17th Per Annum 2019 GSC
Shock, horror, my friends, as you may have seen in the headlines over the last few months: Pope Francis has changed the Lord’s Prayer. The newspaper, The Sun put it: “O Lord! Pope Francis officially changes the Lord’s Prayer after frustration over ‘temptation’ line.” Yes, the Lord’s Prayer continues to be seen as newsworthy in our country, despite it abandoning so much of the teachings and devotions of the Church. What the Pope had actually changed was the Italian translation of the Lord’s Prayer but it struck me how quite a few people asked me what I thought about it all. Well, it’s certainly possible for the Pope with the Church to change the translation of texts such as the Lord’s Prayer but it is undoubtedly something to be done sparingly.
Jesus gives us the Lord’s Prayer, as we heard, after the disciples ask to be taught how to pray. It is important for us know the Lord’s prayer and to say it several times each day. But it also teaches us the value of knowing other prayers. Prayer isn’t just about someone standing at the front of church and making it all up, “Lord, we just want to say this … and thank you for this … Lord you know all this …” After all, Jesus warns us of those who stand in public places and babble long prayers (Luke 20:47). It’s good for us to know the texts of the Mass and to use them at home: to learn the Confession we say at the start of Mass so we know how to confess our sins privately at the end of each day. To learn the Gloria that we might sing the praises of God at times of thanksgiving. To learn the Hail Mary so we know how to ask our heavenly mother to pray for us. There is a blessing to be received in learning these prayers.
I want briefly to go through the lines of this prayer taught us by God Himself. For yes, God the Son who was united with the Father in breathing life into the first man and the first woman, uttered breath so as to teach us these words. “Our Father who art in Heaven” Yes, God is in Heaven and He is holy: “hallowed be thy name.” Whenever we pray the first thing for us to do is to remind ourselves how utterly awesome God and how He is beyond our highest reckoning, and then to realise that we are His children, that we can call Him, “Father,” that we are engaged in a beautiful and glorious relationship with God. Our prayer is to be made in love and therefore it will be confident, not arrogant or rude, but confident that we have a loving Father who will give us what we His children truly need, while not necessarily what we want, hence the parable Jesus gives after teaching the Lord’s prayer. This call to be His children is given in Baptism and it’s great as we consider the prayer God gives to His priestly people that we make four new Christians at this Mass as we baptise the children.
“Hallowed be your name,” is a reminder that not only are our own lips to be pure when we speak of God, but also that we will want everyone throughout the world to share our love for the Lord: “may your name be held holy” by everyone! Our prayers lives should be regularly bringing before God those who do not love Him and those who do not worship God, interceding that they might realise the hand God has placed upon them.
We are to pray “Thy kingdom come.” Let’s get excited, my friends, about going to the Heavenly kingdom where there is peace and no uncertainty about rent payments because we’re given our own portion and our own place because we are no stranger in Heaven, but we are citizens and the first-born. There was always great excitement when I was a child going on holiday. Now, we never went abroad in my family we went to the same place every year on holiday, to Southport on the North West coast of England to see my Mum’s family. It’s not a particularly amazing place to go, I have to say, but still we were excited. That same excitement must be at work in us as we contemplate God’s kingdom and how it is to be evident on earth. “Thy kingdom come!”
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” The trouble is though, that the exciting nature of God’s kingdom is known only to our souls, our Spirit. We therefore lack the willingness to do that which is good because we will struggle with the other impulses at work in us. The way of God will be bitter to the flesh at times and it is to be schooled by the the Spirit of God at work in us. Thereby our own lives and the whole world will become better acquainted with God’s love and what it look like: forgiveness, a casting aside of material possessions, gentleness, lives poured out in worship and service.
“Give us this day our daily bread” has two meanings for us to countenance. First, that our desire for temporal things, from food and drink to gadgets and holidays and clothes and whatever else we might include here, these desires can be properly ordered. It’s quite right for us to want these things but the wanting must be holy: not too excessive, not disproportionate. Wanting something which means our relationship with God suffers, or we end up committing sin makes the wanting sinful. “Give us this day our daily bread“ or, “Help us to want earthly bread in a good way.“
But the second level at which this petition is to be understood is the daily bread we receive from Jesus who is, after all, the “Bread come down from Heaven” (John 6:51). Give us this day our daily bread will remind us of our daily need to be fed by Jesus. Remember there’s Mass in this parish every day and so there should be! Pop into churches if you see them open and go and kneel by the tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament therein that we might make a spiritual communion, receiving from the Lord not from the usual way of the Bread of His Body and the Wine of His Blood being placed on our lips, but spiritually, through kneeling in His presence.
The remainder of the prayer I want to treat as a whole: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” “As we forgive.” But what if we haven’t forgiven that can be hard after all? St Thomas Aquinas has an helpful reflection on this: “Here,” he writes, “the prayer is pronounced, not in the name of an individual; but in the name of the whole Church, and there is no doubt that the Church forgives the debts of all those who are in the Church” (Lectures on St Matthew). Yes, prayer is never an individual act for it makes us closer to God and if closer to God then closer to our brothers and sisters in Christ who through Baptism are members of His Body, the Church. Th prayer to resist evil and not to be led into temptation are articulations of this recognition that if I’m going to pray I need to want to be holy because through praying I’m saying I want to be close to God who is Himself Holy, beyond holiness.
Finally, notice how the prayer ends, “deliver us from evil” just like we say at Mass. There’s nothing wrong with adding the phrase that is often added, “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever,” but we ought not to claim that that is how Jesus teaches us, it is a later addition. So, my friends when we struggle to pray, have confidence that the Lord’s Prayer is taught us by God and so we don’t need to doubt whether it is enough or not: God wouldn’t teach us an inadequate prayer for He loves us His children. Amen.