“Jesus was praying at a certain place, and when He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples” His response is what we call today “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father”.
We learn the prayer as kids and we keep it with us for life. Many of our protestant brothers and sisters pray the Lord’s prayer, but we, as Catholics, pray it almost constantly. It’s part of our daily prayers, it’s part of every mass, and many of us pray it privately, sometimes many times per day. It’s a part of our “Catholic DNA”.
I’ve visited Catholics at the hospital who are nearly comatose. They may or may not be near death, but they can barely communicate. But when I pray the Our Father, their lips will move along with the prayer. Sometimes they’ll even try to make the sign of the cross.
But, have you ever thought about what you’re praying; what the words really mean? In some ways, the prayer was revolutionary for Jesus’ time. The Jews were known for their lengthy, elaborate prayers. They would gather at the synagogue and make a big production of their prayers. Of course, we do that sometimes too, but nothing like the Jews in Jesus’ day were used to. This simple prayer was something new and different.
The second thing that was radical about this prayer was the fact that Jesus taught us to call God “Our Father.” The God of the Old Testament was a pretty scary guy. This was the God who destroyed the earth with water in the great flood. He was known to destroy a city if things got too far out of hand. Remember Sodom and Gomorrah? He parted the Red Sea to allow the Jews to pass through then let the waters return, killing Pharoah’s army. The Jews had such a fear of God that, even today they’re afraid to speak His name.
But here’s Jesus telling us it’s OK to call Him “Father”. In fact, the word he used was “Abba” which is translated more like “daddy”. A Jewish child might call his biological father “Abba”. It was a very radical idea.
So we call on our Abba, our heavenly Father, and the first thing we do is offer Him praise. “Hallowed be thy name”. The word “hallowed” means “holy”, consecrated”, “sacred”, “revered”. Again, for a people who have been afraid to even speak God’s name, now we’re praising His name. Like any child about to ask a parent for something, it never hurts to put them in a good mood by saying something nice.
“Thy kingdom come.” We know that God’s kingdom is coming, we just don’t know when. We’re not telling God anything He doesn’t know, but it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves.
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This seems kind of unnecessary. Of course God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. We’re not asking for God’s will to be done. We’re reminding ourselves that it is. It always is. When we say “Thy will be done”, we’re acknowledging that we know it and we accept it.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” This is the only material thing that’s included in the prayer, but why bread? Why not “give us this day our daily cake”? Well, we know that bread is the basic staple of life. It represents nourishment and it represents the earth. It’s the thing that Jesus chose to turn into His own body inthe Eucharistic sacrifice. Without bread and other natural things that grow from the earth, there would be no physical life. Without the transubstantiated bread of the Eucharist there would be no spiritual life.
When we pray for our daily bread we’re not asking that manna drop down from heaven like it did for the Israelites in the desert. We’re asking for the necessities of life; the things we need, not the things we want. Notice, too, that He tells us a story about a man who came to his neighbor’s house in the middle of the night. What did he ask for? Bread. You might think that we’re not just praying for our own needs. Maybe Jesus is telling us that “our daily bread” includes enough to share with our neighbor. Maybe by sharing our bread with someone else, or by dropping off a yellow bag each month for Feed My People, we’re helping God answer someone else’s prayer. Receiving the Lord’s body in the Eucharist every day isn’t a bad idea either.
Jesus tells us: “For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” How could He say that when we’ve all prayed for things and not gotten them. What’s up with that?
Here’s an example. Someone who’s lost his job might pray to win the lottery. That’s what he wants. An awful lot of lottery winners end up right back where they started in just a few years, blowing their winnings. What our man needs is another job.
Most of you probably know Garth Brooks’ song “Some of God’s Greatest Gifts are Unanswered Prayers.” He had prayed that he would marry his high school sweetheart. He didn’t. He married someone else. Years later, he runs into his old flame and discovers that the woman he did marry was a much better match. Who can’t relate to that? Remember, He gives us what we need, not necessarily what we want. If you knock and the door doesn’t open, you might just be knocking on the wrong door.
Now comes the tricky part. This might fall under the heading “be careful what you pray for. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That’s how we pray it, but maybe the actual words of the Gospel make more sense: “Forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us.” I don’t know about you, but this one scares me to death. Forgive me because I forgive everyone else? I hope that God is more merciful than I am. In my human weakness I sometimes hold a grudge.
Even though we humans may not be as merciful as God, or at least I hope that’s the case, forgiveness is definitely good for the soul. Let me tell you a story about myself. My father ran away from home when I was fourteen. One day he just left and never came back. As kids do, I took it very personally. I hated my dad for a long, long time. One day, after my mom had passed away, I found a letter that my dad had written her either when they were first married, or maybe before.
It showed my father to be much more of a caring, loving individual than I ever thought he was. Maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy after all. Every story does have two sides. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and forgave him. He was already dead by then so I couldn’t tell him how I felt, but by letting go of all that anger and resentment my whole life changed. After years of carrying around all that emotional baggage, I felt like a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders. My forgiveness may not have done anything for my father, but it definitely helped me.
By asking God to forgive us as we forgive others, we’re putting the burden on ourselves to free ourselves from the weight of being judge and jury of the rest of the human race. God has a Son and He already has that job. He doesn’t need my help.
“Lead us not into temptation.” Or, “do not subject us to the final test.” This is another tricky one. God doesn’t lead us into temptation. That’s the devil working with our sinful nature. On the other hand, He could if He wanted to. Remember “thy will be done”? So what are we asking here? “Lead us not into temptation” could also read “Lead us away from temptation.” We’re more than capable of leading ourselves into all the temptation we could ever stand. But if God leads us in other directions, away from temptation, then we should be alright.
“But deliver us from evil.” This completes the thought. “Lord, I know there’s evil out there. Please deliver me from it, just like you delivered the Hebrews from the Egyptian army.
There are some scholars who think that Jesus was just giving us a template, a format for prayer that we could adjust to fit our own situation. But, I can’t think of anything I could change that would make this prayer any more perfect than it already is.
We acknowledge God as our heavenly Father. We give Him praise. We recognize that His will will always be done. We ask Him to give us what we need, not what we want because they’re often two different things. We ask Him for mercy. Not just that He be merciful to us, but that He give us the grace to be merciful to others. Finally, we ask Him to defend us against Satan and to lead us away from evil.
Most of us will elaborate on the “bread” part, giving God of a list of our needs, including the needs of others. We know our loved ones in purgatory may need us to pray for them. That’s a good thing. I have a list of people that I add every day, including all of you. But we know that God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our needs and He knows our temptations.
If we were to suddenly lose our memories and could only recall this one prayer, it would really be all we need.
Note: After I delivered this homily I sat down and realized I had missed a very important point. He taught us to pray in the plural tense, our Father, give us this day our daily bread. That’s crucial.
Who is the us we pray for? Is it our families? Is it the people in our parish? Is it all white Republicans? Is it just Democrats? Who we include in our prayers says a lot about us, doesn’t it?
The next time you pray the Our Father, hopefully in the next few seconds, think about what I’ve said, particularly “Who is the ‘us’ we’re praying for?”
Filed under: Prayer | Tagged: charity, forgiveness, Our Father, praise, the Lord's Prayer | Leave a comment »