By Fr. Max Oliva, S.J.
We live in challenging times as far as our faith values are concerned. There is the constant threat of terrorism, ethical scandals in many of the major institutions of society, concerted efforts from many secularists to water down our basic beliefs in the name of “political correctness,” and a tendency towards exclusiveness in who benefits from material success and the use of natural resources. In Jesus’ time his disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. He responded with what we call, “The Lord’s Prayer.” In this and the next couple of issues we will consider this prayer, phrase by phrase, in terms of the ethical and spiritual challenges we face today.
The Lord’s Prayer, or Our Father, appears in the Gospels of Matthew (6:9-13) and Luke (11:1-4). Theologian Donald Gelpi points out that this prayer is used to describe the fundamental moral and ethical stance of the believing disciple towards God. It both affirms our commitment and challenges it.
OUR – emphasizes inclusiveness; we do not pray to ‘the’ Father, but to ‘our’. The God of the Christian is not partisan; there is an openness to absolutely everyone and even to creation itself. Implied here is solidarity and responsibility. As catechist, Jim Doyle, shares, ‘by saying ‘our’ we are uniting ourselves with all members of God’s family.’ The word, “outsider” is simply not in God’s vocabulary. A question for reflection: Who is ‘other’ to me – by education, economics, political persuasion, race, culture or country?
FATHER – loving parent, someone I can put my complete trust in and not be disappointed. In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) there are both father and mother images in describing the Creator. Speaking of the Covenant relationship between Yahweh and the people of Israel, the prophet Jeremiah wrote of a father’s love: “Israel, you are my dearest son, the child I love best. Whenever I mention your name, I think of you with love. My heart goes out to you; I will be merciful” (31:20). When the people began to doubt God’s ever present love, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her own baby and not love the child she bore? Even if a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you” (49:15). A question for reflection: What was my image of God as a child? Has it changed? Is so, what precipitated the change?
WHO ART IN HEAVEN – the awe-some nature of God, which calls for reverence on our part. Psalm 150 is a good prayer of praise for God in the heavenly sanctuary. And yet there is the mystery of both the otherness and the nearness of the Creator. As to the latter, Psalm 145: 18 puts it well: “The Lord is near to all who call upon him” and “In God we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME – may your name be made holy. But as theologian Gerald O’Collins explains, we are praying for a change of attitude on our part towards God, God’s name is already holy in itself. A question for reflection: In this increasingly secular age, how do you ‘hallow’ God’s name?
(September 2007 Newsletter)