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Lent and "Our Father": The Path of Prayer | Carl E. Olson | IgnatiusInsight.com
"Our Father, who art in heaven
You know the rest, dont you? You recite the
"Our Father" every Sunday, you say it when you pray the Rosary, and perhaps
you recite it to yourself while you are driving, in line at the store,
or before you go to bed. You can say the Lords Prayer without even
thinking about it. Its like taking a breath of air, a part of life
that can be taken for granted, as sure as the rising and setting of the
That comfort level can be a good thing. But it can also be a problem.
Maybe the Our Father is sometimes too easy to recite without paying attention
to what it says. Perhaps it becomes too easy to say without stopping to
consider what we are actually saying.
What does it mean to call God "Our Father"? What are we praying for when
we say, "Hallowed be your name"? Where and what is the kingdom? Does God
tempt us? Or allow us to be tempted? It takes only a few seconds to say
and its only fifty-five words in length. Youve watched commercials
that are longer than fifty-five words. Youve read help wanted ads
that have more words than does the Our Father. There are sentences in
State of the Union addresses more than fifty-words in length.
Of course, we dont equate the prayer give to us by Jesus with television
commercials, help wanted ads, or presidential addresses. But do we sometimes
give it less attention than it deserves? If so, its good to slow
down from time to time and ask ourselves: Do we take it for granted? Do
we think of it as "the fundamental Christian prayer"? As "the summary
of the whole Gospel"? As "the most perfect of prayers"? Those are all
descriptions of the Lords Prayer found in the Catechism of the
Catholic Church. Saint Thomas Aquinas remarks, "In it we ask, not
only for all the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence
that they should be desired. This prayer not only teaches us to ask for
things, but also in what order we should desire them."
Lent is a time for assessing our desires, examining our motives, and adjusting
our priorities. It is also a time of prayer, and without prayer our attempts
at assessment, examination, and adjustment will fail. Prayer is always
an essential reality for the Christian, and our awareness of this is heightened
It is a sacred time of reflection and self-examination, a forty-day journey
into the desert. It begins on Ash Wednesday, when a charred cross is traced
across our brows, a reminder of our mortality: "For you are dust, and
to dust you shall return." As we travel those forty days and as we struggle
with our weaknesses and sinfulness, we should hunger and thirst more deeply
for God. But we should also know that our heavenly Father not only wishes
to satisfy our thirst, He thirsts for us. "Whether we realize it or not,"
the Catechism states, "prayer is the encounter of Gods thirst
with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him."
There exists, then, an intimate relationship between Lent, prayer, and
the Our Father. Lent is a journey into the heart of God and into the mystery
of His love for us. In a Lenten message in 2000, Pope John Paul II said,
"Lent helps Christians to enter more deeply into this mystery hidden
for ages. It leads them to come face to face with the word of the
living God and urges them to give up their own selfishness in order to
receive the saving activity of the Holy Spirit."
Prayer is essential to that encounter with God, as the Holy Father points
out: "The journey to which Lent invites us takes place above all in prayer."
And the Our Father is the fundamental of the Christian Faith, a perfect
summary of the Gospel, and the most perfect of prayers.
So what does it mean to call God "Our Father"? It means we are children
of God. By virtue of baptism and faith we are part of Christs Body,
the Church, and are able to approach God with filial boldness. We can
only know the Father through the Son, for "no knows the Father except
the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." Its not
a right and it should never be taken for granted. It is a gift and grace,
and it should fill us with joy and trust, humility and awe.
Prior to Jesus, mankind did not commonly refer to God as Father. Standing
before the burning bush, Moses is told to not come near, but to remove
his sandals, for he was on holy ground. When Moses asked for Gods
name, God replied: "I AM WHO I AM." Now, because of the work of Jesus,
the Son of God, we are able to call God, "Abba! Father!" We are sons of
God, Paul explains, "through faith in Christ Jesus."
This gift of sonship is free, but it is not free of suffering or trials.
On Ash Wednesday, when a charred cross is traced across our brows, we
are reminded our mortality: "For you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
We are also reminded that the brow of the Son of Man was marked with thorns
and blood, with suffering and sacrifice. As disciples of Jesus, we must
take up our cross. As children of the Father, we must lose our life in
order to find it. On Ash Wednesday, we set out on a journey with the goal
of losing ourselves so that we might find ourselves. And the Lords
Prayer will help us on that path. "Thus the Lords Prayer reveals
us to ourselves," the Catechism remarks, "at the same time that
it reveals the Father to us."
Lent is an especially appropriate time to meditate on the prayer given
us by Jesus, and to consider the holiness of Gods name, the mystery
of His Kingdom, and the priority of His will. Over the next seven weeks
of Lent we will contemplate the seven petitions of the Our Father, travelling
from the cross of Ash Wednesday to the Cross of Calvary. Through the trials
and challenges, may we continually cry out in love, "Abba! Father!"
(This article was originally published in the February 22, 2004 edition
of Our Sunday Visitor
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"Lord, teach us to pray" | From
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Why God is Father and Not Mother | Mark Brumley
The Religion of Jesus | From
Christ, The Ideal of the Priest | Blessed Columba Marmion
Blessed Columba Marmion: A Deadly Serious Spiritual Writer | Christopher Zehnder
Seeing Jesus in the Gospel of John |
Excerpts from On The Way to Jesus Christ | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Encountering Christ in the Gospel |
Excerpt from My Jesus | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
Lived: The Divinization of Man | Jean Corbon, OP
The Hierarchy of Truths | Douglas Bushman, STL
Source and Summit of Christian Spirituality | Mark Brumley
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.
He is the co-author of The
Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author
Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He has written for numerous
Cathlic periodicals and is a regular contributor to National Catholic
Register and writes the regular Scripture column, "Opening the Word" for Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.
He resides in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland,
Oregon and Sacramento, California with his wife, Heather, and two children.
Visit his personal web site at www.carl-olson.com.
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