Thursday, November 21, 2019

Our Father | Reflections on the Lord's Prayer by Pope Francis

I hope that in saying the Our Father, every one of us will feel more loved, forgiven, bathed in the dew of the Holy Spirit, and will thus be able in turn to love and forgive every other brother, every other sister. This will give us an idea of what heaven is like. + Pope Francis 

The Lord's Prayer is an abridgement of the entire Gospel. + Tertullian, early 200s A.D.  
There may never have been another prayer written that was not already contained in the Pater ("Our Father" or "Lord's Prayer"). + Simone Weil
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. + Marcel Proust

Pray to the Father

Father. Without saying this word, without taking it to heart, we cannot pray. To whom do I pray? Almighty God? Too far away. I cannot feel that he is near. Even Jesus did not refer to God as "the Almighty God." Father. We have to pray to the Father! He is the one who accompanies us on our journey. He knows our whole lives, the good and the not-so-good. If we do not begin our prayer with this word, spoken not with our lips but with our hearts, we cannot pray as Christians. We have a Father who is close to us, one who embraces us. All of these anxieties, all of the worries we may have, let us leave them to the Father. He knows what we need. And he is our Father! 

I am not an only child; none of us is. And if I cannot be a brother, it will be hard for me to truly be a son of this Father. If I am not at peace with my brothers and sisters, I cannot say "Father" to him. Acceptance is not easy. But Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit. he is the one who teaches us, from the inside, from the heart, how to say "Father" and how to say "our." Let us then as the Holy Spirit to teach us to say "Father" and to be able to say "our," thus making peace with our enemies. Jesus shows us what it means to be loved by the Father and reveals to us that the Father wants to pour forth upon us the same love that he has for his Son from all eternity.

Our Father

The Our Father gives me a sense of security. I do not feel uprooted; I do not have the sense of being an orphan. I have a father, a "dad," who brings me a history, shows me how things work, takes care of me, and leads me forward. He is also a dad before whom I always feel like a child, because he is great, he is God, and Jesus asked this of us, to feel like children. God offers the security of a father, but a father who accompanies you, waits for you. 

I think that today the world has somewhat lost the meaning of fatherhood. It is a world sick with orphanism. Particularly in Western culture, the figure of the father is seen as being symbolically absent, vanished, removed. At first this absence was perceived as a form of liberation  liberation from the father-master, from the father as representative of a law that is imposed from the outside, from the father as censor of children's happiness and obstacle to the emancipation and autonomy of young adults. But now the problem in our day no longer seems to be that of the intrusive presence of fathers, but rather of their absence, their desertion. Fathers are sometimes so focused on themselves and their work, and occasionally on their individual fulfillment, that they forget their families. And they leave both younger and older children to themselves. Therefore, it would be good for everyone, for fathers and children, to listen again to the promise that Jesus made to his disciples: "I will not leave you orphans" (John 14:18). It is he, in fact, who is the Way to be traveled, the Teacher to be heeded, the Hope that the world can change, that love overcomes hatred, that there can be a future of fraternity and peace for all.

Who Art in Heaven

Perhaps one of the beautiful things about our faith is that it is not man who goes in search for God, but it is God who sets out in search of man. "Heaven" means the greatness of God, his omnipotence. He is the first, he is great, and he is the one who has made us. "Heaven" represents the immensity of his power, of his love, of his beauty. Nevertheless, let us think about the God of Abraham, who draws near to him and says, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless" (Genesis 17:1). Keep looking up, move forward, believe, hope, and do not give up. God is very close.

A good father knows how to wait and knows how to forgive sincerely. Of course, he also knows how to give firm correction. He is not a weak father, a pushover, sentimental. The father who knows how to correct without discouraging is the same one who knows how to protect without sparing himself. Without the grace that comes from the Father who is in heaven, fathers lose courage and abandon the field. However, children need to find a father who is waiting for them when they return from their failures. 

Hallowed Be Thy Name

Psalm 131 says, "I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother's breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul." This is one of the many ways to hallow God's name: to feel like a child in his hands. God's name is mercy ... It is the wisdom of the simple who know they have a father who is always waiting for them. God is not waiting for you to knock at his door; it is he who knocks at yours, unsettling your heart. He is waiting for you first. I like to say it in Spanish: Dios nos primera. He makes the first move. God makes the first move. This is mercy.

There are two requests that Jesus associates with the title Father: "hallowed by thy name" and "Thy kingdom come" (Luke 11:2). The prayer of Jesus, and therefore Christian prayer, is first a matter of making room for God, allowing him to manifest his holiness in us, and also advancing his kingdom through the possibility of exercising his lordship of love in our lives. 

