SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME 2019
“Lord, teach us to pray,” and so Jesus taught his disciples the prayer that we call the ‘Our Father.’ As we know, this prayer has become the mainstay of the Christian religion. Since Jesus pronounced these words, at every moment of every day somewhere, someone is repeating these words.
The words in the ‘Our Father’ describe God’s power and might and our complete dependence on him for our existence in this world and the world to come. We bow before him asking for his love and mercy as we are sinners and need his forgiveness. When we use this prayer to pray to our Father, we must remember that we should pray from the depths of our heart to realize its promises.
These words of the ‘Our Father’ do not have a magical capability. We cannot flippantly repeat the words to magically expect to receive our daily bread and the remission of our sins. If one thinks that only saying and not praying the ‘Our Father’ is all that is necessary to receive what he or she wants, the person will not find fulfillment. Using a recitation format is no different than believing that one can control God by identifying a list of demands.
There is a distinction between make demands of the Lord and praying for his indulgence. Our Father listens and responds to each of our prayers to him. Often his generous response is not in the format that we imagined in our prayer but he always replies to the prayers from the heart. He always acts for our benefit. As Jesus says, “What Father among you would hand his son a stone when asked for bread? Or hand him a snake when instead of a fish? Or hand him a scorpion if he asked for an egg?” These words confirm that we can in confidence in praying to our Father assured that he would never act in a way that causes harm to us.
Jesus, in the Gospel, also indicates the need for perseverance in prayer to the Father. God’s response to our prayer does not follow our schedule. God may well delay his response for us to grow in our faith, to become closer to our heavenly Father. If we give up on prayer if we don’t get immediate gratification, how will we ever come to know the all-loving Father?
By now, we should be well aware that we cannot hide anything from the Lord. He knows we have sinned before we confess it. He knows our deepest desires, good or bad, even when we have never spoken them out loud. He, therefore, knows if our prayers are memorized words or if they are said in the intensity of faith. If we spend our lives deliberating on Jesus’ words in the ‘Our Father,’ we will discover every secret of happiness and peace. These words show us how God wants us to approach him and be with him.
If we don’ express spiritual desire while praying the ‘Our Father,’ it is no more effective than a child singing the ABC song. The child sings from memory to please a parent or a teacher, but singing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star would result in the same level of satisfaction. Therefore, repeating the ‘Our Father’ from memory is no great accomplishment. The second-grader can perform the same feat.
If the ‘Our Father’ is just words with no meaning, there is no relationship being built between the Lord and the one who says the words. If such a person stands before the gates of heaven asking for admittance because he has over his lifetime has said the ‘Our Father fifty thousand times and a few ‘Hail Marys’ to round off the number. However, he failed to pray with the intensity of a true believer; the Lord will then say to him, ‘I do not know you’ as the gates are closed with the person still on the outside.
God desires an intimate relationship with us. He wants us to speak to him the words that we feel uncomfortable saying to anyone else. He wants us to ask for our heart’s desire so that he can fulfill our needs while still protecting us from ourselves. It when we stop praying when we dissolve the relationship of his ability to guide us toward the most significant desire - eternal salvation, is diminished. We then are indicating our decision making is better than his, that our independence is of more value that maintaining our spiritual bond with our Father.
Prayer is much simpler than you think, for God is always with you at your side and in your heart. He is always paying attention to you, thinking of you. God is always interested in what you are going through and what is on your mind and heart. Remember this, believe it, and prayer will become as natural as breathing. You never have to be alone. He is the one who knows you wholly and loves you no matter what. Live in the awareness of God’s presence; let him be your life’s companion.
Deacon Dan Gilbert