In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. In doing so, he gives them the Our Father, instructing them:
“This is how you are to pray:
‘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.’
“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 6:9-15)
Now, when you stop and consider this, it is pretty profound. When Jesus was asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Lk 11:1), his response was the Lord’s Prayer. It wasn’t pray the psalms, or go off by yourself in silence, or anything else. It was a call to be in relationship with His and our Father. That’s pretty important and requires reflection.
For us, who have learned and heard this prayer from our childhood, we think little of approaching God in prayer as “Abba”, Father, but in Jesus’ time, this was revolutionary. The Catechism tells us:
The expression God the Father had never been revealed to anyone. When Moses himself asked God who he was, he heard another name. The Father’s name has been revealed to us in the Son, for the name “Son” implies the new name “Father.”
We can invoke God as “Father” because he is revealed to us by his Son become man and because his Spirit makes him known to us. The personal relation of the Son to the Father is something that man cannot conceive of nor the angelic powers even dimly see: and yet, the Spirit of the Son grants a participation in that very relation to us who believe that Jesus is the Christ and that we are born of God. (CCC 2780)
I never really thought about that before. It’s actually amazing. At that point in history, the only name the Jewish people had for God was the one given them by Moses, Yahweh. His name was so holy, they wouldn’t even say it. Then Jesus comes along and calls God, “Father”, indeed “My Father” and encourages us to pray, “Our Father.” This simple phrase transformed God from a remote “out there” God to one of intimacy and relationship. Radical!
Many struggle today with crossing that chasm from the God “out there” to the God who numbers “every hair on our heads” (Mt 10:30). At one of the local Catholic high schools, the campus minister addresses God not as Father, but as “God, our creator,” or will make the sign of the cross, “In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier.” The reason? “Well so many people have issues with their fathers, that calling God father puts up a stumbling block.” Yes, that’s true, but the only way to heal those wounds is to address it directly. Who is God as Father? How do our understandings of Father put a limit on God? How can we pray for healing so that we can love Him and let Him love us so that we can live in His fullness?
The Catechism tells us we must purify our hearts to enter this mystery:
Before we make our own this first exclamation of the Lord’s Prayer, we must humbly cleanse our hearts of certain false images drawn “from this world.” Humility makes us recognize that “no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him,” that is, “to little children.” The purification of our hearts has to do with paternal or maternal images, stemming from our personal and cultural history, and influencing our relationship with God. God our Father transcends the categories of the created world. To impose our own ideas in this area “upon him” would be to fabricate idols to adore or pull down. To pray to the Father is to enter into his mystery as he is and as the Son has revealed him to us. (CCC 2779)
I am one of those who found it difficult to go to Jesus and to God as Father because of my earthly image of men. I limited God and kept Him away because I didn’t believe He was who He said He was. Fortunately, I was able to turn to Our Lady. Without her, quite honestly, I don’t know where I’d be. In time she brought me to Jesus who brought me to the Father, my Father. Now I can live in His fullness. Many people walked with me along that road. Without timidity, they showed me the Father and brought me to Him. I am grateful for their witness and courage. It has made all the difference.
So, today, as we pray the Lord’s Prayer and reflect on the gift of being able to call God, Our Father, let us pray for those whose image of God as Father needs healing, so that they may come to the fullness of relationship with Him.