We pray this prayer at every Mass so it is easy to take it for granted. Fr. Michael reminds us that it is the prayer Jesus himself taught to the disciples. It is the prayer of Peter and Paul, St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi and so many more. It unites Catholics and Christians throughout time and space.
Gospel: Luke 11:1-4
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished,
one of his disciples said to him,
“Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.”
He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name,
your Kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us,
and do not subject us to the final test.”
Homily Transcript — The Lord’s Prayer
In a few weeks I’m going to be taking a pilgrim group over to Greece in the footsteps of St. Paul. In preparation for the trip, I recently watched the film Paul, Apostle of Christ with some of the pilgrim group. There is a particularly moving scene in that film, where Paul is imprisoned in the Rome and Luke is imprisoned at that point with Christians who are about to be thrown to the wild beasts in the Circus Maximus and Priscilla and Aquilla, the leaders of the Roman church, are gathered together with Roman Christians who were hiding from Nero’s soldiers. In these three different locations each one of them are reciting the Lord’s prayer.
When you hear the Lord’s prayer, we might just let our minds drift imaginatively through history. This is the prayer of Peter and Paul. This is the prayer that Mary would’ve prayed because Jesus taught the Christian community to pray this prayer. It’s a prayer of St. Augustine. It’s the prayer of Francis of Assisi and St. Clair. It’s a prayer of Ignatius Loyola, Francis De Sales. It’s the prayer of Padre Pio. It’s the prayer of St. John XXIII, of St. John Paul II. It’s the prayer of Catholics and Christians and Orthodox throughout the centuries. It’s a prayer of saints, and it’s the prayer of secular heroes. As Christopher Columbus sailed to a new voyage. As Abraham Lincoln prayed for peace within the land. As FDR led the nation through a terrible scourge of war.
Throughout the centuries this is the prayer that we have returned to again and again. It’s found in two places in Scripture. In today’s gospel from Luke chapter 11 and also in Matthew chapter 6. The prayer is substantially the same with minor variations, but the introduction to the prayer is significantly different. In Matthew’s introduction, Jesus says don’t pray like the pagans just rattling off the words…[spoken rapidly]: Our Father, who art in heaven…blah, blah, blah, Amen. Jesus says, don’t pray like that. Don’t turn your prayer into magic.
Today’s gospel from Luke has one of the disciples coming up to Jesus and noticing him at prayer says, “teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” The way I picture that scene, there is a big smile that breaks out on Jesus’s face and he says to the disciples, “Guys, I thought you’d never ask.”
There’s an old saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” When we are hungry to learn to pray—when we want to pray—the Holy Spirit will guide us and take us to deeper and deeper levels of prayer. This prayer that Jesus has taught us, will open up in more and more powerful ways.
Prayer is not about twisting God’s will to make it our own. It’s really about right ordering our lives so we get on the same page as God. That doesn’t mean that we don’t name our own desires and wants to God—they’re built right inside the prayer. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Give us all that we need physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially. Put our petitions before the Lord, but it doesn’t begin there, does it? It begins by praying that God’s name is praised, “hallowed be thy name.” It’s praying for God’s kingdom—not our kingdom—God’s kingdom to come first, and then asking that our needs be met; placing them before God in holy trust.
It’s praying in this prayer a balance that our sins are forgiven as we forgive. To the extent that we forgive, we can hope and expect to be forgiven. Those who forgive little are forgiven little. We pray that we are protected from the forces of evil. The evil that lurks within our own hearts… (As the shadow used to say, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?”) Protected from the evil inside our own hearts… Protected from the evil within our own culture… Protected from the evil of demon spirits that would attack us…
This is the great prayer of Jesus. Father Jean-Pierre Medaille was a French Jesuit who died in the year 1689. He founded the Sisters of St. Joseph. I’d like to end my reflection by simply reciting his prayer, which is not exactly a reflection on the Lord’s prayer but it’s a prayer to be uniting our lives with Jesus’s life; our prayer with Jesus’s prayer our; desire with Jesus’s desire.
Jesus, Join My Life to Yours
I want to unite my life to your life, my thought to your thoughts, my affections to your affections, my heart to your heart, my works to your works, my whole self to yourself, in order to become through this union more holy and more pleasing in the sight of your Father and in order to make my life more worthy of your grace and of the reward of eternity.
I want to join your intentions to my intentions, the holiness of your actions to mine and the excellence of your lofty virtues to the lowliness of mine. For example, when I pray, I will join the holiness of your prayer to mine: in the totality of my life as well as in its every detail, I will join the whole breadth and height of your divine intentions to whatever I have to do or to suffer.
I will join, if possible, your looks to my eyes, your holy words to my tongue, your meekness to my gentleness, your humiliations and self-emptying to my humility, in a word, your whole divine spirit to my actions: and when, in some one of my works, I discover something not inspired by your spirit and which proceeds rather from my self-centeredness or from some poorly mortified affection, I will renounce it and disown it with my whole heart.
No, my Jesus, I promise myself to have nothing in me which is not in union with your lofty virtues.
—Jean-Pierre Medaille, SJ