Benedictine Sisters Reflect on the Lord's Prayer

May Christ bring us all together to everlasting life.  Rule of Benedict 

Benedictine Sisters reflect on the Our Father
The Lord's Prayer might be the most important Christian prayer ever written. Given to us by Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord's Prayer shows us how to pray and what to pray for. It shows us how to live our lives. Nearly 2,000 years after it was first spoken, it is still rich with meaning.

Theologians surmise the Lord's Prayer must have come as a surprise to the disciples. Raised on the psalms and formal religious ceremonies of the Old Testament, they might have expected elaborate preparation and formal, lengthy recitation when they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. But Jesus responded with the simplicity, intimacy and confidence of a child petitioning a loving parent. He prayed to Abba, which in his native tongue of Aramaic meant Daddy.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name

"Jesus taught us how to talk to God," liturgy director Sr. Mary Core, OSB, says. "He said, 'Our Father, Our Daddy.' You can't get any more personal than that."

Sr. Rosemary Becker, OSB, points out that calling God Father does not mean that God is masculine. "God is beyond the categories of gender," she says. "None of our descriptions of God are adequate. God who is 'in heaven,' whose name is holy, cannot be fully known by us." Sr. Mary suggests we change the words to fit our needs. "We need to pray however we can best relate to our Creator," she says. "To put the prayer into our own words and talk with our Father or Mother is good."

The concept of God as parent was new to the disciples, however common it is to us today. "Jesus invited us to draw near to God," Sr. Rosemary says. "By calling God Father, we are describing ourselves and our relationship with God. Jesus taught us we are daughters and sons. We can approach God with confidence."

Just so, notes theologian George Martin in Praying with Jesus. "Were Jesus not the Son of God, his claim of intimacy with the Father would have been blasphemous. No mere man, certainly, could take it upon himself to address God as 'Abba' ... . Jesus could authorize his followers to address God as Father because his mission was to make them sons and daughters of God."

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

The call to obedience mirrors Christ's own behavior and mission on earth. He not only modeled obedience to God, he told us to pray for it for ourselves. Using the parent-child model can help us understand why. Parents usually possess the experience and vision to guide their offspring into capable adulthood. When the children disobey – say, they go to the park after dark - they put themselves at risk. In other words, we are children who must ask for help to do God's will, that we might be kept safe. In the larger context, we are participants in the creation of heaven on earth, and the path to heaven is obedience to God's will.

Give us this day our daily bread

With this petition, we move from the transcendent concerns of the Divine to the human concerns of life on earth. "We ask God to give us what we need," Sr. Mary says. "We ask for our daily bread, enough to eat. Metaphorically, we ask for that which nourishes us, body, mind and soul. We do not ask for excess."

"We" - community - is a theme that runs throughout the prayer. Give us this day our daily bread. "The need for bread is an individual matter, but the satisfaction of that need cannot be an individual effort; it must be that of a community," Fr. Leonardo Boff says in his book, The Lord's Prayer. "Thus we do not pray 'my Father,' but 'our Father.' ... We are all his offspring, and thus we are all brothers and sisters. ... Bread calls us to a collective conversion. This condition must be fulfilled if our prayer is not to be vain and pharisaical. The gospel forbids me to ask only for myself, disregarding the needs of others known by me. Only our bread is God's bread."

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us

A Chinese proverb says, "The one who opts for revenge should dig two graves," and mounds of research corroborate its wisdom. Those who nurse anger experience impaired health and limited joy. Need proof? Visit the web sites of many major research hospitals and universities.

Forgiveness is the cornerstone of Christianity, radical both in its simplicity and complexity. Without it, we are doomed. "Forgiveness is never going to be easy," writes Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ, in her book, Dead Man Walking. "Each day it must be prayed for and struggled for and won." She was referring, specifically, to the forgiveness granted by the father of a murdered child to his child's murderer. Jesus never promised it would be easy.

And it's not easy to forgive, no matter the debt, or trespass, or sin. Yet we are commanded to pray for God's forgiveness as we forgive others. "Our asking for forgiveness in prayer is linked to our forgiving those who are in need of forgiveness from us," Martin writes. "Granting forgiveness is a freeing experience. It frees the other person to relate to us in friendship again; it frees us from the frustration and hostility we may have been carrying around inside ourselves."

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil

Might God lead us into temptation? "It's our choice to travel down the wrong path," Sr. Mary says. "God won't lead us there. We must ask for the graces we need to see temptation for what it is. Evil is not a swamp monster. It's a sneaky little thing that produces ill will or judgment against someone. It's selfishness. If you find yourself saying I need, I want, I, I, I, beware!"

As we end the prayer, it is fitting to recall Jesus' emphasis on community. "Jesus ... invited us to support each other in prayer," Fr. Boff writes. "He promised his special presence when we gather in his name to pray... ." Which is how the Church prays around the globe every day. "We pray the Lord's Prayer at every Mass, in every Rosary and during every Lauds, Noonday Prayer and Vespers," Sr. Maureen Coughlin, OSB, says. "Lately, I have come to pray it more slowly, so I can ponder its meaning. I take seriously the words of Canon Robert Guelley of Louvain, Belgium, when he says, 'It is the audacious innovation of the New Testament to urge us to call out Our Father!'"

Sr. Mary agrees. "I would urge people to really pray and not just say the Lord's Prayer," she says. "When we slow down enough to really think about what we're saying, the intimacy and power of the words in the prayer take on a depth of meaning that often escapes us when we simply rattle through the prayer from memory."