Last week I reflected about Blessing ourselves, how it is almost rote, no thinking behind it, and yet it means so much. This evening I would like to bring up another almost rote prayer, one that just comes off the lips without a lot of thought. A prayer that also means so much in spite of our almost absent minded recitation.
The Our Father, the prayer our Lord taught us to say. The perfect prayer prayed by many over the millennia. One that, in a certain way is a very dangerous prayer.
Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.
On earth as it is in heaven.
Look at what we are proclaiming. God is our Father and as such we owe a child’s obedience to Him. Not only that, we are stating that we want His will, not ours, to be done. And since He is God, we can’t comprehend what His will entails, but nonetheless we want it to happen. I would add that because we are the ones praying this, we want to be an instrument in making this happen, which means that we participate in something that ultimately is unfathomable to us. We are telling God that we will go blindly forward with His will – come what may.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
We are asking for not only His help in nourishing us, but we are saying that we totally rely on His gifts. Christ tells us not to worry about tomorrow because God will provide. ‘Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.’ and again ‘do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well.’
Then we ask for forgiveness, and we need much; but only as we have been forgiving others. Think about how we harbor grudges, anger, yes hatred. How petty we are and fickle. Is this how we want God to act towards us?
And lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
And now we ask God to protect us. Protect us from how we handle the assault for Satan’s advances, protect us, at times, from even our loved ones, but mostly protect us from our own weaknesses.
This whole prayer is a prayer of conversion. We are asking God for certain guarantees and in return we will change our lives. Not slightly, but radically, totally. We are, in a very real way promising much to God in this prayer and this is very serious. Let’s look at it from a real world point of view. When you ask your bosses for more responsibility they hold you accountable for it, if you fail to do what you promised when you asked for more responsibility then there are ramifications and not good ones. Now, of course God is a merciful God, but the comparison is still valid; the Our Father is a request to participate in God’s work, it is a blind request because we don’t know what that will be, but we request it anyway. And though He won’t fire us, how we will feel when our failings are revealed to us?
Brothers and sisters,
This great prayer that we learned very young, that we can proclaim in an instant should give us reassurance because it is what God desires to hear from us. But, at the same time it should give us concern because what it means and what we are intending when we pray it can be as far apart as the sunrise and sunset. Whatever we are intending when we pray the Our Father we are telling God that we will be obedient and St. Josemaria Escrivá writes ‘to obey is to be a martyr without dying’. This prayer is that serious.