Sadly, the prayer that our Lord gave us to avoid multiplying words and babbling like the pagans can so much become for us an occasion to do that very thing. We can rattle off the Lord’s Prayer so quickly and second-naturedly that we totally miss what we’re saying and miss the real grace of the Lord’s Prayer. We really ought to pay more attention to it, because it serves so well as the model for all of our prayer.
First, it teaches us to pray in communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ. This week, in our Office of Readings, we priests and deacons and religious have been reading from a treatise on the Lord’s Prayer by St. Cyprian. On Monday, that treatise told us: “Above all, he who preaches peace and unity did not want us to pray by ourselves in private or for ourselves alone. We do not say ‘My Father, who art in heaven,’ nor ‘Give me this day my daily bread.’ It is not for himself alone that each person asks to be forgiven, not to be led into temptation, or to be delivered from evil. Rather we pray in public as a community, and not for one individual but for all. For the people of God are all one.”
Second, it acknowledges that God knows best how to provide for our needs. We might want all the time to tell him what we want, or how to take care of us, but deep down we know that the only way our lives can work is when we surrender to God and let God do what he needs to do in us. And so the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” The whole point of creation is that the whole world will be happiest and at peace only when everything is returned to the One who made it all in the first place. Until we surrender our lives too, we can never be happy or at peace.
Third, this wonderful prayer acknowledges that the real need in all of us is forgiveness. Yes, we are all sinners and depend on God alone for forgiveness, because we can never make up for the disobedience of our lives. But we also must forgive others as well, or we can never really receive forgiveness in our lives. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” might just be the boldest prayer we can utter on any given day. Because if we have been negligent in our forgiving, is that really how we want God to forgive us? When we take the Lord’s Prayer seriously, we can really transform our little corner of the world by giving those around us the grace we have been freely given.
And so when we pray these beautiful words today at Mass, or later in our Rosaries or other prayers, maybe we can pause a bit. Slow down and really pray those words. Let them transform us by joining us together with our brothers and sisters, surrendering to God for what we truly need, and really receiving the forgiveness of God so that we can forgive others.