Fr. Britto's Blog

Our Father

Forty-four years ago this month the human race achieved a historic feat. On July 21st, 1969 man landed on the moon for the first time. When Apollo 11 was launched, the scientist in-charge of the whole mission was Dr. Werner von Braun. As the countdown sequence started, one could hear Dr. von Braun muttering something. He was praying the Our Father. An émigré from Germany during World War II, he relied not only on his scientific knowledge and American ingenuity; he turned to the Lord in prayer. This incident was reported in the Reader’s Digest in a lengthy article entitled “We came in peace for all mankind.”

The Lord’s Prayer is a simple prayer that flows from the mouths of children and grown-ups alike. We were gifted with that prayer when we were baptized. At our baptism we were adopted as God’s children and as such we 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 brothers and sisters. 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!

Who is Fr. Britto?

Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.

After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...

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