Archive for the ‘Our Father’ Category

A Martyr Preaches: “Banish the Fear of Death”

November 27, 2021

1st Sunday of Advent

This Sunday’s celebration comes in a moment of two overlapping times. This is a Sunday in November, the month in which we particularly remember, celebrate, and pray for the dead. This Sunday is also the beginning of Advent, a season in which we prepare for the coming of Christ. Through Advent we prepare not only for Christmas, the first coming of Christ, but also for Jesus’ Second Coming one day. Here and now at this Sunday Mass, our past and our future, the living and the dead, this world and the next, meet together.

When we hear Jesus’ words in today’s gospel about the Last Days we may feel apprehensive. Jesus tells us “people will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world.” And even if you or I do not belong to that final generation, we may fear to contemplate the coming sure reality of our own earthly deaths. But across time and space, an ancient saint and martyr urges us: “Let us shut out the fear of death and meditate upon immortality.

This is what St. Cyprian preached in the mid-third century A.D. as the bishop of Carthage, a North African city on the Mediterranean coast. God wills us to be good stewards of his gift of life, not recklessly pursuing self-harm or death, and yet not dreading the approach of death with mortal terror either. Listen to these words of St. Cyprian of Carthage as if he stood here before you preaching to you today:

“Our obligation is to do God’s will, and not our own. We must remember this if the prayer that our Lord commanded us to say daily (that is, the “Our Father”) is to have any meaning on our lips. How unreasonable it is to pray that God’s will be done, and then not promptly obey it when he calls us from this world! Instead we struggle and resist like self-willed (servants) and are brought into the Lord’s presence with sorrow and lamentation, not freely consenting to our departure, but constrained by necessity. And yet we expect to be rewarded with heavenly honors by him to whom we come against our will! Why then do we pray for the Kingdom of Heaven to come if this earthly bondage pleases us? What is the point of praying so often for its early arrival if we would rather serve the devil here than reign with Christ?

The world hates Christians, so why give your love to it instead of following Christ, who loves you and has redeemed you? John is most urgent in his (first New Testament letter) when he tells us not to love the world by yielding to sensual desires. Never give your love to the world, he warns, or to anything in it. A man cannot love the Father and love the world at the same time. All that the world offers is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and earthly ambition. The world and its allurements will pass away, but the man who has done the will of God shall live forever. Our part, my dear brethren, is to be single-minded, firm in faith, and steadfast in courage, ready for God’s will, whatever it may be. Banish the fear of death and think of the eternal life that follows it. That will show people that we really live our faith.

We ought never to forget, beloved, that we have renounced the world. We are living here now as aliens and only for a time. When the day of our homecoming puts an end to our exile, frees us from the bonds of the world, and restores us to paradise and to a kingdom, we should welcome it. What man, stationed in a foreign land, would not want to return to his own country as soon as possible? Well, we look upon paradise as our country, and a great crowd of our loved ones awaits us there, a countless throng of parents, (brothers and sisters), and children longs for us to join them. Assured though they are of their own salvation, they are still concerned about ours. What joy both for them and for us to see one another and embrace! O the delight of that heavenly kingdom where there is no fear of death! O the supreme and endless bliss of everlasting life!

There is the glorious band of apostles, there the exultant assembly of prophets, there the innumerable host of martyrs, crowned for their glorious victory in combat and in death. There in triumph are the virgins who subdued their passions by the strength of (chastity). There the merciful are rewarded, those who fulfilled the demands of justice by providing for the poor. In obedience to the Lord’s command, they turned their earthly inheritance into heavenly treasure.”

And so brothers and sisters, these are St. Cyprian’s lessons for us today. Love and obey Christ over and against this sinful world. Do not fear Jesus’ Second Coming. The Bible concludes with the prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus,” because his return is Good News for his friends. And do not dread your last days, but look forward to going to paradise. Jesus Christ and his holy saints, who love us, cheer us, and intercede for us, await the day we’ll join them in the fullness of joy.

Asking for a Gift to Give — 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

July 28, 2019

Remember last Sunday, when Abraham hosted three mysterious visitors from Heaven. Once they had agreed to Abraham’s offer to serve them a meal can you recall the first thing Abraham did? “Abraham hastened into the tent and told Sarah, ‘Quick, three measures of fine flour! Knead it and make rolls.'” How much were “three measures of flour” back then? Through a scripture commentary, I learned that this was about half a bushel, or like twenty pounds of flour. That’s enough to make about twelve of the loaves of bread we buy at the grocery store these days. So, Abraham served about a dozen loaves of bread to three guests. Now I’m as much a fan of unlimited breadstick deals as anybody, but when was the last time you ate four loaves-worth of bread in one sitting? Abraham knew these were extraordinary guests, so he set an extraordinary meal before them. And perhaps he intended to give them all the leftover loaves as a further gift to God.

