Lord, Teach us to pray
“Lord, Teach Us to Pray!”
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
In this exchange with Jesus, the disciples’ request, in a sense, nails it.
A request that most of us have, and either are afraid or simply don’t think to make
or whose response seems dissatisfying or altogether not granted.
Well, look no further, wait no longer.
The disciples have been observing Jesus pray,
i.e., “practice” His intimacy with the Father, and they want to know how to do it.
Now, the disciples are observant Jews, and so do pray.
But there must have been something qualitatively compelling about Jesus’ prayer.
When I try to pray, what on earth (what in heaven) am I doing? Seriously.
How are we to pray? Kneeling, standing, waving our arms?
Are we better slumped in a pew or lying down? Aloud or silently? How?!?
Jesus responds to the request with a version
of the prayer we traditionally call the “Our Father”, the Lord’s Prayer.
(Luke includes 5 petitions, as distinguished from Matthew
who includes 7 petitions, which is what we typically pray).
Now, Saint Paul, in the second reading, reveals truths that shed light on prayer:
you have received Christ Jesus the Lord…live your lives in him,
rooted in him…established in the faith…abounding in thanksgiving.
Prayer is about receiving Christ, living in Christ, rooting ourselves in Christ, believing in Christ, believing Christ, thanking Christ.
And we pray, knowing, as Jesus says in the second part of this gospel,
Recall the words of Saint Paul in Romans 8:26, We do not know how to pray…
but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
We don’t know how to pray and Jesus gives us this “model” prayer,
which reveals focus and order in prayer.
Jesus does not simply give us words to say.
Matthew Henry, to quote again, 17th-century English Presbyterian minister,
says that the two versions of this Prayer suggest
that it was not the design of Christ that we should be tied up to these very words.
Jesus does not give us a religious formula or technique.
Strictly speaking, Jesus does not teach the disciples how to pray.
Jesus teaches them (and us) who to pray and what to pray.
Jesus teaches where, to Whom, we direct our minds and hearts, in faith, hope, love.
St. John Damascene (Syrian monk +750, December 4 feast on the Church calendar)
says that prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God.
(Defide orth. 3,24:PG 94,1089C).
There is nothing formulaic about the raising of one's mind and heart to God.
Prayer is essentially a great expression of, call it, divine desire.
Let us then just begin to peel back a few layers of this unique prayer.
Father: the Source of us and of all that exists, Whom we cannot adequately name.
“Father” precisely signifies transcendent Source; it does not signify maleness
If we bear this in mind, we will not be tempted to side-step it!
“Hallowed by your name”
We are not trying to flatter God or wish God well.
In the Bible, the name signifies the person.
Thus: Hallowed be You, holy are You, God.
As the theologian who shaped Richard Hooker,
a founder of Anglican theological thought, Thomas Aquinas says
“By holy we signify the purity of divine goodness.”
(cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, Q. 36, art. 1, resp. 1)
Thus: Hallowed, only good is your name, only good You are.
“Your kingdom come”
We are not primarily asking God to bring about a certain way of life on earth.
This petition can be restated:
“You, King, reign in us; fill us with your love and light.”
St. Cyprian (Bishop, North Africa, +258) says,
The Kingdom of God means Christ Himself. (De Dom., orat. 13: PL 4, 528A)
Then, after these petitions, desiring union with God, the indwelling of Christ,
we petition with respect to ourselves.
Petitioning for ourselves is not trying to twist God’s arm—which He doesn’t have!
“Give us each day our daily bread.”
We perhaps ask at least three things of God:
“Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”
Wait a minute!
Our being forgiven follows our forgiveness of others?!? Are you kidding me?!
Well, remember that prayer is a great expression of divine desire.
We ask forgiveness with hearts willing to forgive.
And with such hearts, as Reverend Nadia Bolz-Weber phrases it, we pray, “Lord,
Forgive us when we hate what you love. Forgive us when we would rather anesthetize ourselves than feel anything. Forgive us for how much we resent in others the same things we hate in ourselves. Forgive us for the terrible things we think about our own bodies. And, this one is hard, please forgive us for thinking we know the hearts of our enemies.
“Do not bring us to the time of trial.”
