By Marcellino D'Ambrosio | Catholic News Service
As Jews, Christ's disciples already knew how to pray. Psalms were sung as the priests offered the sacrifices in the Temple. Psalms were chanted in the synagogue services and prayed around the table at Passover.
Jews also prayed morning, noon and night (see Dn 6:11). The most important of these prayers was written on a little scroll and bound to a man's forehead (phylactery) and fastened to doorposts (mezuzah):
"Hear O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength" (Dt 6:4-5).
This prayer, the "Shema", was the first thing whispered in a newborn's ear, and the last thing whispered to the dying. It was the verbal emblem that distinguished Jew from gentile.
So why did Jesus have to teach his disciples to pray? Because it was time for a new Israel to be born. The identity of God and his plan of salvation, revealed in bits and pieces in the law, was now being fully revealed in the Son.
It was time for the new Israel to pray in a new way, a way that would make clearer than ever the identity of the one God and how we should love him with all our heart.
There had been hints that the fearsome God who had revealed himself on Sinai was father, at least to the widow and orphan (Ps 68) and to the king (Ps 110). But Jews in Jesus' time had so emphasized God's majesty that, far from calling him Father, they no longer even dared to utter the name revealed to Moses, "Yahweh." They didn't even like to say the word "God," preferring to substitute "the Lord" or even "Heaven."
So Jesus, who himself nearly exclusively addressed God as "Abba" or "Father," teaches his disciples to do the same. His father becomes "Our Father." He is, of course, transcendent, majestic, the King of the Universe -- "who art in heaven."
But his majesty draws near to us in tenderness and calls us to a prayer that is an intimate dialogue of love. In this prayer, we dare to approach him and to rest secure in his affectionate embrace.
"Hallowed be thy name." For a Jew, one's name is not just a label, but expresses the essence of the person. Jesus has just revealed God's name -- Father. To "hallow" means to make visible, like the cloud of God's glory that covered Sinai and shone from Moses' face. We pray in this petition that through and in us the Father's love would be made manifest to the world and that people would see, understand and glorify him.
"Thy kingdom come." Though the kingdom or reign of God won't come in its fullness until the return of Christ, it began to break into history in the public ministry of Jesus and broke in with even greater force on Pentecost Sunday, falling upon 120 initially, which in a matter of hours became 3,000.
"Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." God reigns where people yield to his will. His will and his kingdom mean the same thing: "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14:17).
"Give us this day our daily bread." This helps us understand the attitude we should have as God's children -- we confidently expect our loving Father to provide for all our needs. But we pray not just for our own private needs but for the entire worldwide family's needs. On the flip side, there is never a moment when our brothers and sisters are not praying for us.
"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Here, Jesus reminds us that the church, the new Israel, is a community of mercy, where all is forgiven by God and the family. If we refuse to forgive, we block the flow of God's mercy to and through us, and essentially put ourselves outside of the family.
"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." This petition is a sober reminder that we live in a world where the kingdom is in conflict with another kingdom. Our world is a dangerous place where a powerful adversary prowls "like a roaring lion" (1 Pt 5:8).
In praying this, we reject Satan's tricks and humbly acknowledge our need for God's help in escaping his snares. But we also rest confident that our Father has the power to protect us.
In the writings after the New Testament, the Lord's Prayer replaced the "Shema" of the Jews, and Christians prayed it at least three times per day.
Yet in the Holy Land, there are still descendants of the first Christians who preserve the ancient Jewish-Christian heritage. When a baby is born to such a family, it is still customary for the father to be the first one to speak to the newborn. What does he whisper in the child's ear? "Our Father, who art in heaven …"
D'Ambrosio is co-founder of Crossroads Productions, an apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization.
The Lord's Prayer: Inspiration, invitation, doorway to prayer
By Effie Caldarola | Catholic News Service
Jesus' disciples were aware that he would slip away in the lonely hours before dawn to find a quiet place to pray. They recognized a man who drew his strength from time alone with God.
Is it any wonder that they asked him to teach them to pray?
I imagine myself, sitting with the disciples at the foot of the Master. And as I listen to the beautiful words of what we know as the Lord's Prayer, I realize that Jesus gave us a blueprint, not a formula.
To me, the Lord's Prayer is an inspiration, not a script. It's an invitation, a doorway to prayer. For all the many times we recite it -- at Mass, during the rosary, at evening prayer -- I don't end with a note of finality: There, I've prayed. Instead, this prayer opens my heart to prayer.
I cannot imagine Jesus as a man who spent a lot of time "saying" his prayers. Oh, I know he was well-versed in Jewish prayer and Scripture. He was so well-versed that he amazed the crowds in the synagogue; so well-versed that even hanging on the cross he called upon Psalm 22, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"
But when Jesus urged us to find a private place to pray, I don't think he meant just a quiet, secluded room. I think he meant to go to the deepest, most private part of ourselves, where we can be honest and transparent before God and be open to God's word. I think silence and listening were integral to Jesus' prayer, certainly not merely recitation.
