The Our Father Teaches Us How to Pray
User’s Guide to Sunday, July 24
In giving us the “Our Father,” in today’s Gospel, the Lord is giving us a pattern for prayer.
He is “teaching us to pray.”
Thus, while the words of the Our Father are precious, it is also important to look at the underlying structure implicit in the prayer.
There are five basic disciplines taught in the Our Father, and they form a kind of pattern or structure for prayer. I use here the Matthean version of the prayer only because it is more familiar to most people, but all the basic elements are the same regardless of the version.
Our Father who art in heaven: We are not merely praying to “the deity” or “the Godhead.” We are praying to our Father, who loves us, who provides for us, and who sent his only Son to die for us and save us. When Jesus lives his life in us and his Spirit dwells in us, we begin to experience God as our Abba, our Father.
Hallowed be thy name: Our prayer life should feature much joyful praise.
Take a Psalm of praise and pray it joyfully. Take the Gloria of the Mass and pray it with gusto! Rejoice in God; praise his name. “It is for this that we were made. God created us, so that we … might live for his praise and glory” (Ephesians 1:12).
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven: At the heart of this petition is an openness to God’s will, to his instruction, to his plan for us and for this world. When Jesus lives in us, we hunger for God’s word and strive to know his will and have it operative in our life.
Give us today our daily bread: Intercessory prayer is at the heart of the Christian life. Allow “bread” to be a symbol of all our needs. Take every opportunity to pray for others. When watching the news or reading the newspaper, pray the news. Much of the news contains people for whom we should pray: victims of crime, disaster or war; the jobless; the homeless; and the afflicted. Many are locked in sin, bad behavior, corruption, confusion and wrong priorities. Many are away from the sacraments and no longer seek their Eucharistic Bread, who is Christ. Pray; pray; pray.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. We need deliverance from our own sins and also from the deep structures of sin in this world.
An essential element of our spiritual life is that we come to recognize the sins and the deep drives of sins in our own life so that we can beg deliverance from them as well as mercy. Then, too, we must also pray for the grace to show mercy to others so as to break the cycle of violence and revenge that keeps sin multiplying.
Here then, is a structure for our prayer and spiritual life, contained in the Our Father.
Jesus teaches us to pray and gives us a basic structure for prayer. Some may use this as an actual structure for daily prayer; if they are going to spend 25 minutes praying, they spend about five minutes on each aspect. Others may use this structure as an overall reference for their spiritual life in general, trying to reflect these disciplines in their overall prayer life.