The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (No. 6)
The sixth in a series of reflections about professing, praying, and living the Faith of the Church,
in celebration of the Year of Faith, proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI.
The season of Lent draws near. Once again, we are offered the opportunity to intensify our prayer, to enter more deeply into the mystery of prayer – maybe even to receive the life of prayer as if for the first time, as a little child (Mark 10:14-16). “What will I give up for Lent?” the traditional question goes. Remember, the giving up is for the sake of receiving all that God wants to give us. During Lent, these weekly reflections will focus on Christ's gift of prayer to his disciples.
“Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray' (literally, “give us a prayer”). “And he said to them, 'When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven . . .'” (Lk 11:1-2; Matt 6:9-13). This particular address is no longer a shock. Millions assume that “Father” is a universal and generic way of speaking to God, perhaps an obvious synonym for “God”. So the first thing we need to know in receiving this prayer from Jesus is its specific origin in the Christian revelation. That the eternal creator condescends to be addressed by us as “Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6) is anything but a universal religious truism. As the Liturgy teaches us, it is only “formed by divine teaching, and at the Savior's command [that] we dare to pray” the Our Father.
The primary relationship with which the gospel is concerned is not the one between Jesus and his followers, but rather the relation between Jesus and the One he alone addresses as “My Father” (Matt. 26:39 ff; John 14:1-7). In drawing the disciples to himself Jesus desires to give them his own relationship to his Father. He desires to share with them his own “spirit of Sonship” (Gal. 4:6). Jesus desires to include us in his own love for the Father, and in the Father's love for him. Just so, when Jesus places on our lips his Abba, Father, he is giving us infinitely more than a devotional formula to memorize. He is offering us his own intimacy with his Father; he is drawing us into the ceaseless “conversation” between the Father and the Son.
Praying Within the Divine Love . . .
“No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son reveals him” (Matt. 11:27; see also John 1:18). Christ never leaves you to pray on your own. When you pray his prayer, he is always praying in you and with you, sharing with you his intimacy with his Father. For it is only through the Son that we can know the Father. At the same time, when you pray “Our Father” in unison with Jesus and in his Name, the Father is showing you the Son. He is revealing to you how to pray and to live as a child of the Father.
So it is that to pray in faith, “Our Father”, is to be held by Grace within the never-failing exchange of love between Jesus and his Father.
Within the “frame” of the Our Father is revealed everything you ever need to pray for yourself or for another. The whole prayer life of the Church on earth and in heaven is included within this prayer of the Son, Who lives and reigns with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever.
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