On How to Pray

THE NOW WORD ON MASS READINGS
for October 11th, 2017
Wednesday of the Twenty-Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Opt. Memorial POPE ST. JOHN XXIII

Liturgical texts here

 

BEFORE teaching the “Our Father”, Jesus says to the Apostles:

This is how you are to pray. (Matt 6:9)

Yes, how, not necessarily what. That is, Jesus was revealing not so much the content of what to pray, but the disposition of the heart; He was not giving a specific prayer so much as showing us how, as God’s children, to approach Him. For just a couple verses earlier, Jesus said, “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.” [1]Matt 6:7 Rather…

…the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. (John 4:23)

To worship the Father in “spirit” means to worship Him with the heart, to speak to Him as a loving father. To worship the Father in “truth” means to come to Him in the reality of who He is—and who I am, and am not. If we meditate on what Jesus is teaching here, we will find that the Our Father reveals to us how to pray in “spirit and truth”. How to pray with the heart.

 

OUR…

Immediately, Jesus teaches us that we are not alone. That is, as Mediator between God and man, Jesus takes up our prayer and brings it before the Father. Through the Incarnation, Jesus is one of us. He is also one with God, and therefore, as soon as we say “Our”, we should be filled with faith and certainty that our prayer will be heard in the comfort that Jesus is with us, Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” [2]Matt 1:23 For as He said, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” [3]Matt 28:15

We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help. (Heb 4:15-16)

 

FATHER…

Jesus was explicit about the kind of heart we should have:

Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it. (Mark 10:25)

To address God as “Abba”, as “Father”, reinforces that we are not orphans. That God is not just our Creator, but a father, a provider, a caregiver. This is an extraordinary revelation of who the First Person of the Trinity is. 

Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. (Isaiah 49:15)

 

WHO ART IN HEAVEN…

We begin our prayer with confidence, but continue in humility as we gaze upward.

Jesus wants us to fix our eyes, not on temporal cares, but on Heaven. “Seek first the Kingdom of God,” He said. As “strangers and sojourners” [4]cf. 1 Pet 2:11 here on earth, we should…

Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. (Colossians 3:2)

By fixing our hearts on eternity, our problems and worries take on their proper perspective. 

 

HALLOWED BY THY NAME…

Before we make our petitions to the Father, we first acknowledge that He is God—and I am not. That He is mighty, awesome, and all-powerful. That I am just a creature, and He the Creator. In this simple phrase of honouring His name, we give thanks and praise to Him for who He is, and ever good thing that He has bestowed upon us. Moreover, we acknowledge that everything comes by His permissive will, and therefore, is a reason to give thanks that He knows what is best, even in difficult situations. 

In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

It is this act of trust, of thanksgiving and praise, that draws us into the presence of God. 

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name… (Psalm 100:4)

It is this act of praise that, in fact, helps me begin to a childlike heart again.

 

THY KINGDOM COME…

Jesus would often say that the Kingdom is near. He was teaching that, while eternity comes after death, the Kingdom can come now, in the present moment. The Kingdom was often seen as synonymous with the Holy Spirit. In fact, ‘in place of this petition, some early Church Fathers record: “May your Holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us.”’ [5]cf. footnote in the NAB on Luke 11:2 Jesus is teaching that the beginning of good work, of every duty, of ever breath we take, must find its power and fecundity from an interior life: from the Kingdom within. Thy Kingdom Come is like saying, “Come Holy Spirit, change my heart! Renew my mind! Fill my life! Let Jesus reign in me!”

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matt 4:17)

 

THY WILL BE DONE…

The Kingdom of God is intrinsically tied to the Divine Will. Wherever His will is done, there is the Kingdom, for the Divine Will contains every spiritual good. The Divine Will is Love itself; and God is love. This is why Jesus likened the Father’s Will to His “food”: to live in the Divine Will was to live in the bosom of the Father. To pray in this way, then, is to become like a little child, especially in the midst of trial. It is the hallmark of a heart that is abandoned to God, mirrored in the Two Hearts of Mary and Jesus:

May it be done to me according to your will. (Luke 1:38)

Not My will but yours be done. (Luke 22:42)

 

ON EARTH, AS IT IS IN HEAVEN…

Jesus teaches us that our hearts should be so open and abandoned to the Divine Will, that it will be accomplished in us “as it is in Heaven.” That is, in Heaven, the saints not only “do” the will of God but “live in” the Will of God. That is, their own wills and that of the Holy Trinity are one and the same. So it is as if to say, “Father, may your will not only be done in me, but may it become my own so that Your thoughts are my thoughts, Your breath my breath, Your activity my activity.”

