Friday, February 8, 2013

According to Jesus, our prayers should include penitence

The best known Christian prayer is the “Lord’s Prayer”, the “Our Father.” It is used at funerals, weddings, the opening of Parliament, and in just about every church service in the catholic family of Churches.

It is a beautiful prayer as it stands - it is balanced, and sums up everything that needs to be said when we come before our Father God, and we are right to use it just as it stands. Notice, however, that, according to Matthew 6:9, Jesus gave it to us as a PATTERN of prayer. The disciples had asked him, “Teach us to pray.” He replied, “Pray then like this“, meaning, “after this manner.” The prayer follows, and it includes the petition:

“forgive us our trespasses (sins) as we forgive those who trespass (sin) against us.”

In other words, Jesus expects that when we pray we will be penitential some of the time, admitting and confessing our sins.  

We may not be aware of what we consider a particularly vile sin or even an overly rebellious attitude towards God. But we all have areas of life that fall short of what they should be. A time of honest self examination will reveal to us our selfishness and our failure to love, especially in neglecting others, saying unkind or angry things, and harbouring judgmental and hurtful attitudes which, if left unchecked, can poison us on the inside. Without realising it, by neglecting penitence we can actually be working against what God is trying to do in the lives of those around us, and in our own lives as well. 

So, when we pause to reflect on these things in the penitential rite at Mass or as part of our daily self-examination, we give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to shine the light of his truth into our hearts. He shows us our sins, and we confess them so as to receive forgiveness, healing and cleansing, which in his love he is eager to give us.

Following the teaching of Jesus, our regular times of prayer - just like the public worship of our Church communities - should include self examination and penitence.

It is a good idea to take a bit more time about this on Fridays, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. Many people find it helpful, after their self-examination, to pray Psalm 51 as a “confession prayer.”

Of course, Lent, which begins this coming Wednesday, is a time when - in solidarity with all our brothers and sisters in Christ  - we examine our hearts, our relationships, and our our response to God’s love, as we seek renewal and healing. 

The special sacrament of forgiveness we have for dealing with sins of a serious nature (the “Sacrament of Reconciliation”), is a wonderful ministry of Jesus in which we confess our sins and allow his forgiving, healing love to touch those particular areas of our lives.The Church encourages us all to use this sacrament as Easter approaches, and to prepare ourselves for it during Lent.

Over the years, I have discovered a great number of Anglicans who would dearly like to “go to confession” (as we used to call this sacrament) but who are prevented by the fear of the unknown. Some even hold back because they feel embarrassed about not having been before. If that’s you, contact a priest straight away. All you will find is acceptance, a warm welcome, and help in getting closer to the Lord as you draw on his forgiveness and healing for your life. 


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