Chapter Eleven - The Lord's Prayer

Jesus "was praying at a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.'" In response to this request the Lord entrusts to his disciples and to his Church the fundamental Christian prayer. 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 retained St. Matthew's text:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2759).

A Summary of the Whole Gospel

The Lord’s Prayer is, indeed, a summary of the entire Gospel. It is called “The Lord’s Prayer” in that Jesus Himself gave it to us as a way of teaching us to pray. In this prayer, we find seven petitions to God. Within those seven petitions we will find every human longing and every expression of faith found within the Scriptures. Everything we need to know about life and prayer is contained in the wonderful prayer. 

Jesus Himself gave us this prayer as the model of all prayer. It is good that we repeat the words of the Lord’s Prayer regularly in vocal prayer. This is also done in the various Sacraments and liturgical worship. However, saying this prayer is not enough. The goal is to internalize each and every aspect of this prayer so that it becomes a model of our personal petition to God and an entrustment of our entire life to Him. 

The Foundation of Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer begins not with a petition; rather, it begins with us acknowledging our identity as children of the Father. This is a key foundation for the Lord’s Prayer to be prayed properly. It also reveals the foundational approach we must take in all prayer and in the entire Christian life. The opening statement preceding the seven petitions is as follows: “Our Father who art in Heaven.” Let’s take a look at what is contained in this opening statement of the Lord’s Prayer. 

Filial Boldness: At Mass, the priest invites the people to pray the Lord’s Prayer by saying, “At the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching we dare to say…” This “daring” on our part comes from the foundational understanding that God is our Father. Each Christian is to see the Father as my Father. We must see ourselves as God’s children and approach Him with the confidence of a child. A child with a loving parent is not afraid of that parent. Rather, children have the greatest trust that their parents love them no matter what. Even when they sin, children know they are still loved. This must be our fundamental starting point for all prayer. We must start with an understanding that God loves us no matter what. With this understanding of God we will have all the confidence we need to call on Him. 

Abba: Calling God “Father” or, more specifically, “Abba” means we cry out to God in the most personal and intimate of ways.  “Abba” is a term of endearment for the Father.  This shows that God is not just the Almighty or the All-Powerful.  God is so much more.  God is my loving Father and I am the Father’s beloved son or daughter.

“Our” Father: To call God “our” Father expresses an entirely new relationship as a result of the New Covenant that was established in the blood of Christ Jesus.  This new relationship is one in which we are now God’s people and He is our God.  It’s an exchange of persons and, therefore, deeply personal.  This new relationship is nothing other than a gift from God that we have no right to.  We have no right to be able to call God our Father.  It’s a grace and a gift. 

This grace also reveals our profound unity to Jesus as the Son of God.  We can only call God “Father” in so far as we are one with Jesus.  His humanity unites us to Him and we now share in a deep bond with Him.

Calling God “our” Father also reveals the union we share with one another.  All who call God their Father in this intimate way are brothers and sisters in Christ.  We, therefore, are not only deeply connected together; we also are enabled to worship God together.  In this case, individualism is left behind in exchange for fraternal unity.  We are members of this one divine family as a glorious gift of God.

“Who Art in Heaven”:  Acknowledging that God is in Heaven is not so much to say He is away in some “place.”  It means He is in a glorious state of being.  He is not away from us somewhere else.  In fact, our acknowledgment of His Heavenly reign actually reveals that we are called to share in that glorious life of God right now.  We are the People of God who live united with Christ in this hidden yet glorious Kingdom already established.  Our life of prayer is that constant connection to and participation in this Kingdom.


The Seven Petitions

The Lord’s Prayer reveals to us seven petitions.  These petitions cover the entire Christian life.  Let’s look at each one of them so that we will, indeed, know how to pray.

After we have placed ourselves in the presence of God our Father to adore and to love and to bless him, the Spirit of adoption stirs up in our hearts seven petitions, seven blessings. The first three, more theological, draw us toward the glory of the Father; the last four, as ways toward him, commend our wretchedness to his grace. "Deep calls to deep" (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2803).

The first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer focus on God.  This reveals the essence of love: love always draws us out of ourselves toward the other.  These petitions help us to love and adore God and desire His will for His sake.  We pray: “Hallowed be thy name…thy Kingdom come…thy will be done.”

