Today’s readings contain the version of the Lord’s Prayer found in the Gospel of Luke. I learned this prayer as a child and pray it almost every day. It has become so routine that I often lose the power of the words contained in that simple prayer.
A few weeks ago, when the version of the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew was in the daily readings, I had a reflection based on the text from Matthew. Today, with the help of the Irish Jesuits, I will do a similar analysis for the shorter Lucan version.
The text of the Lord’s Prayer should not be seen as just a formula for vocal recitation. It is, rather, a series of statements and petitions in which we affirm our relationship with God, with the people around us and with the world in general. It is a statement of faith and it is, as we shall see, a highly challenging and, therefore, even rather dangerous prayer.
Let us take a brief look at the petitions one by one.
We address God as Father, the source of life and of everything that we have; we have nothing purely of our own. We do not address him as Lord, or Master, or Judge. We do not even call him, the Source of all being, Creator, but by the much more personal term, Father. And St Paul reminds us that this title is meant to be understood on the warmest and most intimate level. He tells us to call God Abba (’) “Papa” – titles used affectionately by young children all over the world. This affectionate form of praying to the Divine is fairly unique among major world religions (and a blasphemy to our Abrahamic cousins the Muslims).
In addressing God as ‘Father’ we are acknowledging that every human person, including myself, is a child of God and therefore that we all belong to one huge family where we are all, in a very real way, brothers and sisters to each other. There is no room here for rejection, or hatred, or prejudice or contempt of any kind based on race, nationality, color of skin, gender, sexual orientation, social class, religion, etc. If I am not prepared to accept every single person as a brother or sister, I will have problems even beginning to say this prayer.
2. May your name be held holy:
Other forms are ‘Hallowed be thy name’ or ‘Holy be your name’. Of course, God’s name is holy no matter what we say or think. For the Jews, a name was not simply a label indicating identity. It denoted the whole person. When Moses spoke to God in the burning bush, he needed to know God’s name in order to know who he was. So here we are praying that God himself and not just his name be revered by all. It is not just a prayer for people to avoid irreverent language. In a sense, too, who can make God’s name or God himself “holy?” His holiness in no way depends on us. We make this prayer for our sake more than for his. What we are rather asking for is that God’s holiness be acknowledged by us not only by our words but by the way we live. In other words, it is a prayer that God’s holiness be reflected in our own lives and in the lives of every single person.
3. Your kingdom come:
The Kingdom of God we may understand as a world in which everything that God stands for becomes a reality in the lives of people everywhere – a world that is built on truth, love, compassion, justice, freedom, human dignity, peace. We know it is God’s will that such a world should be the shared experience of all but it depends a great deal on our response and co-operation. Some elements of the Kingdom can be found in many places and in many communities but we are only too aware that, for the world at large, the Kingdom is still far from being a reality and much of the blame lies with us. It is the work of the Church and of every single Christian, indeed of every person anywhere – to help people recognize the kingship and lordship of God and to accept it as the key to their present and future happiness. So in saying this invocation we are not only calling on God’s help but reminding ourselves of working with God to make the Kingdom a reality.
4. Give us today our daily bread:
In the second half of the prayer we pray more directly for our own needs. And we begin with present needs. Notice that we ask for today’s bread, food, today’s material needs. Is that what we normally pray for? Or are our anxieties reaching far out into the future? Yet in praying this way we express our trust in a caring God. It is also the acceptance of a challenge by all of us to see that every person has their needs for today supplied. There is no need for worry and anxiety about the future.
There is one little word here that is highly dangerous. It is the word “us”. Who is that “us”? Just me and my immediate family? or my parish? or my neighborhood or my town or my country? All the above plus more; the “us” includes every single person. I am praying, therefore, that every single person have bread to eat today. We know, of course, that there are millions of people (some of them in rich countries) who do not have enough to eat or who suffer from malnutrition and poorly balanced diets. In praying that all of “us” have our daily bread, are we expecting God to drop manna from the skies or are we not reminding ourselves that the feeding of brothers and sisters is our responsibility? If people are hungry or badly fed, it is not God’s doing; human beings are responsible in most cases (outside of natural disasters).
Finally, this petition prayer is not limited to the physical food required to nourish our bodies; it also includes the spiritual food of the Eucharist to nourish our spirits. But in sharing that Bread together we are saying sacramentally that we are a sharing people and we will share our goods and blessings with others, especially those in need. If we turn our Eucharist into an individualistic affair, it becomes a kind of sacrilege.
5. Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us:
Is this not an incredibly dangerous prayer to make? We are asking that God’s forgiveness to us be conditional on our readiness to forgive those we perceived to have hurt us in some way. That is a daring thing to do. And forgiveness does not simply mean uttering a few words. Forgiveness in the Scripture always includes reconciliation between offender and offended. In fact, I would go even further and say that the fully Christian person is never offended, cannot be offended. The true Christian has a rock solid sense of their own security and their own inner worth which no other person can take away. When such a person is the recipient of some attack, be it verbal or physical, their first response is to reach out to the attacker with concern and sympathy. It is the attacker who has the problem, not the one attacked. Most of us have a long way to go to reach that level of inner peace. ‘If what you say about me is true, I accept it; if it is false, then it is false. Why should I take offence?’ We are praying to share God’s most beautiful quality – his readiness to forgive not just “seventy time seven times” but indefinitely.
6. Do not subject us to the final test:
Finally, we pray for protection from future trials that might overwhelm us. Trials where we might fail and betray our following of him. It is rare the we are subjected to the major trials that the first disciples faced. However, we are faced with our own trials in our daily lives. Do we really think about God in all of the decisions we make in our daily lives and in how we treat others? The evil one is constantly trying to get us to focus on our own needs and wants and make us forgot that we spiritually connected to a much larger spiritual organism in the Church, all of humanity and all of God’s other creation.
Finally, in addition to simply reciting this prayer in the rapid way we normally do, we could sometimes take it very slowly, one petition at a time and let its meaning sink in. Or we could just take one petition which is particularly meaningful to us at any time and just stay with it until it really becomes part of us.