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The Lord’s Prayer: Inspiration, invitation, doorway to prayer

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Catholic News Service

 

Jesus’ disciples were aware that he would slip away in the lonely hours before dawn to find a quiet place to pray. They recognized a man who drew his strength from time alone with God.

Is it any wonder that they asked him to teach them to pray?

I imagine myself, sitting with the disciples at the foot of the Master. And as I listen to the beautiful words of what we know as the Lord’s Prayer, I realize that Jesus gave us a blueprint, not a formula.

People recite the Lord's Prayer during Mass at a church in Brentwood, N.Y. Jesus gave us a beautiful, simple prayer to lead us into the heart of the mystery of God. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
People recite the Lord’s Prayer during Mass at a church in Brentwood, N.Y. Jesus gave us a beautiful, simple prayer to lead us into the heart of the mystery of God. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

To me, the Lord’s Prayer is an inspiration, not a script. It’s an invitation, a doorway to prayer. For all the many times we recite it — at Mass, during the rosary, at evening prayer — I don’t end with a note of finality: There, I’ve prayed. Instead, this prayer opens my heart to prayer.

I cannot imagine Jesus as a man who spent a lot of time “saying” his prayers. Oh, I know he was well-versed in Jewish prayer and Scripture. He was so well-versed that he amazed the crowds in the synagogue; so well-versed that even hanging on the cross he called upon Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

But when Jesus urged us to find a private place to pray, I don’t think he meant just a quiet, secluded room. I think he meant to go to the deepest, most private part of ourselves, where we can be honest and transparent before God and be open to God’s word. I think silence and listening were integral to Jesus’ prayer, certainly not merely recitation.

Jesus even cautioned against “babbling” like the gentiles.

And so, he gave us a beautiful, simple prayer to lead us into the heart of the mystery of God.

Some people find praying to God as a “father” off-putting. Perhaps they’ve had a bad experience with a male parent or the term brings unwanted feelings of patriarchy. Jesus grew up in a patriarchal society and felt comfortable with a masculine term for God.

But his word was really “Abba,” which many scholars say could mean daddy. To Jesus, the great mystery of God was so close and intimate as to be his daddy, his papa.

I challenge myself to pray the Lord’s Prayer with this intimate term.

When praying the Lord’s Prayer privately, I use phrases that mirror the Gospel translation but open them up with new words. “May your name be held holy” means the same as “Hallowed be thy name” but it touches me more personally. I imagine myself holding his name in a sacred manner throughout the day.

In the same way, when I say “thy will be done” I pray that God’s will might be done specifically in my own life. How do I listen for that will?

And “give us this day our daily bread” says much more than just, Lord, make sure I get my dinner. It calls me to question my needs versus my wants. Do I worry about storing up more treasure than I need for this day?

Am I careful with food, or am I gluttonous and wasteful? Like many people, I have issues around food, weight and consumption. This phrase calls me to pray about that.

Forgive me, as I forgive others. Again, I cry out for forgiveness, and am struck by how often I fail to bestow it, how often I fail to be merciful.

Then, I ask God to spare me from being put to the test. I ask to be delivered from the Evil One, to be helped in time of temptation.

Throughout my life, the Lord’s Prayer has been a constant, yet an evolving and growing encounter with the Holy One. I think that’s what Jesus had in mind.

 

Caldarola is a freelance writer and a columnist for Catholic News Service)