I wondered about those “three measures of flour” because of Jesus’ parable today: Suppose you have a friend to whom you go at midnight and say, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house…” So we have a meal with three measures and a parable with three loaves. Three measures of flour for the Lord, and three loaves of bread for a friend. I perceive that these things are connected, but more on that later.

Immediately preceding this parable, Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. You surely noticed that the Our Father prayer in Luke differs from Matthew’s more familiar version. This is providential. If the two texts were exactly the same, some Christians might mistake Jesus’ example as being our only permissible prayer. But Jesus does not give the Our Father as a magic formula or incantation, but as a model for our approach and attitude to prayer. In Matthew’s version, the prayer begins with “Our Father.” He is not mine, but ours, because he calls us to salvation together. Luke’s version simply begins with “Father”; not “Master,” as though we were merely his slaves; not “Ruler,” as though we were merely his subjects; but “Father,” because we are his children. The prayer’s petitions are direct requests, simple requests, profound requests. For example, consider: “Give us each day our daily bread.” It’s straight-forward, basic, yet deep when you contemplate “our daily bread” as a symbol for all of our constant bodily and spiritual needs. And notice something else that these petitions have in common: “hallowed be your name,” “your kingdom come,” “forgive us our sins.” Each is asking God for something that God already desires for us. They are each a part of his plan already.

Who are we supposed to be like in Jesus’ parable? Surely it’s the persistently asking and seeking door-knocker. Because Jesus says, immediately after this parable, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

And who is God represented by in this parable? Naturally, the man in the house whose gifts can be gained through asking. Indeed, God is on the other side of Heaven’s door. And even at midnight, in the darkest hour, we can call on him for help. His children inside, the saints and angels who rest peacefully in his house, join their voices to ours when we persistently ask for good things on earth. But God is surely not like this annoyed neighbor in saying, “Do not bother me… I cannot get up to give you anything.” Jesus’ mode of teaching here is from the lesser to the greater. If this annoyed neighbor can be persuaded to give, how much more can God who already desires to give. Likewise, Jesus says, “If you, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?

The request for three loaves and Abraham’s request for three measures suggests another character like the Lord in this parable: “Lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him.” Mystically speaking, this visiting friend is the Lord. For Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Jesus says, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.” And Jesus says to the early Church’s persecutor, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Jesus is mystically present in every Christian and within in his Church. Thinking of God as represented in this parable by both the homeowner and the visiting friend reveals a dynamic that could change how you relate to prayer.

When you pray for some good thing, when you ask some worthy blessing for yourself, someone else, or even billions of people at once, are you not praying for the greater glory of God among us? What prayer would he, could he, possibly grant you that would not also glory him? Furthermore, what can we offer him that is entirely of ourselves? The man in the parable asks his neighbor for loaves for his friend because “I have nothing to offer him.” As St. Paul asked the Corinthians, “What do you possess that you have not received?” It’s been said that to truly make an apple pie from scratch, you have to recreate the universe. Like Abraham asking Sarah for loaves for his holy guests, like the man in the parable asking for a loan of bread, every good prayer—whatever it may be—is asking for a gift to be gifted to the Lord. It’s like asking your dad for money to buy him a gift for Father’s Day. It’s for his own glory, so you don’t have to persuade or coerce him, he loves you and already wants to give. Which raises a question: if God already wants to give, then why doesn’t God always give immediately in answer to our prayers?

Sometimes God waits for the right time to grant our requests. If you bought your mom the perfect Christmas gift, you might desperately want to give it to her right now, but you would realize that the very best time for her to open it comes later. Would you rather have you prayer answered right now or at the best and perfect moment?

Sometimes God is storing up the accumulated reservoir of your prayers so that once the floodgates are opened a torrent will be unleashed. St. Monica prayed for her sinful, wayward son for years, and when he finally converted he was not merely saved but went on to become the priest, bishop, and great doctor and father of the Church we know as St. Augustine of Hippo. Would you rather have your prayer answered in a small way now or in an overwhelmingly incredible way later?

Sometimes it we must pray persistently, rather than just asking once and setting the request aside, for the powerful influence of that continued offering. On one occasion in the gospels, there was a demon afflicting a boy that the disciples could not exorcise. After Jesus cast out the demon his disciples asked why they were unable. Jesus is written to have answered them, “This kind can only come out through prayer and fasting.” Last week we heard St. Paul tell the Colossians, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church”. It’s not that Jesus’ Passion is insufficient, but that God allows our offered sufferings and sacrifices to have a vital role in Christ’s work of saving souls. Patient, persistent prayer is a sacrifice we offer with him.

