George F. Riley, O.S.A.Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C)
Homily by George F. Riley, O.S.A..

Genesis 18: 20-32
Psalm 138: 1-3, 6-8
Col 2: 12-14
Luke 11: 1-13

“When you pray, say, ‘Father, hallowed be Your Name’” (Luke 11:2)

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 earthly father.

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 of mankind.

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.