the thoughts of the heart, so do sins against the right use of goods; excessive desire for material things gives rise to the sins of greed and avarice, which can lead us to steal, defraud, or otherwise deprive others of their rightful goods.
  • Envy is a sin because it causes us to grieve or regret the good fortune of others; if we want grave harm to befall someone more fortunate, then envy becomes a mortal sin.
  • As an antidote to the allurements of wealth, Jesus calls us to prefer Him to all things, and exercise a radical trust in divine Providence; through this poverty of heart, we learn to rely on God, not on material possessions.
  • When we cultivate purity and poverty of heart, we become more attuned to God and take our joy in Him; thus the Commandments come full circle, for now we are truly loving God above all.

Live Your Faith

Training for sports has much in common with training for the spiritual life. To achieve your goals as an athlete, you have to put in the time, the discipline, the dedication, to master the fundamentals. If you skip practice, slack off, and let things slide, your performance deteriorates.

Similarly, the spiritual life demands that we pay attention to the fundamentals: daily prayer, the sacraments, and striving to live a moral life.

An essential part of our training regimen is a regular examination of conscience. Only by recognizing our weaknesses, and getting to their roots in our flawed desires, can we work with God to improve our performance on the spiritual playing field.