In conclusion, the Father, our Father, already wants to give, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church. So let us not hesitate, but let us persist, in asking good things from Him who loves us.

Unpacking the Perfect Prayer

September 5, 2014

Based on CCC 2761-2865

Jesus “was praying at a certain place, and when he was finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.'” In response, the Lord entrusted to his disciples and his Church the fundamental Christian prayer, the Our Father.

St. Luke presents a brief text of five petitions, while St. Matthew gives a more developed version of seven petitions. The liturgical tradition of the Church has followed St. Matthew’s text.

Early Christians prayed the Our Father three times a day and it has always been associated with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Mass.

The doxology, “For the Kingdom, and the power, and the Glory are yours, now and forever,” which follows the Our Father is not found in the most ancient Gospel texts, but it does date back to very early Church tradition.

The Our Father uses some unfamiliar, old English words: “Art” is a form of “is,” while the word “thy” means “your.” Thus, the prayer begins, “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name…”

We pray “Our Father” rather than “My Father” because our relationship with God is not individualistic, but communion that includes our brothers and sisters as well.

Our Father above surpasses the excellence of all good fathers on earth, and He is the ideal that inferior fathers fail to embody.

Saying “Our Father who art in heaven” does not point to some spatial place far away, but speaks to His beatific majesty among us.

For the Jews, seven was a number symbolizing perfection. The Our Father consists of seven petitions. The first three mainly address God’s glory: “thy name, thy kingdom, thy will.” The last four refer to our needs: “give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us.”

“Hallowed be thy name” We cannot make God more holy; but his name, his person, can be regarded as more sacred among us. Not only does this rule out blasphemy, but prays that all would come to a deeper personal relationship with Him.

“Thy Kingdom come” We pray for the fullness of His kingdom, his kingship, and his reign on earth. The Kingdom of God has begun among us with Christ, but the evils on earth show that it has not yet come in full measure.

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” Imagine if everyone on earth did His will as perfectly as the saints and angels? These first three petitions are advanced by God’s graces and our cooperation.

“Give us this day our daily bread” We need three kinds of sustenance: literal food for our survival, gracious rations for our many other human needs, and the Most Holy Eucharist for our perfection.

We pray “this day” for “our daily bread” to emphasize our constant reliance and trust.

“And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” Jesus tells us that if we do not forgive others from our hearts, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. You can pray for your enemies, know that you are loving them as a friend.

“And lead us not into temptation” God tempts no one. The original Greek can be translated, “Do not allow us to enter into temptation,” or “Do not let us yield to temptation.” We know our weakness and should pray for protection and deliverance.

“But deliver us from evil” We pray for freedom from all evils; present, past, & future; of which Satan, the Evil One, is the primary author or instigator. Just as the listings of apostles begin with Peter and end with Judas, so the Lord’s prayer begins with Our Father and ends with evil. Our confident, loving focus is on God, but we should not be naively unaware of the enemy of our souls.

With this deeper understanding of the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father, the perfect prayer, try praying its words slowly and meditatively for new intimacy and fruits.

God’s Words — Tuesday, 1st Week of Lent

March 11, 2014

Readings: Isaiah 55:10-11, Matthew 6:7-13

[My word] shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.

Jesus said to his disciples: “This is how you are to pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”

God’s word is an effective word. What God says, is. In the beginning, God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Jesus told the leper, “Be made clean,” and the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven,” and so they were. At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “This is my body,” and it became so.

When we pray the Our Father we are asking for what the Father already desires for us using the very words of Jesus. Therefore, let us pray the Our Father with confidence, knowing we are praying the Father’s loving will and the Son’s effective word.

The Way, Truth, & Life — 5th Sunday in Easter—Year A

May 22, 2011

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The Mass is an encounter with Jesus Christ, leading us to God the Father. Like Jesus Himself, the Mass contains the Way, the Truth, and the Life of Jesus. First, we journey on the Way to Jesus, then we come to the Truth of Jesus, finally we join in the Life of Jesus.

The Mass begins with the sign of the cross, for God is the beginning and end of everything. Next, we confess our unworthiness to approach the Lord, asking mercy for our sins, so that we may dare to take this journey to God. The, from the Holy Scriptures, we hear of God’s words and deeds among the Old Testament peoples and within the New Testament Church. In this, we learn of the providential way that God has prepared throughout time for us to encounter Jesus Christ today. Just as the journey on this Way through history leads to Jesus Christ, so the liturgy of the Word leads to the Gospel. Certainly, Jesus Christ the Word of God is present throughout the entire Word of God which is Sacred Scripture, but for the reading of the Gospel, we all stand up for Him and sing “Alleluia,” “Praise the Lord,” because we have come to Jesus Christ and He is more fully present among us in the proclamation of the Gospel.