In Matthew 24, Jesus speaks of great trial or tribulation before His Second Coming.
Now, God does not subject anyone to any trial, although He surely allows trial.
So, we’re not saying to God, “No bad moods, and so no trial!”
We are asking to be spared the trial, any trial, and, if not spared, most importantly,
to remain focused on Him, and remain loving in the midst of trial.
Prayer is not putting a quarter into a vending machine called God.
Prayer is not romantic.
Prayer is not primarily about me, yet it engages me more than any other act,
grabbing hold of the guts of my life,
with its contradictions, its pain, it weariness, its beauty.
Prayer, really, is made possible by the Holy Spirit.
Every time we receive the Eucharist, we receive a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Thank you, Jesus.
Third Sunday after Pentecost
This gospel is not an easy read.
It’s not far-fetched to read Jesus whiney, Jesus insensitive, Jesus rude.
So, let’s embrace the uneasiness and read.
Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem”.
This recalls the Prophet Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, a prefiguration of Jesus, who, in his suffering, says, “I have set my face like flint.” (Isaiah 50:7)
In commenting on this passage, Saint Bede (depicted in our clerestory!),
English Benedictine monk, who died in 735, says
“Jesus, going voluntarily to be crucified, sought with steadfast face, that is,
with resolute and undaunted mind, the spot where He was to be crucified.”
Jesus is on mission possible, mission certain, that no one will thwart,
in the light of which only can we understand these interactions.
In Jerusalem He will lay down His life, a self-offering
of immeasurable love into which we are drawn, by which we are saved.
There is an urgency and a gravity that informs and colors everything.
Two disciples, “messengers”, James and John, go ahead.
When, for the inhospitality, they want to destroy the village people,
Jesus rightly rebukes them.
Jesus’ subsequent encounters, however, are disturbing.
To the person who eagerly wants to follow him,
Jesus responds, “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
To the person who movingly wants to bury his father and
then follow him, Jesus responds, “Let the dead bury their own dead.”
To the person who touchingly wants first to say farewell to those at home and then follow him, Jesus responds, “No one who puts a hand
to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
My interpretive presumption, when Jesus seems to be harsh,
is that he knows his interlocutor, he knows the person he is engaging,
and that he/she can hear the demands of divine love in full, strong terms.
Not that divine love invites or warrants harshness
or negligence of duty towards family!
But being truly loving is more than being nice.
And the love that Jesus communicates directly from the heart of God,
so to be received as given, demands that we place no conditions. Unconditional love must be met with unconditional love.
This seems to be the point.
If so, Jesus surely invites us this morning to look into our hearts,
to see if there may be a few “Yes, but”….
An invitation to honesty, an invitation, however, that we need not fear.
As our reading from Galatians suggests,
we already belong to Christ and He has set us free
by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit Whom He has given to us.
Jesus has us covered from pre-start to finish. We must simply be willing.
If we forget this,
we may conclude that the Christian life is not for us.
Or we may settle for our own small version of it: just being nice.
There really is, however, no small version of it.
The Christian life is a relationship with Christ, a total life
and He wants all of me—good and bad.
The surrender of ‘all’ to Jesus, thankfully, is not something I do on my own.
If it were, I would conclude that the Christian life is not for me
and walk right out those doors.
St. Jeanne de Chantal (there is a parish named after her in Bethesda, MD)
was a French baroness, widowed in 1601 at age 28, with four children.
Imagine. And no cell phone to navigate her distress.
Her husband’s accidental death led her to consecrate her life to Christ, anew.
She eventually founded an order of nuns, the Congregation of the Visitation. She says, “Keep your eyes on God and leave the doing to Him.
That is all the doing you have to worry about.”
Saint Dominic Savio was from northern Italy, born in 1842.
At age four, his parents would already find him praying in solitude.
He contracted a lung disease as an adolescent.
On his deathbed, his final words were,
“Goodbye, Dad, goodbye ... Oh, what wonderful things I see...”
He was fourteen, the only adolescent declared a saint
not for having been a martyr, but for having simply lived a holy life.
He too acknowledges that this total relationship is God’s doing.
He says, “Ask Jesus to make you a saint. After all, only He can do that.”