Prayer is central to our faith. It is prayer that helps us come closer and in union with the Lord. Pray without ceasing is the attitude every follower must try and adopt in his own life; but have you ever gone before the Lord and wondered what do I say now? How do I pray more fruitfully? Or the little doubts like ‘Am I making a valid prayer’? Or what is the better prayer to make so that my prayer is answered quickly?
I have been there and done that probably a little more than a million times, but then there is hope. There is hope for us in the Gospel when the disciples go and ask Jesus himself – Teach us to pray. Just think, there must have been something that triggered them to ask this question. By being with Jesus they realized his way of praying is somehow better than theirs. The Lord replies back with the most amazing prayer that has been carried down through centuries and which we utter at almost lighting speed without actually reflecting on what the prayer is all about. Let us now see the beauty of the ‘OUR FATHER’.
To begin with the first thing Jesus teaches us is to call God, OUR FATHER. Now, take a moment to reflect on this. This is the first time ever in the gospel that the Lord tells us to use the words ‘OUR FATHER’. He has spoken earlier about God as MY FATHER AND YOUR FATHER but never the words ‘OUR FATHER’ till this point. In calling God ‘our father’, Jesus highlighted the deep intimate relationship we are called to have with God and that God is not just MY FATHER but father of everyone, even the most irritating person existing on earth.
For the Jews it was totally unimaginable to think of God as a father. They believed in a totally transcendent God. For them, God was so holy and away from them that they never even uttered his name, but here Jesus invites us to not only call on God but to call him with intimacy as close as the one we share with a parent. Jesus uses the word ‘ABBA’ for God and if we study Aramaic we will note that the word ABBA is not the more commonly used word for father but it was rather like a word used to signify great closeness. As a child, I never called my father, ‘FATHER’. I used the word ‘DADA’ and when Jesus uses the word ‘ABBA’ he is actually calling God, a more intimate name – something like ‘DADA’.
The next lines say ‘WHO ART IN HEAVEN AND HALLOWED BE THY NAME’. These words are actually not just lines to describe the address and position that God is in, but are much deeper. We live and tend to get so lost in this world and so the first part reminds us that the source of all goodness comes from above. We waste too much time focusing on the world around us when we actually need to draw our strength from above and then go out to work in love around us. ‘Hallowed be thy name’ is a way of saying that we worship the Lord. We do this not because He needs it and is demanding us to do it. It can be explained easily by way of an example – like a child who makes a parent day card for the mother. The mother is in no need of the card and actually it may not be the most creative thing too but she will accept it and appreciate the kid because that gesture just shows how much the child loves the mother and the mother wants the child to love her. Now that is what worship is all about.
‘THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN’. I have been praying the Breviary for about two years now and from the Psalms that we study and pray, we realize that there is a balance in the phrases used by the psalmist. The psalmist uses two phrases to indicate the same thought to bring a balance to his song. This is the similar concept that Jesus does with these two phrases. The kingdom of God will come only when the will of the Father is done. So he is actually speaking of the same thing using two different phrases.
Let us understand this with an analogy given by Arch Bp. Fulton Sheen.
Suppose I have a pencil. It is considered to be a good pencil if it writes because it will be fulfilling its purpose. So I take it and write the word GOD, however if the pencil acts out of its own will and as I want to write GOD it writes DOG, then the purpose is not achieved. The failure of the pencil would be similar to how we fail to be and act under the law of God. God then cannot use us as instruments to fulfil the work of His kingdom.
The three petitions which we made till now is focused on God and the above. Now, the next lies in the middle – ‘GIVE US TODAY OUR DAILY BREAD’. Bread is essential for every human being to survive. It signifies food that is crucial and this line proves that even the most essential thing we need to survive comes from the grace of God and not from our works. It is true because everything we eat needs sunlight to grow, water to nourish and many other things that only God in his goodness blesses us with. This can also mean provision of the Eucharist. The Bread of Life that the Lord himself has given the world.
‘FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US’. Forgiveness is always two fold. We experience the forgiveness from God and so in turn forgive our brothers and sisters. The Lord has made it clear in the continuation of the Gospel that ‘Forgive and you shall be forgiven’. Forgiveness is the truth about being a follower of Christ. We cannot hold grudges and expect God to forgive us.
‘LEAD US NOT TO TEMPTATION’. This is to pray literally asks God not to have trials which are too much for us to handle. The Truth is that we will always have trials and there is no running away from it. The Lord says that we will have tribulation. We are living on earth and are part of the militant church that is fighting and so we need to expect a tough fight, but we pray that God does not put me in a war that is too great for me to handle, lest I fall and get wounded.
The proper ending to the beautiful prayer is actually ‘DELIVER US FROM THE EVIL ONE’. We ask God to deliver us from Satan. Many are just comfortable with the idea of evil without the evil one because he seems too big to handle, but the truth is the evil one exists but the bigger truth is OUR FATHER can deliver us from him.
Then we end the prayer with the word ‘AMEN’ which represents the idea that I have said it and now let me live up to this. The Lord did not say ‘AMEN’ in the gospel. It was added by us to make this prayer our very own and not just a repetition of what the Lord said.
The OUR FATHER gives me the chills in the spine every time I say it, just to know that these were the same words that came from the mouth of my Lord centuries back and he wants me to say this to deepen my relationship with God. So, every time we will say this prayer we need to stop thinking of every other thing that bothers us but completely become like a little child. The bible testifies that only one like the child shall enter the kingdom of heaven. By this God doesn’t want you to start wearing a short pant and suck some lollipops and sit crying for your mother to give your attention but to be able to smile with your entire heart every time you are thrown up in the air, having the confidence that I will be safe in the arms of my father and in your heart echo the word….ABBA….