October 12, 2016

Praying the 'Our Father'

There are times in a life when we feel our problems and pressures take over our days at the expense of our hopes and our faith; sometimes we feel that the issues we face are unique, that we must face them now alone. It is frightening to feel out on a limb, alone without the support of the community. Yet for many, their day to day existence is just that.
Author, theologian and Priest Alfred McBride O,Praem., writes a fine story that many will find useful as a springboard for their spiritual growth. His topic: the ever present prayer. He includes in his book, the Our Father (Pater Nostre). Prayed by millions for centuries the prayer is both simple for a child to recite and an adult to ponder. He calls his book, How to Pray Like Jesus and the Saints.

His book is composed of 10 chapters;
each explores the spirituality of mystics, poets and Doctors of the Church, those from whom she has derived much wisdom over the centuries. The 'Our Father' prayer he writes, is "crisp and short." Each of its seven parts invites interpretation and consideration. The antiquity of this prayer, has invited many commentaries, some as ancient as those of Saint Cyprian of Carthage.
It is written in the plural, so that when one prays it, he or she prays not for them self alone but in the plural, we/our. It directs one to think of 'Our Father' rather than simply 'my father.'

This sets the universal tone which follows through the other six verses. It distinguishes God the Father, God the Creator, from the unique, personal father, our earthly father which each one of us may know. It encourages that we identify with this One, universal Father, that we may be community for one another, the Body of the Christ.

'Hallowed be thy Name' the next verse reflects the holy, divine nature of the Creator. The one who prays, prays for the gift of holiness of the Creator personally for all mankind.
'Thy Kingdom Come,' the third verse of the prayer asks that we accept God's will. It acknowledges that the kingdom has already arrived, that mankind might cooperate with the agency of Creation, so as to know their own spark of divinity. This unceasing prayer is for a "kingdom of love, justice, holiness, salvation [from evil]… and the grace of divine life." It lends its sanctity to the whole of human activity within every heart.
'Thy Will Be Done' is perhaps the most spiritually challenging directive of the seven verses. It seeks more than acceptance of the Kingdom, the created world that all can see and touch, but more abstractly, the will of the Creator itself a thing which cannot be easily perceived with the eyes; rather it is more of the heart.
'Give Us this Day Our Daily Bread' which in one sense is the literal daily food we eat to survive, but also it's about the spiritual side of our lives, that which sustains and enlivens us and our faith.
'Forgive Us Our Trespasses as We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us,' the spiritual and emotional pains of daily life are nearly unavoidable.
Spiritually everyone who suffers at times needs to be able to release their pains to return to the spiritual state of the child who is loving, without resentment and the essence of forgiveness, hopeful and forward looking.
'Lead Us Not Into Temptation' the Creator makes his creations free, without hold; this is his loving desire that is imparted upon all. While the freedom to choose to love is the ultimate spiritual desire, God recognizes that humanity may be tempted and drawn away from the common good; how many times we are tempted to choose what is our detriment! This verse strengthens our resolve to turn from evil, to walk in the light.
And finally, the seventh verse directly prays that we may be 'But Deliver(ed) Us From Evil.' author McBride recalls C.S. Lewis' book, The Screwtape Letters, a satire in which there is much tempting of mankind by a devil called, Screwtape who lures people to tolerate and perpetuate wrong doing.

In participating in acts of evil, ones' conscience is dampened over time; the harm which may result becomes more obscure to the perpetrator and establishes a new norm-- that they them self are at the center of their own universe. Sadly it more often leads to a slavery of the spiritual self, an attraction of evil for evil, deceit for deceit and a coldness of heart. Screwtape, we learn, is foiled by an encounter with love and the mercy of the Christ which brings Creation back into the community of the Creator.
Pray this prayer often; let it touch you deeply.

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