“If we pray the Our Father sincerely we leave individualism behind because the love that we receive frees us from it. The ‘Our’ at the beginning of The Lord’s Prayer, like the ‘us’ of the last four petitions, excludes no one. If we are to say it truthfully our divisions and oppositions have to be overcome” (CCC 2792).
A close friend recently shared that in her attempt to pray The Lord’s Prayer, the first two words, “Our Father”, raised so many questions and conjured up so many images in her mind that she could not get beyond them for weeks. She admitted that despite having heard countless sermons and homilies and reading numerous articles which expounded on The Lord’s Prayer, it was her three-year-old nephew who brought her to that place of deep contemplation.
At a family gathering designed to iron out some troubling issues they made prayer their last resort and not the first resource that it should be. Older members were taking turns at spontaneous prayer when little Jonathan took advantage of a lull and piped in with the “Our Father”. Of course he babbled and so they all had to pitch in and help.
That night in her quiet time she pondered what had transpired. It appeared a classic example of “out of the mouth of babes and sucklings”. Family though they were, they were not without their differences, bitter wrangling and stormy disagreements. They, of their own accord, had not understood the full import of the first two words, “Our Father”, caught up as they were in their own individual positions. She realised that praying, not just saying The Lord’s Prayer as a family, called for some major adjustments to their mindset and dispositions.
Are there not even greater implications for us when this prayer is prayed in the context of the human family? As members of the household of God (Eph 2:19), we are brothers and sisters. Understanding that the “other” has equal access to the love, care and provision of a Father who has no favourites should put a different spin not only on how we think and pray but consequently on how we interact with each other.
We inhabit a world fraught with strife and contention which is more glaring on some levels than others. This stems from an individualistic rather than a communal approach to life. It has even infiltrated our spirituality and manifests itself in self-centeredness, competitiveness and the privatisation of religion where ‘my’ salvation becomes the focal point to the exclusion of everyone else’s. If God is ourFather and not mine alone, then surely there must be room for more inclusion and less insularity, more acceptance and less rejection.
It stands to reason then that The Lord’s Prayer, which perhaps is the most frequently said prayer, (it is said at every Mass/Service, every time we say the Rosary/Chaplet and in our own private prayer time), should never be taken lightly. If it is prayed well and influences how we live, as the Catholic Catechism suggests (reference above), it has the potential to erode the barriers which we have set up: the family divisions, socio-economic and racial tensions, the gang warfare in our communities, the undercutting and one-upmanship of our politicians and the bigotry that is so rampant.
Our children, therefore, need to know that The Lord’s Prayer, prayed and not merely said, will make available to all of us, even our arch enemies (if we have such), the graces that will transform all of humanity, since Our Father will give us what we need, forgive us our trespasses, lead us away from temptation and deliver us all from evil. If we fail in this regard as parents, catechists, teachers, adult leaders, it could well be that we have glossed over a prayer that has become so commonplace that its value is overlooked.
– Valerie Bethel, Catechist, Southern Vicariate