Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Most Dangerous Prayer: Part 1

It is a common  prayer used by all of Christendom.  It is used at Mass.  It is used in the Divine Office.  It is used during the rosary.  Its words can roll off our tongues without a great deal of thought.  The Our Father.  It comes as a response to a request from the disciples as to how they are to pray.  It does not take much to understand that everything Jesus calls his followers to do is neither easy nor without a great challenge being laid forth. Alas, though, we have greatly domesticated this prayer.  We have domesticated it by speaking it without understanding it.  If we were to understand it, we would understand it to be a most dangerous prayer.  Every word has the power to lift us up in wisdom and holiness, or become self-incrimination at our judgement.  What is it we pray?

We say, "Our Father."  Do we understand what we are saying?  In just two words we are making two profound statements about faith.  First, we recognize God as OUR, not my. It is implicit that this is not merely a private relationship I possess with God, but one that is shared in union with a larger group.  I don't approach God merely as an individual, but as part of the Body of Christ.  It is only through the mediation of Christ that we are given such access and such a distinct relationship with God.  It is only through being a member of His Body that we can call God what we call Him.  As a member of His Body and hence as an adopted son or daughter, I am given this grace.  Second we refer to this person of God as 'Father.'  Not master.  Not buddy.  Not servant.  Not slave.  Not stranger.  The type of relationship Jesus was sent to establish was that of a father/child with us being the child!  God is not our equal nor inferior, He is not servant to beckon when needed and ignored when not.

When we say this, is this a reflection of the reality of our relationship with God, or are we mocking God to His face?  Do we indeed treat God as our superior and hence conform our will to His?  Or do we demand explicitly or implicitly that God conform Himself to our will?  To do the latter would be to claim the fatherhood of God for ourselves.  Instantaneously, we attempt an eschatalogical coup d'etat.  This no longer makes us in league with God, but in league with the first entity to attempt to usurp God's power, Lucifer.  We cannot be God's child and provoke rebellion against him at the same time.  If we are to indeed truthfully speak these words, we are calling for a deeper conversion and conviction within ourselves to align our lives with the will of the Father.  Furthermore, in praying these words ' Our Father', we are showing a trust in God's providence and will.

We then say 'who are in heaven.'  This implies a focus and directionality.  It implies a desired trajectory. It says where our gaze is fixed.  That we are to so align our lives and choices to the things of heaven and not of earth is a dominant theme throughout the Scriptures.  We acknowledge something beyond this life, something eternal. It is no surprise that the words" hallowed be your name" come next. In this we are to fix our goals and desires to those things of God, for they are the things set apart to our good.  For in God we find the holy/hallowed (meaning that is which apart or set apart).  In 6 words we have set a directionality, a disposition, and a promised trajectory all based on a relationship that we are called to have with God.

The question becomes then is as to whether or not our trajectory is really towards heaven or not.  To say it is not do it, this prayer is not a magical incantation.  If our trajectory is actually here and now, then these words are a mockery.  This is why these words can not be uttered blithely or emptily.  No word that Jesus would have us approach the Father with can be taken so insolently.  No, they are professions of faith and a constant reminder of the challenge and the heights to which we are called.

Don't get me wrong, it is not as if this prayer can only be said by the perfect.  Not at all.  But it must be prayed intentionally and with understanding so as to cultivate conversion in each and every heart of the person who prays it.  The Our Father is tutorial of what it is Jesus expects of His followers till He comes again.  In these words, Jesus tells us not merely of the meaning of His mission but the ways in which this mission is meant to change everything.

In subsequent columns, I will go through the other words of this prayer and look at what we are actually praying for and expressing a desire.

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