…he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave… he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:7-8)

The Holy Trinity reigns wherever the Will of God is lived, and a such, is brought to perfection. 

Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him… whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. (John 14:23; 1 John 2:5)

 

GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD…

When the Israelites gathered manna in the desert, they were instructed to keep no more than their daily need. When they failed to listen, the manna would become wormy and stank. [6]cf. Exodus 16:20 Jesus also teaches us to trust the Father for exactly what we need each day, on the condition that we should seek His Kingdom first, and not our own. Our “daily bread” is not only the provisions we need, but the food of His Divine Will, and most especially, the Word Incarnate: Jesus, in the Holy Eucharist. To only pray for “daily” bread is to trust like a little child. 

So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ …Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. (Matt 6:31-33)

 

FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES…

Yet, how often I fail to call on Our Father! To praise and thank Him in all circumstances; to seek His Kingdom before my own; to prefer His Will to mine. But Jesus, knowing human weakness and that we would frequently fail, teaches us to approach the Father to ask for forgiveness, and to trust in His Divine Mercy. 

If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. (1 John 1:9)

 

AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US…

The humility with which we begin the Our Father is only sustained when we further acknowledge the fact that we are all sinners; that even though my brother has injured me, I too have injured others. As a matter of justice, I must also forgive my neighbour if I too wish to be forgiven. Whenever I find this invocation difficult to pray, I need only call to mind my countless faults. This invocation, then, is not only just, but generates humility and compassion toward others.

You shall love your neighbour as yourself. (Matt 22:39)

It expands my heart to love like God loves, and thus helps me to become even more childlike. 

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. ( Matthew 5:7)

 

LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION…

Since God “tempts no one,” says St. James, [7]cf. James 1:13 this invocation is a prayer that is rooted in the truth that, even though we are forgiven, we are weak and subject to “sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life.” [8]1 John 2:16 Because we have “free will”, Jesus teaches us to implore God to use that gift for His glory so that you may…

…present yourselves to God as raised from the dead to life and the parts of your bodies to God as weapons for righteousness. (Rom 6:13)

 

BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL.

Last, Jesus teaches us to remember each day that we are in a spiritual battle “with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.” [9]Eph 6:12 Jesus would not ask us to pray for the “Kingdom to come” unless our prayers hastened this coming. Nor would He teach us to pray for deliverance if it did not in fact truly aid us in the battle against the powers of darkness. This final invocation only further seals the importance of our dependence upon the Father and our need to be like little children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It also reminds us that we share in His authority over the powers of evil. 

Behold, I have given you the power ‘to tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10-19-20)

 

AMEN

In closing, because Jesus has taught us how to pray by using these very words, the Our Father, then, becomes a perfect prayer in itself. Which is why we also hear Jesus say in today’s Gospel:

When you pray, say: Father, hallowed by your name… 

When we say it with the heart, we are truly unlocking “every spiritual blessing in the heavens” [10]Eph 1:3 that are ours, through Jesus Christ, our brother, friend, Mediator, and Lord who has taught us how to pray. 

The great mystery of life, and the story of individual man and all mankind are all contained and ever present in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father, which Jesus came from heaven to teach us, and which sums up the whole philosophy of the life and history of every soul, every people and every age, past, present, and future. —POPE ST. JOHN XXIII, Magnificat, October, 2017; p. 154

 

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1. Matt 6:7
2. Matt 1:23
3. Matt 28:15
4. cf. 1 Pet 2:11
5. cf. footnote in the NAB on Luke 11:2
6. cf. Exodus 16:20
7. cf. James 1:13
8. 1 John 2:16
9. Eph 6:12
10. Eph 1:3
Posted in HOME, MASS READINGS, SPIRITUALITY.