Just imagine the Apostles watching Jesus at prayer. It must have drawn their hearts deeply to the mystery of his Person. Jesus prayed often, for long periods, sometimes for the whole night. Together with his teaching, his miracles and just the way he was as a man, his prayer must have exerted an incredibly magnetic power of attraction.
It’s no wonder, then, that the Apostles ask him to teach them how to pray. They “wanted in.” They longed to share in his mystery. Jesus’ response takes them far beyond what John the Baptist could ever have taught his followers. John lit a matchstick; Jesus ignited a trillion suns.
The Lord’s Prayer flows from his own personal prayer to his Father, from his deepest soul. By teaching it, Jesus lets us into his inmost mystery in a new way. He has the generosity, the humility and the daring to let us stand where he stands in relation to the Father: as sons and daughters on earth of a Father in heaven. He also makes us share his own priorities: to honour and proclaim the holiness of the Father, to work for his will and kingdom, to trust in his daily providence, to work for the forgiveness of sin and the end of evil. Jesus thus puts in perspective our limited priorities, however worthy. He invites us to reconcile them with his or to let them go. He throws us out of ourselves, as it were, into his own mission which, after all, is the mission of the Father himself.
With the Our Father, Jesus takes the thirsting spirits of the apostles and immerses them in the fountain of living water of the Spirit, which issues back and forth between the Father and the Son. We say that Our Lady was conceived without sin in view of the grace of the Cross. Well, the Our Father, too, is like a shower of that grace sprinkled upon the hearts of the apostles in anticipation of their baptism in the Holy Spirit, because Jesus already allows them to address God as Father.
Even just those first two words, “Our Father”, open up vast horizons for us. We do not pray to an anonymous deity or to some impersonal power or force. Rather, we recognize him as the most personal author and origin of our existence. If Jesus himself lives in total dependence on the Father, we do too – or at least we are called to do so, we are offered the gift of doing so. To call God Father is to know that he wanted and wants us, that his love is not just words but the practical and ongoing commitment of his very self for our true good and happiness. To turn to God as Father is to know who we are, to know why we are. It is to embrace the plan he has for our lives and for our destiny.
The comfort of this truth is even greater, for we say OurFather. “Our” means we belong to one another. Because we are his children, we are one family and we stand with our elder Brother, Jesus, and our elder Sister and Mother, Mary. The Father knows us, of course, as individuals because he has created us individually. Yet, he only knows us as individuals in relation to everyone else, beginning with our immediate families and spreading out to all we meet in the course of our lives, like a great network of communion. He is our one and unique Origin and Source of life in the majesty and sublimity of his divine love. Before his face, therefore, and before one another we are equal. We are equally loved while still being uniquely loved, and so we must equally and uniquely love one another. Being equal does not mean being the same – thank God! We have equal dignity even if we are different, diverse and complete one another. No God, no equality.
So much more could be said about those two first words of the Our Father. The important thing is that they establish the foundation of our prayer and of our life. The next few petitions likewise focus us on God first. “Hallowed be thy name” means “help us live in a way that is worthy of you.” “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven” mean “give us the grace and strength to be practical about what you want so that we may prepare earth for heaven, building up civilization in your truth and your love.”
The prayer then turns towards ourselves. “Give us this day our daily bread” means “provide for us, Father, so that we need not worry about tomorrow.” The petitions about forgiveness show our spiritual and moral dependence on the Father and how he wants us to replicate his goodness to our offenders. The last two petitions plead for grace in the fight against evil and temptation and for final deliverance from the grasp of Satan.
With his urgent command to us to ask and seek and knock, Jesus then goes beyond whatwe should pray for and comes to howwe should pray. He uses the word persistence. The sense of this word is actually shameless persistence, like the man banging on his friend’s door at night for bread, or like Abraham in the first reading boldly asking God to spare Sodom for the sake of ten just men. Just as a child might harp on at his father to get something, Jesus is telling us that God the Father wants us to be like that in praying for what the Our Father teaches us.
My invitation to you today is to spend time in prayer with the Our Father, with one word, two words, one phrase, one image, etc., and, with the persistence of a bold child. But remember what I said at the beginning: do it in the knowledge that you stand “inside” Jesus, in his place, that your thirst is being quenched by the outpouring of the Spirit passing through you, back and forth from the Son to the Father. It is difficult to think of anything more consoling, more healing and more sublime, especially if you do it with the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist within you.