The Gospel reading proclaims Jesus, who is the Truth. The homily that follows proclaims that the Truth matters for us here and now and demands our personal response. To this call, we answer with the Creed, proclaiming our faith in who God is and what He has done for us. In the Creed, we proclaim our acceptance of Jesus, the Truth. In the prayers of the faithful, we petition the Lord for our needs and concerns, saying in so many words, “Lord, let your kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven! Let us share you life! Give us your life!” At Mass, the Way leads to the Truth, and from the Truth we long for God’s Life. At Mass, the Liturgy of the Word leads to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

The presentation of the gifts is not merely about moving around cash and bread and water and wine. The presentation of the gifts is about the presentation of everything that we have, and everything that we are, to God. We lift up our hearts to be one with our sacrifice. Amidst praises to the Father, the one life-giving sacrifice of the Last Supper, of the cross, and of Heaven becomes present here to us. We join in offering this sacrifice through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus, in union with the Holy Spirit, to God the Father in Heaven.

Through this offered sacrifice, we join in God’s Life. We pray “Our Father,” because uniting with the paschal mystery, the great Easter deeds of Jesus, gives us life as the Father’s sons and daughters. Then we share with one another the sign of peace, the loving peace that is possessed by God’s holy ones. Finally, at the climax, we partake of Jesus Christ, Life Himself, most truly present in the Holy Eucharist.

Sometimes people say, “I just don’t get anything out of going to Mass. Father, I know that you say all this important and wonderful stuff is going on, but I don’t see it and I don’t feel it. The Mass is boring for me.” I understand. When I was a boy, I made a point of going to the bathroom (sometimes twice) during every Mass, just to break up the monotony. When I would see the priest cleaning the dishes at the altar—that was a good sign, because it meant that the Mass was almost done. I didn’t really know what was happening at Mass, so I really didn’t believe in what was happening at Mass. But as I grew older I began to learn what was happening, and as I grew in faith I began to believe in what was happening, and my experience of the Mass was transformed.

People who say that the Mass is boring resemble St. Phillip in something he said to Jesus at the first Eucharist, the Last Supper: “Master, (we don’t see or feel the presence of God the Father,) show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” And Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (Whoever has been to Mass has encountered my mysteries.) How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (How can you say, ‘The Mass is boring?’)” The awesome mystical realities of the Mass are true, and real, and present and active at every Mass we attend, whether we see them, or feel them, or believe in them, or not.

Jesus Christ and the Holy Mass contain the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and we shall receive from them according to our faith. Let us pray, that at this Mass and every Mass, we may be as fully present to Jesus Christ and His mysteries as they are to us at every Mass.

An Incomplete Lord’s Prayer — Thursday, 11th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

June 18, 2010

Sometime in the past, I realized that I didn’t pray the Lord’s Prayer right.  It’s not that I was actually changing the words Jesus taught us to say, but I realized my focus was not fully what Jesus had in mind. My subjective, firsthand experience of praying the prayer went something like this: 

God, who art in heaven…
     [<Here I get distracted for several seconds>]
…give me this day my daily bread,
and forgive me my trespasses,
as I forgive those who trespass against me,
and lead me not into temptation,
but deliver me from evil.

Did you notice anything different?

First, Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father” because we are not praying to anonymous force, but a person, a divine person who is imaged in a special way by natural and spiritual fathers on earth. Earthly fatherhood is a diminished image of Him. Biological fatherhood teaches us about our heavenly Father’s transcendence, while devoted fathers teach us about His love. (“The respective ‘perfections’ of [both] man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God,” as the Catechism teaches, but “Our Father” is significant.)

Second, the prayer’s early petitions, “hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” are every bit as important as the later petitions ‘about us.’ God is justly entitled to glory, His kingdom and reign.  Remember that all these are essential and conducive to our own greatest happiness.

Third, the Lord’s Prayer is not meant to be prayed just for yourself or myself, but for all of our Father’s family, for the whole Church, for even the whole world. The Our Father is not only a petitionary prayer, but an intercessory prayer.

So when we prayer the Our Father, the perfect prayer which Jesus taught us, let us pray it in its completeness, with a presence of mind and fullness of heart.