Hallowed be Thy Name:  “Hallowed” means to be holy.  As we pray this part of the prayer we are not praying that God’s name willbecome holy, for His name already is holy.  Rather, we pray that this holiness of God will be recognized by us and all people.  We pray that there will be a deep reverence of God’s name and that we will always treat God with the proper honor, devotion, love and awe we are called to. 

It’s especially important to point out how often God’s name is used in vain.  That is a strange phenomenon.  Have you ever wondered why, when people get angry, they would curse God’s name?  It’s strange.  And, in fact, it’s demonic.  Anger, in those moments, invites us to act in a contrary way to this prayer and to the proper use of God’s name.

God Himself is holy, holy, holy.  He is thrice holy!  In other words, He is the Holiest!  Living with this fundamental disposition of heart is key to a good Christian life and to a good life of prayer. 

Perhaps a good practice would be to regularly honor God’s name.  For example, what a wonderful habit it would be to regularly say, “Sweet and precious Jesus, I love You.”  Or, “Glorious and merciful God, I adore You.”  Adding adjectives like these before we mention God is a good habit to get into as a way of fulfilling this first petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

Another good practice would be to always refer to the “Blood of Christ” we consume at Mass as the “Precious Blood.”  Or the Host as the “Sacred Host.”  There are many who fall into the trap of just referring to it as the “wine” or the “bread.”  This is most likely not malicious or even sinful, but it’s much better to enter into the practice and habit of honoring and revering anything that is associated with God, especially the Most Holy Eucharist!

Thy Kingdom Come: This petition of the Lord’s Prayer is a way of acknowledging two things.  First, we acknowledge the fact that Jesus will, one day, return in all His glory and establish His permanent and visible Kingdom.  This will be the time of the Final Judgment when the current Heaven and Earth will pass away and the new order will be established.  So, praying this petition is a faith-filled acknowledgment of this fact.  It’s our way of saying we not only believe this will happen, we also look forward to it and pray for it. 

Secondly, we must realize that the Kingdom of God is already here among us.  For now, it’s an invisible Kingdom.  It’s a spiritual reality that must become an all-consuming and present reality in our world. 

To pray that God’s “Kingdom come” means we desire that He first take greater possession of our souls.  The Kingdom of God must be within us.  He must reign on the throne of our hearts and we must allow Him.  Therefore, this must be our constant prayer. 

We also pray that the Kingdom of God become present in our world.  God wants to transform the social, political and cultural order right now.  So we must pray and work for that.  Our prayer for the Kingdom to come is also a way for us to commit ourselves to God to allow Him to use us for this very purpose.  It’s a prayer of faith and courage.  Faith because we believe He can use us, and courage because the evil one and world will not like it.  As the Kingdom of God is established in this world through us, we will meet with opposition.  But that’s ok and should be expected.  And this petition is, in part, to help us with this mission.

Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven: Praying for the Kingdom of God to come means, also, that we seek to live the will of the Father.  This is done as we enter into union with Christ Jesus.  He fulfilled the will of His Father with perfection.  His human life is the perfect model of the will of God and it is also the means by which we live the will of God.

This petition is a way of committing ourselves to live in union with Christ Jesus.  We take our will and entrust it to Christ so that His will lives in us. 

By doing this we begin to be filled with all virtue.  We will also be filled with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit which are necessary for living the will of the Father.  For example, the Gift of Knowledge is a gift by which we come to know what God wants of us in particular situations in life.  So praying this petition is a way of asking God to fill us with knowledge of His will.  But we also need the courage and strength necessary to then live out that will.  So this petition also prays for those Gifts of the Holy Spirit that enable us to live out what God reveals as His divine plan for our lives.

It is, of course, also an intercession for all people.  In this petition we pray that all will come to live in unity and harmony with God’s perfect plan.

The next four petitions of the Lord’s Prayer still focus upon God, but more directly acknowledge our need of Him and the need for us to offer ourselves to Him as an offering.  In these petitions we pray: “Give us…forgive us…lead us…deliver us.”

Give us this day our daily bread: This petition, like the opening of the Lord’s Prayer, expresses our child-like need to trust in God to care for us.  It also points to the covenant in that we seek to receive all from God as we seek to give all to God.