Jesus even cautioned against "babbling" like the gentiles.
And so, he gave us a beautiful, simple prayer to lead us into the heart of the mystery of God.
Some people find praying to God as a "father" off-putting. Perhaps they've had a bad experience with a male parent or the term brings unwanted feelings of patriarchy. Jesus grew up in a patriarchal society and felt comfortable with a masculine term for God.
But his word was really "Abba," which many scholars say could mean daddy. To Jesus, the great mystery of God was so close and intimate as to be his daddy, his papa.
I challenge myself to pray the Lord's Prayer with this intimate term.
When praying the Lord's Prayer privately, I use phrases that mirror the Gospel translation but open them up with new words. "May your name be held holy" means the same as "Hallowed be thy name" but it touches me more personally. I imagine myself holding his name in a sacred manner throughout the day.
In the same way, when I say "thy will be done" I pray that God's will might be done specifically in my own life. How do I listen for that will?
And "give us this day our daily bread" says much more than just, Lord, make sure I get my dinner. It calls me to question my needs versus my wants. Do I worry about storing up more treasure than I need for this day?
Am I careful with food, or am I gluttonous and wasteful? Like many people, I have issues around food, weight and consumption. This phrase calls me to pray about that.
Forgive me, as I forgive others. Again, I cry out for forgiveness, and am struck by how often I fail to bestow it, how often I fail to be merciful.
Then, I ask God to spare me from being put to the test. I ask to be delivered from the Evil One, to be helped in time of temptation.
Throughout my life, the Lord's Prayer has been a constant, yet an evolving and growing encounter with the Holy One. I think that's what Jesus had in mind.
Caldarola is a freelance writer and a columnist for Catholic News Service.
Situating the Lord's Prayer in Matthew and Luke
By Daniel Mulhall | Catholic News Service
In the Lord's Prayer (commonly called the "Our Father," from the first two words of the prayer) Jesus gave us what St. Thomas Aquinas called "the most perfect of prayers" because it teaches us to ask for what we need and the order in which to ask.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares (quoting Tertullian, a theologian of the early church) that the entire message of the Gospel is summarized in this prayer (No. 2761).
There are two versions of the Lord's Prayer found in the New Testament. The first is found in Matthew, Chapter 6, while the second is found in Luke, Chapter 11. While the two versions are similar in the words they use, there are differences in how they are presented. The Our Father used today is most similar to Matthew's account, although not identical.
Matthew situates the prayer as part of Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7). As the new lawgiver, Jesus tells his disciples to pray quietly in private because the "Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Mt 6:8).
In Luke, Chapter 10, Jesus lays out the meaning of discipleship, ending with the story of Mary having "chosen the better part" because she focused on the Lord (Lk 10:42). Immediately in the next chapter Jesus is asked by a follower to "teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples" (Lk 11:1).
In both Matthew's and Luke's versions we pray to Our Father in heaven; Luke simply begins "Father." Both versions acknowledge the holiness of God's name ("hallowed") and ask for the kingdom to come. Matthew adds "your will be done, on earth as in heaven." In both we are told to ask for our daily bread.
In Matthew we ask God to forgive us our debts while in Luke we ask that our sins be forgiven. Both versions ask that we not be subjected to the final test. Only Matthew's version includes the request that we be delivered from evil.
Both versions tie our forgiveness to our willingness to forgive others, although with different wording. Immediately following the Lord's Prayer, Jesus explicitly tells his followers: "If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions" (Mt 6:14-15).
Where Jesus in Matthew encourages us to pray quietly, in Luke Jesus tells us to pound unceasingly at the doors of heaven (Lk 11:5-8), illustrating this with the story of the man who, late at night, knocks on his neighbor's door seeking food. Jesus says that the neighbor eventually will give the man what he wants if for no other reason than to stop the clamor.
So too, he tells us, will God reply to our persistent prayer. "For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened" (Lk 11:10).
Daniel S. Mulhall is a catechist living in Louisville, Kentucky.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
In his book, "Jesus of Nazareth," Pope Benedict XVI devotes a chapter to the Lord's Prayer. He writes that "the words of the Our Father are signposts to interior prayer, they provide a basic direction for our being, and they aim to configure us to the image of the Son."
More than a simple recitation, the prayer "aims to form our being, to train us in the inner attitude of Jesus." Simply put, we become more Christ-like.
The words stem from Jesus' own dialogue with the Father and "we may be sure that each of us, along with our totally personal relationship with God, is received into, and sheltered within, this prayer."
Through openness to the Holy Spirit, each "heart will be opened, and each individual will learn the particular way in which the Lord wants to pray with him."[[In-content Ad]]