Tuesday of the First Week of Lent
The readings for the day can be found here.
Words fascinate me. Whether shouted, whispered, read, sung or signed, words have the power to communicate, inspire, and create. They form the very basis of human communication and, therefore, relationships and seem fundamental to the human experience. The Scripture readings today speak to this experience and call us to consider carefully the power of God’s words as well as our own.
One of the three “pillars” of Lent is prayer, so today’s Gospel is particularly salient for us as Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. No doubt many reflections and commentaries have been composed regarding the “Lord’s Prayer,” and I do not wish to add to them here. Rather, I am more interested in Jesus’ remarks before he begins the famous invocation: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.” At first glance, Jesus seems to suggest that the words we use are not as important as what is in our hearts, and there is certainly some truth in this. Yet if this is the whole of Jesus’ message, I find it odd that he follows up this anti-word proclamation with, well, a formula of words which has united Christians for millennia.
What lies at the heart of Jesus’ message, for me, is the notion of authenticity. While cleaning out an old trunk in my childhood bedroom several months ago, I came upon an old prayer book I used as a boy. It contained a prayer I wrote when I was six or seven and recited often; it was simple but heartfelt, genuine. Though my relationship with God has matured greatly since that time, I often have to make a conscious effort to ensure my words in prayer are as earnest as those of my boyhood. For God, words are actions in which there is no guile. God says “Let there be light,” and there is! Though our Lord knows us better than we know ourselves, Jesus desires a human relationship which includes our words, our authentic expressions of love, gratitude, frustration, and anger. Perhaps you might use this Lent to consider how your own words communicate your heart to God.
Indeed, our words stretch far beyond our prayer to our everyday relationships and interactions. On the contrary, St. Ignatius encourages us to see God in all things, thereby transforming all our ordinary words and actions into prayer. In today’s first reading, the prophet Isaiah offers beautiful imagery of God’s word going out into the world and yielding fruit and fertile land. Since we as a university community strive to do everything for the greater glory of God, perhaps we can see our work—and our words!—as carrying out the will and word of God, bringing peace, comfort, and love to all those we encounter. This Lent, let’s watch our words and let them become a constant, heartfelt prayer, bringing about the kingdom.