Our Father

As we draw closer to the Fourth of July, our thoughts and prayers automatically revolve around our nation. The present political climate and the tenor of our civic discourse give us cause for serious concern. Recently someone told me that last year families canceled Thanksgiving dinner because family members were so divided by their political affiliation that the dinner would turn into a riot. What a sad commentary on where we are! I wonder what the Fathers of our nation must be feeling right now. Everyone decries the animosity and rancor that are so manifest and yet no one knows how to bridge the chasm.

I don’t believe we can bring our country together merely by appealing to our nobler selves. We need to turn to a Power greater than ourselves. We need to become once again “one nation under God.” We need the power of prayer. St John Bosco who lived through the turmoil of the Italian re-unification under Garibaldi became a mediator between the Church (Pope Pius IX) and the state. He always said that our politics should be the politics of the “Our Father.” In our families as well as in our other personal relationships we must avoid partisan politics and be like our Heavenly Father Who embraces everyone.

The “Our Father” is a simple prayer that flows from the mouths of children and grown-ups alike. At our baptism we were adopted as God’s children and acquired the right to call God “Father.” Over our lifetime we recite that short prayer thousands of times and yet it is easy to rush through it. In this column I would like to make a quick, brief reflection on this beautiful prayer.

Jesus wants us to address God as “Our Father.” If you look closely at the prayer you will never find “I, me or mine.” When we pray we do not stand alone. We stand as members of a community. When we talk to God as our Father, we must recognize everyone as our brother and sister. When we refuse to stand in solidarity with others, our prayer is no longer authentic.

The word Jesus used for Father is “Abba.” In our own language the word would be translated as “Daddy.” Jesus wants us to be familiar with God. In most religions, God is portrayed as awesome and powerful, and fear is the natural reaction to God’s majesty. As John writes in his letters, “Love casts out fear.” We approach God with love, and prayer is loving communication with God who is our “Daddy.” The image we should have of prayer is that of a child sitting on his father’s lap and talking to him.

We cannot pray without recognizing that our true home is in heaven. Speaking of prayer, the Bible says, “Let my prayer rise to you like incense.” Every time we pray we come into contact with the heavenly dimension. We do not have a permanent home here. We are all heaven-bound. Prayer enables us to see the present life through the lens of eternity. Such a vision will enable us to approach the problems and tragedies of life with hope and optimism.

The following three petitions emphasize the sovereignty of God. We pray that God’s name will be held holy. We pray that human beings will work to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. Most of all, we pray that in all things we will fulfill God’s will. The best form of prayer is submission to God’s will. Mary said to Archangel Gabriel, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto to me according to your word.” Those words are the best form of prayer because they express total openness to God’s will.

If the first part of the Our Father is all about God, the second part is about us and our needs. By asking us to pray for daily bread Jesus told us that it is acceptable to pray for material things. Our God is generous and will not allow us to lack the bare necessities. As we pray for our daily bread, we pray that no one will go to bed hungry. Our God is so generous that He gives us not only what we need. Sometimes He grants us even things that we desire.

The three petitions that follow seek spiritual gifts. First we ask for the gift of forgiveness. We cannot pray if we hold rancor and unforgiving attitudes. We must remember the words of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel: “If you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave the gift, go home and reconcile with your brother or sister. Then come back and offer your gift.” While we ask God to forgive us, we also pray for the grace to forgive others.

Next we beg for strength in times of temptation. God never tempts anyone and He certainly does not allow us to go through trials that are beyond our strength. We do not pray for lighter burdens. Rather we pray for stronger backs and steelier wills. Finally, we plead with God that He will protect us from evil. Anyone who drives in Chicago in the winter knows that we need God watching over us. We pray that we will be protected not only from physical evil but also from moral and spiritual danger.

The next time we pray the Our Father, let us bear in mind the words of St Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage in the Third century:

What deep mysteries are contained in the Lord’s Prayer! How many and great they are! They are expressed in a few words but they are rich in spiritual power so that nothing is left out; every petition and prayer we have to make is included. It is a compendium of heavenly doctrine. ‘This is how you must pray,’ the Lord says, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven.’

Let us ask Our Lord to teach us how to pray!

Mission Statement: As children of God, living in a Catholic community of faith, we are united by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Aware that all we have is gift and grace from our Heavenly Father, we strive to give of our time, talent and treasure to build His kingdom on earth. We live this mission, challenged by the Word, nurtured by the Sacraments, and enlivened by the Spirit, to serve our brothers and sisters in peace, justice and dignity. All are welcome on this journey.

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St. Paul of the Cross

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