Class: 
Cycle C: Seventeenth Sunday of the Liturgical Year

 

THE ‘OUR FATHER’

 

With the prayer of the Our Father we express the core of Jesus’ message. God is not only the all-powerful Creator of the universe, but he is also our Father. That word is at the heart of Jesus’ prayer, even on the cross: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk 23: 46).

 

We dare to say

 

To address his Father, Jesus made use of a word from his mother tongue (Aramaic). That word is “Abba”. It is a word which expresses filial tenderness. In English, it is equivalent to the word “Daddy”. It seems that Jesus was the first one to address himself to God that way. Such a tinge of intimacy and affection was unthinkable in a Jewish prayer. Only children can spontaneously express themselves that way.

 

After receiving her first communion, a small girl was asked by her parents what she had done when she returned to her pew and bowed her head prayerfully. She hesitated for a moment and then said in her soft voice: “I prayed to Our Father for Mummy and Daddy, and for my sister Helen and my brother George. Then I recited the letters of the Our Father: o… u… r… and told him a ghost story.”

 

Christians have always been enlightened by this revelation that God is a Father. From his early years, the child is taught to address God in that way and to use the same words that Jesus taught us as the eternal Son of God. Then we are associated to that unique relationship he has with God. “We are already God’s children” says Saint John (1 Jn 3: 2). Each time that we pray in these words, we are reminded that we are not mere puppets in God’s hands, but His beloved children. Is that not quite bold on our part to pray in such a way, when we remember that we are addressing ourselves to the Creator of the universe?

 

There was a cute little boy who used to listen to his father telephoning. He would watch him pick up the receiver and say, “Hello, hello, this is R.J. speaking…” One night, the father overheard his little boy kneeling at his bedside, saying his prayers: “Hello, hello, dear God, Johnny speaking… Our Father who art in heaven…”

And the prayer goes on. The petitions that follow are very bold. For, if we reflect on what we are asking, that prayer requires much on our part. First, we do not ask God to give us anything, but we pray that his Name be held holy. And in that petition, we ourselves are deeply involved, for how can we pray that God’s Name be held holy if we do not hold it holy ourselves by the quality of our lives? How can we pray for the coming of His kingdom, if we do not welcome it ourselves in our lives? So, we dare to ask favors for which we have to get involved. Will we be faithful to what we ask? Will we answer the request that we address to God?

The second part of the Our Father invites us to ask for our daily bread. For God is a Father and He is concerned with His children. He knows what we need. However, He is concerned not only with our own subsistence, but also with that of humankind. Bread cannot but be received together. When we express such a request, we are called to establish more brotherhood on earth, so that all may have their share of food.

 

Would we dare to say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespassed against us,” if Jesus had not invited us to do so?

The prayer ends in a realistic way. It says: be with us when we are assailed by evil and deliver us from the Tempter. Do not allow us to be tempted beyond our strength, for we can so easily fall into temptation.

Saint Augustine, the doctor of the Church, said, “All that we ought to pray is in the Our Father. And all that is not in the Our Father, we need not pray.”

 
When the disciples asked Jesus, “teach us how to pray”, Jesus gave them the most beautiful prayer in the world.

 

Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name,
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
As we forgive those who sinned against us.
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil.
Amen.

 

But I say to you today:

“Don’t say FATHER,
if you don’t behave like a son or daughter of God.
Don’t say OUR Father,
if you are isolated in your own selfishness.
Don’t say YOUR KINGDOM COME,

if you are only thinking materialistically,

living for this world only.
Don’t say THY WILL BE DONE,
if you are not willing to accept suffering.
Don’t say GIVE US TODAY OUR DAILY BREAD,
if you do not care about the needs of others

who are less fortunate than you.
Don’t say FORGIVE US OUR SINS,

if you are harboring a grudge against someone,

or holding revenge and hurt in your heart.
Don’t say DELIVER US FROM EVIL,
if you are not willing to turn away from the lust of the world.
Don’t say AMEN,
if you have not taken the words of the OUR FATHER seriously.”

(Anon)

 

 

With opened hands

In the beginning of the Church, the catechumens were taught the Our Father only a few weeks before baptism, when it was revealed to them that God is our Father. And while saying that prayer, they used to raise their hands as a sign of freedom and faith. As the Our Father is, for us Christians, the prayer par excellence, it is normal to adopt a gesture proper to us when we pray together.

In the course of centuries, the custom of reserving more and more prayers to the celebrant spread far and wide. Happily, with Vatican II we have been reminded that every Christian is a priest, as Saint Peter says: “You are a kingdom of priests” (1 Pet. 2: 9). But the person we usually call the “priest” is the pastor who presides over the Christian community and reminds it about the presence of Christ in its midst.

We are not obliged to adopt this gesture of raising our hands in prayer. But have we not often forgotten to associate the body to our prayer? That is a dimension that the charismatic prayer groups have rediscovered nowadays. Human beings are not pure spirits. We all have a body. Moreover, notice that all the sacraments have a material dimension when they make use of wine, bread, oil, water, the laying of hands, etc. All these symbols are related to our bodies. Our prayer too must be more incarnated or expressed with the body. We should not forget that ours is the religion of incarnation. “The Word was made flesh, says Saint John (Ref Jn 1: 14). That led Saint Brother André, csc, to say: “Whenever we pray the Our Father, He keeps His ear very close to our lips.”

 

The daughter of Karl Marx once confessed to a friend that she had never been brought up in any religion and had never been religious. “But,” she said, “the other day I came across a beautiful prayer which I very much wish could be true,” – “And what was that prayer?” she was asked. Slowly the daughter of Karl Marx began repeating in German, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”  (Source unknown)

 

Today, another gesture is used when Christians pray the Our Father. In many parishes and prayer groups, all hold hands as a sign of unity. To be children of the Father makes us all brothers and sisters.

 

Do not bring us into temptation

 

This request seems to indicate that God is a tempter. No, God does not tempt anyone to make him/her commit sin. For Saint James wrote: “God does not put anybody to the test” (Jam. 1: 13). Yet nothing can escape God’s sovereignty, not even temptation nor the power of Satan. So, that request of the Our Father can be understood in this way: “Do not allow us to be tempted beyond our strength.” We read in the first Letter to the Corinthians: “None of the trials which have come upon you is more than a human being can stand. You can trust that God will not let you be put to the test beyond your strength, but with any trial will also provide a way out by enabling you to put up with it” (1 Cor. 10: 13). For we are aware of our weaknesses. If we were caught in a difficult situation, as Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, we would probably fall into the temptation. That is why Jesus wants his followers to pray so that they may not fall into temptation (Ref. Lk 22: 40. 46).

 

If Peter had prayed the Our Father instead of saying, “I will follow you wherever you go”, perhaps would he have been more humble and less confident in his own strength. So, what Jesus’ disciples ask is not so much to be spared temptations, but to be spared a test they may not be able to undergo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: 
Hervé Morissette, csc