Lord, Teach Us To Pray | Fr. Jerome Bertram | From "Jesus, Teach Us To Pray" | Ignatius InsightLord, Teach Us To Pray | Fr. Jerome Bertram | From Jesus, Teach Us To Pray | Ignatius Insight

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As an illustration of much that has come before, let us take the most fundamental of all prayers and examine how God speaks to us through it. We will follow the text as we know it by heart, in St Matthew's Gospel (Matth. 6:9-13), but keeping a finger in the place where St Luke reports it slightly differently (Luke 11:1-4). Many saints and holy men have written meditations on the Our Father, and all are worth reading, but it can never be exhausted. Prayer has been described as drinking from a fountain: no matter how often we come back, there is still more flowing out to greet us.

The disciples asked Our Lord to teach them to pray, "just as John taught his disciples". In passing, it would be fascinating to know exactly how John the Baptist taught them, and why the disciples, many of whom had been disciples of John beforehand, knew that was not enough. Our Lord does not give them a "method" or "technique", and it is unlikely John the Baptist did either. He says nothing about posture or breathing, about times and numbers. He introduces it with the advice not to pile up bombastic phrases like the pagans, "for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him." (Matth. 6:8) That does not rule out prayer of petition, as we have said, but it does rule out the idea that we somehow have to instruct God. "It is one thing to inform someone who is ignorant, quite another to make a request of one who knows us well", as St Jerome said. (Our quotations in this chapter from St Jerome and the other Church Fathers come from the Catena Aurea of St Thomas Aquinas, a commentary on the Gospel made up of passages from all the great writers, as if they were sitting around a table discussing it verse by verse. An English translation was prepared by Newman and his friends at Littlemore, and reprinted in 1997.)

Prayer is not an exercise in elegant prose composition to persuade an unwilling God to give us what we want. St Augustine said, "there should not be much speaking, just much prayer." We cannot impress Him by our diligence, our perseverance, our squeezed-out emotions, any more than we can by our posture or phraseology. Nor should we pray for the sake of the effect on other people, even if we fancy we are setting them a good example, let alone if we imagine they will be impressed by our overweening goodness. That is why Our Lord says we should pray "in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matth. 6:6)

The Our Father contains within itself all the prayers of the Old and New Testament, and includes everything that it could possibly be right for us to pray. For that reason all other prayers are, in a way, no more than expansions of the Our Father, and any prayer that contradicts the Our Father is invalid. For the Our Father is, above all, the Lord's Prayer — meaning by that the prayer He makes Himself, as well as the one He gives to us.

Why are there two versions? Without getting entangled in the fruitless task of looking for the "sources of the Gospels", we may note that St Matthew and St Luke describe two different occasions, and we need not be surprised if Our Lord chose to vary the actual words He used. Moreover He probably gave them the words in Aramaic, and what we have is only two English translations of two different Greek translations. In essence, the two versions are the same: a few phrases are omitted in St Luke, but the sense is included in those which remain. We may note in passing that the very differences prove the authenticity of the text. As so often in the Gospels, we have two independent witnesses, who record for us effectively the same words, although they were spoken on different occasions.

The Ten Commandments come to us in two different versions in exactly the same way (Exod. 20 and Deut. 5). This may be taken as a prophecy of the fact that the Our Father reflects the structure of the Ten Commandments, speaking first of God, secondly of our neighbour. There are three Commandments about our love of God, and there are three petitions in the Our Father that call us to "love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our might." There are seven Commandments about our neighbour, and four petitions in the Our Father which mean, in effect, " love thy neighbour as thyself". In this way the whole of the Old Testament law is summed up and fulfilled in the Lord's Prayer.



Jesus, Teach Us to Pray
by Fr. Jerome Bertram

Jesus, Teach Us to Pray (E-Book) - Downloadable eBook

"Teach us to Pray." The disciples' cry to Jesus has never been more topical. In a fast-moving, hyperactive, technology-oriented world, more and more people are trying to find meaning in their lives and to develop a living relationship with the Lord in prayer. However, they often find themselves at a loss to discover reliable guides point to sure pathways to the art of prayer.

In this book Fr. Jerome Bertram answers the plea of so many of his contemporaries. Drawing on his own experience and his vast knowledge of trusted spiritual authors, he leads his readers into the various ways of prayer. After a few introductory chapters stressing the importance of prayer, Fr. Jerome takes us through the Our Father, the very prayer which the Lord himself left with us.

Along the way, he tackles common difficulties such as distraction and detachment, thus providing valuable advice for all who seek to deepen their life of prayer, be they beginners or more advanced in the spiritual life.

Building on the insights of Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth, the author provides an account of prayer that is easy to read, accessible, and clearly centered on Jesus Christ and the Church.

Fr. Jerome Bertram is a Catholic priest of the Oxford Oratory. He regularly preaches retreats to religious communities in England as well as overseas. He has published several books about prayer, the sacraments, and the spiritual life.