Thy Kingdom Come

The kingdom of God is here and the kingdom of God will come. It is the treasure hidden in the field; it is the precious pearl for the sake of which the merchant sells all he has (Matthew 13:44-46). The kingdom of God is the good wheat that grows alongside the weeds, and you have to fight against the weeds (Matthew 13:24, 40). The kingdom of God is also hope; the kingdom of God is coming now but at the same time has not yet come completely. This is how the kingdom of God has already come: Jesus has taken flesh, he has become man like us, he walks with us, and he gives us hope for our tomorrow: "I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:20). The kingdom of God is something that belongs to us, or rather, it is better to think of it another way: we must allow ourselves to be possessed by the certainty that it has come. That is true Christian faith. But at the same time there is also the need to cast the anchor there and to hold on to the cord because the Kingdom is still coming. 

"The protagonist of history is the beggar." Perhaps Peguy said it. The protagonist of history is the beggar, but not only the material beggar but ourselves too, spiritual beggars. May your kingdom come, Lord, because without you we can do nothing. To say "thy kingdom come" is to be a beggar. Our feeble work may appear small in the face of the complexity of the world's problems, but if embedded within God's work it has no fear of the difficulties. The Lord's victory is assured: his love will cause to sprout and grow every seed of goodness present on the earth. This opens us up to trust and hope, in spite of the tragedy, injustice, the suffering that we encounter. The seed of justice and peace sprouts and develops because it is ripened by the merciful love of God.

Thy Will Be Done on Earth as It Is in Heaven

Perhaps there is an echo of what the world says today: "There you have it: the usual passivity of Christians; they accept everything that comes." In reality, I would dare say that doing the will of God is almost the opposite. It means making room for a God who permeates us, who draws us to himself. Jorge Luis Borges wrote: "In the cracks is God, who lies in wait."

For us there is a salvation history made of yeses and nos. At times, however, we are experts in the "half yes." We are great at pretending that we do not really understand what God wants and what conscience suggests to us. We even get crafty about it, and in order to avoid actually saying "no" to God we say, "Excuse me, I can't," " Not today, maybe tomorrow," "Tomorrow I'll be better, tomorrow I'll pray, I'll do good, tomorrow." These attitudes and decisions distance us from the "yes." They distance us from God and lead us to the "no," to the "no" of sin, to the "no" of mediocrity. All of this leads to closing the door on goodness. Evil takes advantage of the withheld "yes." If we think about it, we will find many of these withheld yeses. Instead, every full "yes" to God gives rise to a new history. Sin makes us old inside. It ages us fast! But saying "yes" to God is literally original. Let us keep in mind what "yes" we should say to God today. We will find within us the voice of the Lord, who is asking us for something, a step forward. We all need to say, "I believe in you, I hope in you, I love you; may your will for good be fulfilled in me." This is the "yes."

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

All of this, in the kingdom of God as recounted to us in the Gospel, happens while we are seated at table. Jesus uses this image often. The kingdom of God is always a celebration; we are at table, so he gives us something to eat. Whether it is a special occasion or an everyday meal, we are at table. The power of God's presence in the world today is precisely at table, in the Eucharist with Jesus. This is why we ask that he feed all of us. Feed us with that spiritual food that strengthens us, at table in the Eucharist, but also feed everyone, in this world in which the reign of hunger is so cruel. When we pray the Our Father, it would be good for us to linger a bit over this petition  "give us bread today," to me and to all  and to think about how many people do not have this bread. 

Always someone is hungry and thirsty and needs me. I cannot delegate this to anyone else. This poor person needs me, my help, my words, my efforts. We are all in this together. This is also the teaching of the Gospel in which Jesus, seeing the many people who have been following him for hours, ask his disciples, "How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" (John 6:5). And the disciples responded, "It is impossible, it would be better for you to send them away. ... " Instead, Jesus says, "You give them something to eat (Mark 6:37). Jesus has them give him the few loaves and fish that they have with them, blesses them, breaks them, and has them distributed to all. This is a very important lesson for us. It tells us that the little we have, if we entrust it to the hands of Jesus and share it with faith, becomes an overflowing treasure. Pope Benedict XVI, in the encyclical Caritas in Veritate, affirms, "Feed the hungry is an ethical imperative for the universal Church. ... The right to food, like the right to water, has an important place within the pursuit of other rights. ... It is therefore necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination" (no. 27). Let us not forget the words of Jesus: "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35) and "If any one thirst let him come to me and drink" (John 7:37). These words are a challenge for all of us believers, a challenge to recognize that feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty are a conduit of our relationship with God, a God who has revealed in Jesus his face of mercy.

And Forgive Us Our Trespasses as We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us

You will be able to forgive if you have had the grace of feeling forgiven. Once, when I felt that the Lord had forgiven me of so many things, I wept with joy. Still today, when I think back on how I wept and it is my turn to forgive, I say to myself, "There's no comparison; this is a small thing compared with the time God showed you great mercy."