The Our Father — Tuesday, 1st Week of Lent

February 23, 2010

When the apostles asked Jesus how they should pray, Jesus taught them what is called the perfect prayer, the “Our Father.” It is a concise prayer, with just seven petitions (a perfect number for the Scriptures,) yet there is great depth beneath its simplicity.  This morning I show you three insights into this prayer which I hope will come to your mind from time to time as you pray this prayer for the rest of your lives.

First, Jesus teaches us that we are to pray to “Our Father.”  This is a far more wonderful thing than we realize.  To see its greatness, just imagine if the prayer were different. We do not pray, “Our tyrant, who art our ruler, before thee we grovel.” Nor, “Our master, we art thy slaves, for thee we must toil.” And we do not say, “Unknowable one, whom none can name, unapproachable be thy being.” We pray, “Our Father who art in heaven,” hallowed be His name.  We have the privilege to call God our Father on account of our faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s Son by His nature, (God from God, light from light,) but we are made God’s children by adoption through Christ. One way to see why this is such a big deal is to imagine if God were everyone’s heavenly Father, except for you. Whatever applies to a good father’s relationship with his natural children, also goes (with limited exceptions) for the perfect Father’s relationship towards us, His spiritual children. Keep in mind how privileged we are when you pray to “Our Father.”

The second insight this prayer yields is the proper attitude we should have towards prayer. Perhaps you’ve heard some people say, “Well, if you like to pray that’s fine—I mean, if that helps you to motivate yourself that’s great,” as if the only power of prayer was to change one’s personal attitude. This is something said by people who don’t pray, and if we thought as they did then we wouldn’t pray either, for who would bother to ask someone else to receive what is already in one’s own hands (i.e., the choice of one’s own attitude.) A second motivation among people who do not pray is more faithful, but also misguided. These say, “I can’t change God’s mind, so why should I bother to pray? Whatever He wills will be, whether I pray to Him or not.”

The first three petitions of the “Our Father” are worded carefully. They do not say, “Our Father, who art in heaven, make your name holy among us, make your kingdom come upon us, and make your will be done among us.” This would put everything on God. Nor do the opening lines read, “Our Father, who art in heaven, we will glorify your name, we will make your kingdom come, and we will make your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This would put everything in our own hands.

The prayer which Jesus gives us does not put everything on God, or put everything on us. Jesus presents the middle and true way of faith. We are not called to an independent activism, nor to a vacant passivity, but to an active receptivity in relationship with God. Like the Virgin Mary, we are to stand before our Father, with a spirit of active receptivity, and pray, “Behold, I am yours, may your will be done, in and through me, and on earth as it is in heaven.”

There are some things which are simply beyond my human ability.  For instance, I can no more forgive my own sins than I can pull up on my belt loops and hold myself up in midair. However, that does not mean I can do nothing to help my situation. I can first forgive others as I wish to be forgiven. I can pray, go to confession, and tell God that I’m sorry. God calls us to do our part and to cooperate in His work.

Maybe this explains why Jesus could not work great miracles where people were lacking faith. It was not that such things were beyond God’s omnipotent power, it is that God insists upon doing His works in relationship with us, rather than entirely apart from us. (This is His purpose in establishing the Church—to do His saving work with and through us.) Like St. Augustine said, ‘The God who created us without us, will not save us without us.’

The third and final insight into the Lord’s Prayer regards the meaning of the petition for “our daily bread.” We say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We can pray for this “bread” in three senses; literal, spiritual, and Eucharistic.

First, there is the literal sense, praying that God would provide for our material needs in life; such as housing, clothing, and food. We take these things for granted—your daily bread already waits for you in the cafeteria or in your kitchen at home—but there are many people around the world, who are much less well-off than we are, who pray these words from their hearts every day. Occasionally we should call these brothers and sisters of ours to mind and pray these words as intercession on their behalf before our Father.

Second, there is the spiritual sense, asking for the graces and helps that money can’t buy; such as peace and virtue, faith, hope, and love. Without these things, even a rich man remains impoverished, for man is not meant to live on material bread alone.

Third and finally, there is the Eucharistic sense, which asks for the bread from this altar which is God’s Son. Whenever we receive Jesus in the Eucharist He remains with us and in us until we receive Him again (unless we should disinvite and evict Him by committing grave sin.) In this way, Jesus persists as our “Daily Bread.”

So when you pray the “Our Father” realize your privilege in being His child through Jesus Christ. Consider that the coming of the Kingdom is a joint effort of God with man, in which our prayers play an important part. And pray for all your daily bread; literal, spiritual, and Eucharistic. May you remember these insights for all of your life and may the words of Christ’s perfect prayer make you a fruitful child of our Father.