To pray for our “daily” bread is a way of acknowledging that God transcends time and place.  He is all present and needed in all time.  And to say, “this day” is a way of inviting God into this present moment, the only moment we have.

“Bread” is certainly a reference to the Holy Eucharist but it is also an acknowledgement that, through the Eucharist and all grace, God is the source of our sustenance.  Without Him we starve, literally.  Our souls wither and, in fact, without God we could no longer even exist. 

We also trust that God will provide for our material needs.  No, God may not have as a part of His plan that we become rich in worldly possessions, but we can be assured that He will care for us and provide, materially, and in every other way, for what we do need in life.  So this is a prayer of trust in the providence of God.

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us: This may be one of the most difficult of the petitions to pray.  Forgiveness is two sided.  First, God is a God of perfect mercy.  There is no sin too big for God to forgive and forget.  We must know this.  Guilt, shame, embarrassment, and fear must fade away in the presence of God’s abundant mercy.  We pray for this grace in this petition.

However, the mercy of God works both ways!  The only way to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness is to give it.  And, the extent that we offer mercy and forgiveness is the extent that we open our hearts to receive it.  Imagine it this way.  Imagine that you are out snorkeling.  You are in the tropics exploring the beauty of the sea.  In order to do this you need a snorkeling tube to breathe through.  When you breathe, you do not use one large one to breathe in and then switch to a small one to breathe out.  No, you use the same tube for both.  So it is with mercy and forgiveness.  We determine how “big” our breathing tube is and we use only one.  If we use a straw for forgiving others, we must use that same straw to receive forgiveness.  It’s our choice.  But if we use a full-sized tube as a channel of grace, both to give and receive, we will be very satisfied.

This analogy also shows us that we need mercy and forgiveness.  No one can go snorkeling and say, “I’ll just hold my breath the whole time.  I do not need to breathe” This is like saying, “I will just live my life myself, I do not need regular mercy and forgiveness.”  This is a dangerous and deadly attitude.

Sometimes we encounter people who do not seem worthy of our forgiveness. They may be arrogant, demanding, hurtful and the like. It matters not. We must offer mercy and forgiveness to them just as we offer it to the sweetest and kindest person we know. It must be total, constant and unconditioned. Remember the words of Jesus on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). 

And lead us not into temptation: This line of the Lord’s Prayer can be confusing.  Why would God “lead us” into temptation?  Well, He wouldn’t.  This is confusing simply because it’s hard to translate this Greek line.  The Catechism explains it this way:

The Greek means both "do not allow us to enter into temptation" and "do not let us yield to temptation" (#2846).

Temptation is real.  We all encounter it.  But is it true that some temptations are so severe that we cannot help ourselves?  Yes, it’s true, sometimes temptations are too much for our own human strength.  But fear not, temptations are never too much for the grace of God.  Therefore, this petition is a way of saying, “Lord, I am weak and by myself I will fail.  Therefore, I entrust myself to You so that I will never be led astray by the many temptations I will certainly face.”

When we fall into temptations we can be certain it’s because we failed to embrace this particular petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  We failed to properly seek out and rely upon all that God wants to give us.  He is the master of virtue and the conqueror of vice.  If we completely turn to Him in the midst of temptation we can be certain that He will come to our side.

But deliver us from evil: As we pray that we are delivered from evil, we are actually praying that we are delivered from the devil.  Evil, in and of itself, does not exist.  Evil is what we call a “negative reality.”  In other words, evil is the lack of something.  It’s the lack of God.

By analogy, contrast the difference between light and dark or hot and cold.  Are these opposing forces?  No.  Darkness, in fact, does not exist nor does cold exist strictly speaking.  Darkness is simply the absence of light and cold is simply the absence of heat.  So it is with good and evil.  These are not two opposing forces like we see in Star Wars.  Rather, evil is the loss of God and all that is good.

This petition is a way of praying for protection from “the evil one,” satan.  He is the one who wishes to steal God away from our lives.  Satan is real, he is powerful, and he hates us with all his might.  As a powerful angel he retains his natural powers of influence over us.  But the grace of God has overcome him and when we pray for that grace we can be certain that satan will lose.  We must pray to be kept safe from the evil one, from the one who has completely lost God.

And that is prayer!  The Lord’s Prayer traditionally ends by glorifying God.  This glorification of God is what we must do at all times and is a fitting way to end this book:

For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever!