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.
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