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Lent and "Our Father": The Path of Prayer | Carl E. Olson | IgnatiusInsight.com

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"Our Father, who art in heaven…"

You know the rest, don’t 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 Lord’s Prayer without even thinking about it. It’s 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 sun.

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 it’s only fifty-five words in length. You’ve watched commercials that are longer than fifty-five words. You’ve 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 don’t 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, it’s 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 Lord’s 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 during Lent.

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 God’s 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 Christ’s 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." It’s 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 God’s 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 Lord’s Prayer will help us on that path. "Thus the Lord’s 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 God’s 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 newspaper.)

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:

Lent: Why the Christian Must Deny Himself | Brother Austin G. Murphy, O.S.B.
Seeking Deep Conversion | From Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.
"Lord, teach us to pray" | From Earthen Vessels | Gabriel Bunge, O.S.B.
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
The Liturgy Lived: The Divinization of Man | Jean Corbon, OP
Understanding The Hierarchy of Truths | Douglas Bushman, STL
The Eucharist: 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 of Will 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.

Visit the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies, and news in the Church!


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