Retreat presenter and spiritual director, Fr. Michael Schleupner, shares another inspiring homily with us today. What will you learn about these words that you’ve likely said over and over during your life? Thank you Fr. Michael!
He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
“Lord, teach us to pray”
The disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and Jesus responds with a prayer – his prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. We just heard the version of this in Luke’s Gospel, which is a little bit shorter than what we find in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew’s fuller version has become the prayer that we pray, and today I want to share what may be a fresh way of appreciating this.
The idea is that we can see the Lord’s Prayer as having three sections. First, the address or salutation – something like the beginning of a letter, like “Dear Father Mike.”
Second, the “thy” section with three phrases each containing the word “thy.” And third, the “we” section with three phrases each containing the word “we” or “our” or “us.”
1. “Our Father”
So, first, we begin with the salutation, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” To appreciate this, the words that the priest often uses to introduce it at Mass are helpful. The priest says, “We dare to say.” Well, today, we don’t find it daring or risky to say the Our Father. But it was daring when Jesus taught it. The Jewish people would never address God in such a familiar way. They saw God as distant and felt it was irreverent to use any ordinary name for God. So, here Jesus teaches us to speak to God as “Our Father.” He introduces us to seeing God as a close and caring parent. We still see God as greater than us, as transcendent and that’s why we say, “who art in heaven.” But we also speak to God as relational and loving – as “Our Father.”
That takes us to the second section of the prayer – the “Thy” phrases. We say, “Hallowed be thy name.” So, the name God or Father is sacred and that’s why we pray that it will be “Hallowed” – that it will be treated with reverence. This, of course, is why we should be careful how we use God’s name. Taking the name God in vain is simply out of bounds – sinful. Then, we say, “Thy kingdom come.” Here we are focusing not on what we want. Instead, we are focusing on what God wants for us. We are honoring God’s plan for us and trying to accept whatever that is. And to make this completely clear, we say, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We presume that God’s way or will is done in heaven because that is what heaven is. We pray that God’s will also permeates all that we do on earth. This is the way that God’s kingdom will come.
And that takes us to the third section of the prayer – the “We/Our/Us” phrases. We say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Here we are entrusting our needs to God. We are not asking God for long-term needs. We are simply placing our trust in God for what we need to get through the day – whether that is food or something tough at work or dealing with a troubled relationship. Next, we say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Here I have to note that nine times in this prayer, we use the words “we” or “our” or “us.” Jesus never tells us to use the words I or mine or me. It is always in the plural, to express that we are one with all God’s people, and that really means all people. So, in this phrase about forgiving us, as we in turn forgive, Jesus is reminding us that we are all human and imperfect. We all need to be forgiven, and remembering this helps us to be forgiving of others.
Finally, we say, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Pope Francis has talked about these words. He says that their real meaning is, “Do not let us fall into temptation.” His idea is that God, our loving Father, would never “lead us into temptation.” The devil or ungodly tendencies in our world may lead us into temptation, but not God. So, we are really praying here, “Do not let us fall into temptation.”
So, we dare to speak to God as “Our Father” – a loving parent.
And then we focus on God – the three “thy” phrases, and finally on ourselves in relation to God – the three “we/our/us” phrases. This understanding, I hope, will bring some freshness to the way we pray the Lord’s Prayer.
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