As we have already been preparing during the three weeks leading up to Lent, for our efforts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, I thought that for Lent itself, it would be good to focus on the Passion of Our Lord.
The seven sayings or “words” that our Blessed Lord uttered when he was hanging on the Cross, can form a helpful source of prayer for us as we try to renew our devotion to the sacrifice that Christ offered for our salvation. The first “word” is “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Lk 23.34)
On the surface, and most obviously, Our Lord was praying for those who were actually crucifying him: the Roman soldiers and the leaders and members of his own people who had arranged for His execution. St Alphonsus comments:
“He thought not so much of the injuries He received from them, and the death they inflicted upon Him, as upon the love which brought Him to die for them.”
This supreme act of charity has been the inspiration for martyrs, including many of our own in this country, and others suffering in our own time, who, like St Stephen, have prayed for their persecutors even at the moment of their torture and death. From these examples we learn the duty of forgiving our enemies.
Christ’s prayer for forgiveness extends also to the sins of all men, from the beginning of the human race, to the end of time. We are all included in this prayer. When we prepare for our confession, when we make our act of contrition at the end of the day, whenever we call on Our Lord to have mercy on us as sinners, we can think of His love and generosity while hanging on the Cross, that He then asked for our forgiveness and continues to plead for us before the Father in heaven.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” is the offering of the propitiatory sacrifice, the sacrifice which takes our sins away.
It is the effective prayer offered by our great High Priest, at the moment of His sacrifice in which He is Himself the victim. Our Lord does indeed take away the sins of the world, including our own sins, and invites us to live the new life of grace won by the merits of His prayer to the Father.
As we now offer that same sacrifice here present in the Mass, let us place ourselves at the foot of the Cross, listen to the loving cry of Our Saviour for us, and resolve to repent of our sins, to avoid any occasions on which we know we are likely to commit them, and renew our resolution to live wholly for Him here on earth so that we may enjoy the glory He has prepared for us in heaven.