Last Sunday we began our thinking about the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father. We thought about the meaning and import of the opening words, “Our Father, who art in heaven …” Our review of the Our Father is to help us in our own personal prayer … how should we be praying?
Well, the subsequent parts of the Our Father divide into 7 petitions … the first three are, as it were, focussing our hearts on God Himself; the last four are asking for things for ourselves. So, the first three highlight God: “Thy Name … Thy Kingdom … Thy Will …”
Catechism 2804 The first series of petitions carries us toward Him, for His own sake: Thy name, Thy kingdom, Thy will! It is characteristic of love to think first of the one whom we love. In none of the three petitions do we mention ourselves; the burning desire, even anguish, of the beloved Son for his Father’s glory seizes us: “hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”
This is important. Our prayer is not first and foremost about our own demands or needs. Our first occupation in prayer is simply in praising God for His being God. Only after these first three petitions do we consider our own needs: “Give us … Forgive us … Lead us not … Deliver us …” But our first thought is to refer ourselves to God’s gifts to us, to measure ourselves up to His intentions: the revelation of His Holy Name; the coming of His Holy Kingdom; the obeying of His Holy Will.
(I) “Hallowed be Thy Name,” we say first. Now, God’s name is always holy, so what we in fact mean by this is: “may Your Name be held holy.” This ties in with our keeping the 2nd commandment, doesn’t it? — “Do not take the Name of the Lord in vain.” God in His love and holiness has gradually revealed Himself to us. We are privileged to live in this period of history (these last 4000 yrs) when God has revealed Himself more fully, starting with Abraham, going on to Moses (to whom He revealed the Sacred Name, “I Am Who Am”), and completed in the fullness of Revelation in our Lord Jesus, Son of God. We should pray in thanksgiving for knowing and receiving God’s holy Gospel, and strive to honour and spread devotion to His Holy Name. Not only do we want to keep holy God’s Name ourselves, but we would wish others — our family and our friends, quite apart from all humanity — to know and love God.
(II) “Thy Kingdom come,” we then pray. We wish to be the agents of Our Lord’s desire to build up His kingdom “on earth as in heaven.” Jesus preached the Kingdom continuously, inviting us to be with Him in this new world, the Church, where His dominion reigns. We know that the Kingdom will never be completed here on earth, and that we long for the Kingdom of heaven. Yet, Jesus urges to pray for, and to work for, the Kingdom also on earth: to make this world sing with the voices and values of Jesus. We are not to wait idly in this life, simply sitting back and awaiting the next life: that’s like hiding the talent in the ground (in Jesus’s parable). Though we long for the fulfilling of the promised Kingdom in the life to come, yet we must strive to build God’s Kingdom of belief, justice and peace here on earth. We must spend our lives here trying to mirror heaven here on earth. We should be praying that the Lord give us many opportunities to spread the Kingdom.
(III) “Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Our whole life should be spent in trying to do only what is God’s Will for us. We cannot have happiness in this life if we are struggling against, or going against, God’s holy Will for us. He has a plan and a vocation for each one of us: we pray that we may know — and courageously do — that Will. We think of those moments in Scripture when there is a radical choice to do God’s Will. Our Lady, at the Annunciation, says, “Be it done unto me according to thy Word.” And, more grittily, in His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, Our Lord Jesus Himself totally offers in sacrifice His human will to the Father: “nevertheless, not My Will, but Thine, be done.”
This, then is the basis of good and wholesome prayer for us: (i) to honour and spread His Holy Name; (ii) to build up His Kingdom, His Church, and to invite others in; (iii) to be devoted to doing His Will even when it is hard, knowing that it will lead to our happiness. Each of these prayers acknowledges that we are pilgrims, hoping for heaven, the perfection of God’s Kingdom, but determined to use well this life He has granted us on earth. Just these few words of the Our Father help us to be focussed on our great Christian task as His people.