Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!
I just wanted to touch briefly on the gospel reading I heard today in church. It is probably one of the most famous teachings of Jesus Christ, his instruction on how one is to pray. I might as well quote scripture:
“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.’”
Christian or otherwise, you have probably heard a form of the “Our Father” prayer. It is a staple of most a Christian’s prayer life, one of the first prayers taught to a Christian child and one of the prayers remembered in times of trial, times of praise, and times of simple contemplation. People have devoted months, years, even a lifetime trying to decipher every little crevice of this intricate, thought provoking, challenging prayer. My fall semester last year, I went on an entire weekend retreat along with fellow Milwaukee seminarians that was devoted to analyzing the entire “Our Father” line by line. It was rewarding to dig that deep into a prayer I have known and said for most of my life, but at the same time, the retreat left me with many more questions to ask myself, my neighbor, and, ultimately, God.
Having questions tucked away deep inside is good thing I suppose. If we had the ability to say one prayer and have all the issues in our world solved, then we would ultimately seize praying and essentially seize living. It is our fears, doubts, anxieties, struggles that keep us yearning to cling to something greater than ourselves, just as it is our positive hopes, dreams, aspirations, that keep us longing to step outside of ourselves and into the larger picture. Underneath every sincere ambition, there is a fundamental desire for affection from others, acceptance into a larger community, and love…in time, even eternal love. This deep desire, this craving for something more, might be what Jesus means when we are to ask for a “Kingdom” to “come,” here on earth. When we say “as it is in heaven,” maybe we are expressing a hope for a future in which this desire to step outside ourselves and love a community, the entire world, is a given, is universally accepted. Maybe that is what heaven is…a place where all can sit together at table and share in fellowship as equals, as true sisters and brothers. This is one my dreams for our future on earth and in heaven. It is in faith that this dream can become a reality for each and every one of us.
After teaching us how to pray, the Gospel of Matthew shows Jesus giving us a difficult teaching to swallow. Jesus says:
“If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”
If X then Y. If not X then not Y. It is a simple enough teaching to understand logically, but tough as nails to honestly live out. To forgive a transgression means that you forgive the breaking of any law, command, or moral code. How many times in our society do we forgive someone who breaks a serious law? Here in the United States, some states still have laws that do not even allow citizens the ability to give the transgressions of a person who has committed a crime, as terrible and evil as that crime might be. I am speaking, of course, of the death penalty. And there are other ways in which we find it difficult to forgive transgressors. Take, for instance, a person close to your family, a person who maybe even was part of your family at some point in time. Now, say this person decides, for whatever reason–––moral or immoral–––to leave your family tree. Say this person breaks the heart of someone near and dear to you. Does things to a person you love that even the most dramatic of novelists would flinch upon hearing. You–––we–––are called, are asked by Jesus to forgive that person. He is asking us so that our “father,” or love or the way in which this world spins, can forgive us. That is, to have a truly clean conscience and to be able to love as purely as we would like to love, we have to somehow, someway forgive a person who has deeply wounded us, or someone we love.
I’ll be the first to admit that there are people in my life who make me seriously question whether or not I’ll ever actually be able to really implement this teaching of Christ, to fully forgive anyone who has done harm to the people I love and to this world at large.
Really, it’s something I need to work on every day of my life, every moment of my life. It’s not something I fret about, but it is something that I know is there and real. There are, whether we like it or not, people who we can’t help but hold grudges against. Whether these grudges are held justly or unjustly is really a mute point when reflecting on the advice written in the Gospel of Matthew. These grudges need not–––should not be in our hearts at all. This is, at least, the goal of bringing ourselves towards a more real, intimate, worldly kind of love. So as we can be one with all people and in harmony with all things and our Creator, may we be one with ourselves in that we let all that may bring us trouble, worry, anger, frustration, escape our memory and our being.
As Jaqueline Syrup Bergan and Sister Marie Schwan write in their book Surrender: A Guide for Prayer,
“The way of Christ is the way of love. This way is the yoke of life, the supportive, balancing, enablement of the Spirit that empowered Jesus and, in turn, empowers us. To share that yoke of life releases the unlimited possibilities of creativity, joy, and fulfillment that are at the heart of discipleship.”
Pg. 14, Surrender.
To partake in the yoke of life means that we indeed forgive those who have hurt us in one way or another. This yoke is easy to talk about but hard to actually live by. Maybe if we take small steps, like forgiving someone who unjustly put blame or guilt on us in the last few days, or forgiving ourselves for something we did wrong in the last week, we can begin to attain the yoke of life that captures the essence of God.
Peace and blessings!
Your friend bob.