In this post, we will continue considering the Lord’s Prayer, which St. John Chrystostom called the “yardstick of prayer” because in it, Our Lord was giving us a model for prayer in answer to a disciple’s request, “Lord, teach us to pray”. In fact, the very request itself is a sign of humility; by humbly asking Christ to teach us to pray, we are admitting our dependence on Him and putting aside the arrogance so commonly shown today that prefers one’s own “creative spontaneity”.
One of the most amazing things about the Lord’s Prayer is found at the very beginning, where Our Lord teaches us to pray to God the Father as “Our” Father. If we stop and think for just a minute, that is an awe-inspiring act of generosity and condescension from God Himself to sinners such as we are, sinners who still cause Him so much sorrow with our arrogant indifference.
Also, Our Lord tells us that our Father is “in heaven”. We know that where God is, is heaven. And God is everywhere. However, heaven is also a place, it is the Kingdom of His glory, the home He has prepared for us. And so as we pray, “Our Father, Who art in heaven” we are raising our hearts, our souls, to God as His children. This humility and childlike confidence in God our Father is a requisite for true spiritual growth. St. John Chrysostom tells us by that seemingly superfluous phrase, Christ is pointing us upwards, away from this tawdry world, “to lift (us) up to higher, heavenly things.” Thus the prayer begins with a focus towards our eternal goal and away from the greed and materialism that pull us downward. Instead, we soar heavenward, confident in Our Lord’s assurance that we are beloved children of His Father.
Of the seven petitions comprising the Lord’s Prayer, the first three are devoted to God alone, only then do we move on to petitions for ourselves. That is a perfect example of right order in true devotion. We pray that God’s name be hallowed, which is a powerful antidote to the sea of blasphemy that flows about us today. We are made to adore God and all our actions, all that we will must be aimed for the glory of God. A very wise priest once warned me, “Stop and consider, is it for the glory of God, the honor of Mary or the salvation of souls? If not, do not do it, do not say it, do not even think it!” When Father told me that, I began to take a few moments throughout the day to do my “Blessed be’s”. You know, “Blessed be God, blessed be His Holy Name” and so on. It can help you “Hallow” or sanctify your day. An added benefit is that it gives you more enthusiasm for the menial details that make up so much of our day.
The next two petitions, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done”, are necessary to keep us honest. If we are honest, we must admit to a constant struggle between our tendency to interpret our own will as God’s will. As soon as we feel that indignation about how things “should be”, we must beware of the temptation to assert our will for God’s will. T. S. Eliot said, “The last temptation is the greatest treason, to do the right thing for the wrong reason.” Many people, myself included, slip into a spiritual pride. These two petitions caution us against that while affirming that our daily task is in advancing God’s will in us. When we look around us with dismay at the disintegration of our culture, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done”, helps keep us focused on what is truly important.
And then, after getting our priorities straight, we ask for ourselves the four remaining petitions, “give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our sins, lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil”. As we pray for our daily bread, which is Our Lord Himself doing the will of the Father in us and through us, we must keep in mind that we can do nothing of ourselves, but can do all things in Christ, Who strengthens us.
Forgiveness of our sins is perhaps the most difficult concept to master, especially in these days of institutionalized arrogance, of self-righteous moral relativism. We are not really free until we have surrendered our will to Our Lord, allowed Him to show us our errors and repent them. The very fact that we are often unaware and even unconcerned about our sins shows how far we are from Jesus. This is the one petition linked to a promise, i.e., that we will forgive others who have trespassed against us. This part becomes easier when we realize that no harm can come to us by the hands of others, it is we ourselves who rebel at the sufferings and humiliations given to us by others.
When I frankly accede that most of the “trespasses” of others have actually been offenses against my pride, my sense of justice regarding my own prerogatives, I must agree that what harm has been done to me has had a place in bringing me down a notch or two. And the truly awful and bitterly unjust events that caused great suffering in my life, when endured with Jesus, help me to grow spiritually. For pain suffered with Christ is a wonderful spiritual boon to us.
For the last two petitions, we are humbly reminding our Father of our weakness and total dependence on Him. All my life, I’ve been plagued by my weakness with regard to others, my need to be approved of, to avoid rejection. It is pathetic really, because I know that my Savior wears a crown of thorns. Who am I to demand to be treated better than my Savior?
The closing petition of the Our Father, deliver us from evil, must be our constant prayer today, when evil has become so endemic that it considered normal and either promoted or tolerated with indifference today, even by our own Church. Many pious people have written lately about the devil let loose in these times. St. Teresa of Avila reminded us that the devil is a chained dog. He is certainly fierce and definitely seeks to devour us, but first we must approach him. Thus, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Most often, we wander too close to this chained demon when led by our curiosity, or our concupiscence for knowledge. All we need to know is God. It is all all there in this most perfect prayer taught to us by our loving Savior, Who always provides for our needs.
It is regrettable that so often we slip through the Our Father without realizing the immense treasures included in this simple prayer, when, if we would only pray it attentively, we could transform our lives and who knows what wonderful results would follow?
On a more personal note, I have found that the Our Father is actually an aid to contemplation when prayed with the awareness that Our Savior gave me this prayer to help me understand that His Father is my Father. So as I say the words, I am often drawn towards this immense, unfathomable Love of which we are all created and filled with peace and comfort knowing His loving will is done in us. There is nothing more to desire!
Please remember, pray the Rosary and confound the devil!
~ evensong ~