The family is a big training gym for the mutual giving and forgiveness without which no love can last for long. Without giving of oneself and without forgiving one another, love does not last; it does not endure. One cannot live without forgiveness  or at least, one cannot live well, especially in the family. Every day we do wrong to one another. We have to take stock of these mistakes, due to our frailty and our selfishness. But what is asked of us is to heal right away the woulds that we cause, to repair immediately the threads that we break in the family. If we wait too long it becomes too difficult. And there is a simple secret for healing wounds and dispelling accusations. It is this: do not let the day end without apologizing, without making peace between husband and wife, between parents and children, between brothers and sisters ... between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law! If we learn to apologize right away and to forgive one another, then wounds heal, marriages become stronger, and the family becomes an ever more solid house, one that withstands the impacts of our wrongdoings large and small. And this is why there is no need to make a big speech. A caress is enough. One caress and everything is over; it is time to move on. But never end the day at war! If we learn to live like this in the family, we will do the same outside of it, wherever we find ourselves. It is easy to be skeptical about this. Many – even among Christians  think that this is an exaggeration. "Yes," they say, "those are beautiful words, but it is impossible to put them into practice." But thanks to God, that is not the case. In fact, it is precisely in receiving forgiveness from God that we in turn are capable of forgiving others. This is why Jesus has us repeat these words every time we recite the prayer of the Our Father, every day. And it is indispensable that, in a society that is merciless at times, there should be places, like the family, where we can learn to forgiven one another. 

And Lead Us Not Into Temptation

This, "lead us not into temptation," is not a good translation. In fact, if we open the Gospel in the latest edition of the Italian episcopal conference, we read, "do not abandon us to temptation." The French have also changed the text, with a translation that means "Do not let me fall into temptation." I am the one who falls. It is not God who tosses into temptation in order to see how I fall. A father does not do this. A father helps his child get up right away. The one who leads us into temptation is Satan. That is Satan's craft. The meaning of our prayer is, "When Satan leads me into temptation, please God, give me a hand, give me your hand."

In a prison parish the biggest temptation with which Satan tries to seduce the heart every morning is to whisper, "Give up. Your imprisonment doesn't change anything; it's all a waste of time." To despair, for me, means to stop looking at the face of Christ. It is also true, however, that when I am tempted I realize how much grace God has given me in my heart. Perhaps I would not have become aware of this if I had not been tempted. Where I come from, they always say that no on can boast of being chaste if he has never been tempted.

But Deliver Us from Evil

The Our Father concludes with, "But deliver us from evil." And at the juvenile prison on the island of Nisida, across from Naples, one young man gave me the gift of a touch confidence. "There is only one thing I repeat under the covers before I go to sleep at night: 'Lord, deliver me from evil." Hearing a sixteen-year-old say this made me aware of the real concreteness of evil. There is evil. Evil is not something intangible that spreads like the fog of Milan. Evil is a person, Satan, who is very cunning. The Lord tells us that when Satan is driven out he goes away, but after a certain time, when one is distracted, perhaps after several years, he comes back worse than before.

How did Jesus act with Satan? He drove him away, or, as he did in the desert, he used the Word of God. Not even Jesus ever began a dialogue with Satan, because if we start to dialogue with him we are lost. He is more intelligent than we humans are. He turns us upside down and makes our head spin. In the end we must say, "Be gone, be gone!" In the end, in fact, evil will be removed and eliminated. At the time of the harvest, meaning the judgment, the reapers will carry out the master's orders, separating the weeds in order to burn them (Matthew 13:30). On that day of the final harvest the judge will be Jesus, he who sowed the good wheat in the world and himself became a "grain of wheat," died and rose again.

The Lord's Prayer

As Simone Weil noted, there may never have been another prayer written that was not already contained in the Pater. I am always amazed by those timorous words that the priest always speaks before intoning the prayer: "Obedient to the word of the Lord and instructed by his divine teaching, we dare to say." That "we dare to say" is wonderful, almost on tiptoe, in hushed tones. It is as if only together could we find the courage to say "Father." Christianity cannot exist in solitude.

We do need courage to pray the Our Father. We need courage. What I say is this: we must humble ourselves into saying "Daddy" and to truly believing that God is the Father who accompanies us, forgives us, gives us bread, is attentive to all we ask, clothes us even better than the flowers of the field. To believe is a big risk. We fear. What if this all is not true? To dare, to dare, but we must do this together. This is why praying together is so beautiful, because we help one another to dare.

Excerpts from Our Father: Reflections on the Lord's Prayer by Pope Francis

Previous posts on the Lord's Prayer:

+ Simply Good News | Praying the Good News of the Lord's Prayer by N.T. Wright 
The Divine Conspiracy | The Grandest Prayer of All is the Lord's Prayer by Dallas Willard

Next post: How Shall We Pray? | Ethical Implications of the Lord's Prayer by Anna Case-Winters

Soli Jesu gloria.

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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