“When you pray, say, ‘Father, hallowed be Your Name’”
From the beginning of time humanity has been a restless lot,
perennially mindful of attributing to Almighty God a face.
In a garden called Eden, the disobedient Adam and Eve flee in
terror lest they see God’s face.
On a hill called Tabor, Peter, James and John cast themselves
on the ground, lest they glance at God.
Near a brook called Cedron, Judas loops a halter over a tree
in despair, lest God see him.
Atop a mountain called Olivet, outside Jerusalem, there stands
a church with a strange name; it is called the Church of the Our
Father. The subject of today’s gospel. For it is here on
Mount Olivet that a church stands over the exact spot where Jesus
taught His prayer to the apostles.
If today we could put ourselves in a time capsule and project
back 2000 years and recline on the grass upon Mount Olivet and
listen to those words of the Lord’s Prayer, we would hear
the sum and substance of Christianity. In His prayer, the eloquence
of all churches fades away before its sheer simplicity. The penetrating
theologies of an Augustine, an Aquinas, a Luther, or a Calvin,
grow pale. The fervor of an Xavier or a Paul is feebled. The intellectual
genius of the Greeks and Romans fades away into a misty oblivion.
Let’s for a moment today review Christ’s historic
and meaningful words.
In the Judaism of Jesus’ time, it was customary for individual
religious groups to have their own distinctive prayers and practices.
Among such groups may be included the desert followers of John
the Baptist. Therefore, in today’s Gospel, when an anonymous
disciple requests Jesus to “teach us to pray, just as John
taught his disciples,” he is asking for a distinctive prayer
that will mark Christ’s disciples off from other groups.
In fulfilling this request, Jesus recites the prayer we call the
“Our Father” or “Lord’s Prayer.”
Nowhere in the sayings of Jesus is there a more profound summary
of the central thrust and elements of His teachings. Indeed, it
is certain that the disciples were shocked when Jesus instructed
them to address God with the word, “Abba,” meaning
“Father.” It represented a radical departure from
their entire tradition of addressing God in prayer. The word Jesus
uses for Father – “Abba” – was an every
day, personal form, as might be used by a child to address his
The word “Father” expresses our Christian understanding
of the one true God…
…the God whose Name we cherish, hence “hallowed
by Thy Name!”
…the God whose promise of fulfillment we trust and hope
in, hence “your Kingdom come!”
…the God whose “Bread of Life” is our daily
sustenance, hence “give us each day our daily bread!”
…the God whose infinite mercy and kindness is reflected
throughout the gospels, hence “forgive us our sings, as
we too forgive others”
…the God who is our Source of Strength to resist the temptation
of every age, hence “and lead us not into temptation!”
Out of the depths of our being we all need and want a father.
Thomas Wolfe, the author, looked back over his own life and said
that for him it had been a search, for a Father – not merely
the father of his flesh, not merely the father of his youth, but
a Father of the spirit with whom he could identify in his weakness,
a father who could accept and love him as he is, a father who
would give him strength and hope. There are many other contemporary
writers in our time who have beautifully expressed the need for
that kind of Father – literary giants like Eugene O’Neil,
William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Albert Camus, and countless
others. But just to mention these names is to raise a problem.
All of the authors I have just mentioned are not only for the
beautiful way in which they state our need, but also for their
pessimism, their despair, their depression. They say that this
need will ever be satisfied. Together, they say to us, in effect,
that “there is no Father; there is no Ultimate Reality we
call ‘God’.” What a contrast to the striking
words of Saint Augustine. “You have made us for yourself,
O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they rest in You.”
The one devastating and unchangeable thing you must know from
the Gospels is that God is, essentially, Love. Your decision as
to whether the Ultimate Reality you call “God” is
real, and whether He is against us or for us, is the most important
decision of your life. It will color everything you do and say
and believe. And when you use the opening address of the Lord’s
Prayer – “Our Father” – if you really
mean what you are saying, you have made your decision.
A little girl was having a difficult time learning the Lord’s
Prayer. Despite her mothers’ heroic efforts to teach it
to her, she kept coming up with her own inspired interpretations,
such as “Our Father, who art in heaven, how-do-you-know-my-name.”
That is precisely what Jesus is telling us: God, your heavenly
Father, knows your name; He know you! He accepts you as you are,
better than you do yourself, so it is not without reason that
Jesus has us pray, “Our Father.” He wants us to remember,
from the outset of life, that we do have, all of us, one Father,
one God, one goal which makes us all one. All brothers and sisters,
all members of the one family of God and all members of the brotherhood
There are many things we can say about God. He is just, He is
powerful, He is holy. But when Jesus taught us to pray, “Our
Father who art in heaven,” he was trying to tell us that
at the vary core of “Being” Itself, at the heart of
Ultimate Reality, there is only one things that counts when the
chips are down: the unfading love our Father has for all of us.