24 July 2016
Once a bishop friend invited me to his family home for supper. His parents were still alive. I was very touched by the way he called his parents ‘Daddy and Mammy’. They in turn treated him simply as another child of theirs calling him by their nickname for him.
Maybe that is the most important thing to say about prayer, that we are addressing someone in a very childlike and trustful way. The Aramaic word that Jesus used was ‘Abba’ or ‘daddy’ just like the bishop addressed his own father. Perhaps prayer is a bit like that. The readings for this Sunday invite us to reflect on the dimension of prayer in the Christian life. Above all it is an attitude of trust in God our kind Father who is always ready to listen to his children but who doesn’t always give us what we want because it would not be best for us. St Luke delights in frequently presenting Jesus praying. In all the important moments of Jesus’ life, Luke never forgets to point this out.
Jesus in teaching us about prayer underlines the model of all prayers. It is not to be longwinded, drawn out – we may need to listen more than we normally do and give God a chance to speak to us.
Is this not telling us that first of all prayer is about a relationship – one between our loving heavenly Father and us his children? It is interesting to note that this model of how we ought to pray puts the focus first of all on God our loving Father. We start by calling God, “Father”, not just my father but our Father.
Of the 5 petitions in the Our Father today the first two focus on God. We are told to pray: ‘may your name be held holy’. For the Jews a name was the same as the person. Thus we are asked to adore, honour and glorify our Father in heaven. Before mentioning any of our requests, praise and adoration of God are foremost. Then, in praying ‘your kingdom come’ we are told the how this might be carried out in our lives. Working to bring about his kingdom is more than just words. It calls upon us to be peacemakers, to work against all injustices, to live the truth of God’s love and forgiveness in our lives. We are called to do this wherever we are, in our homes, with our families, in our workplaces etc.
The next three petitions allow us to pray for our own needs and those of others.
They represent all time: the present (give us this day our daily bread), the past (forgive our sins, that is, all we did that was contrary to God’s kingdom), and the future (do not put us to the test – that is ‘do not demand more of us than we are capable of doing).
So in asking our generous Father for our daily bread we are asking him to give us what is best for us – we may not get what we think is best for us. Or now may not be the best time to get it as God knows. Nigerians have a saying: ‘God’s time is best’. Not a bad motto when we come to pray. Of course, God may want to give us certain gifts but others may refuse to cooperate with God’s plan. Forgiveness is mentioned quite a number of times in the gospels and it is included here. It is the only petition with a condition attached. We promise God we will forgive others as he does us though this is not always easy. That is why in the second parable that follows, Jesus tells us that God’s best gift to us is the powerful Holy Spirit who enables us to do what God asks of us to bring about his kingdom and forgive others. Our Father knows that will power is not enough, we need Spirit power to live as God’s children and to act accordingly.
The first of the little parables that follow the Lord’s Prayer tells us of the need to persevere in prayer and not to give up if at first we don’t receive what we ask for.
I knew a woman whose husband left her. She prayed daily for his return. Then one day he walked into her house again. This was after 19 years. She really persevered in prayer and believed God would answer her.
Jesus tells us that there are 2 conditions needed to have our prayers answered by God. In John’s Gospel chapter 14:13 he says
– ‘whatever you ask for in my name (that is according to my will) I will do
– ‘so that the Father may be glorified in the Son’ (that it will give glory to God).
Many times we forget this and want God to respond to our demands without taking these into account.
Sometimes, of course, we try to bargain with God: ‘If my sick husband lives a few years longer, I will go to Mass daily and pray a daily rosary’. Yet God doesn’t think this is foolish. In the first reading we heard about Abraham bargaining with God. He trusted God enough to bargain all the way. It doesn’t mean we will always get what we want but it does show a great trust in God and I feel God appreciates this bargaining as we take him seriously as he does us.
Ultimately prayer is about a relationship of trust. We trust we have a loving Father who passionately cares for us. More than anything he hopes we will develop an ever greater intimacy with him and he asks us to work to bring about his kingdom. He takes all this so seriously that the best gift he can give us now is the Holy Spirit who can empower and enable us to respond to his invitation.
“Lord Jesus, thank you for teaching us how to pray by giving us the best model in the Our Father. May we say not only the words but also put them into practice in our daily lives. Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA