Today’s readings: Hosea 11:1, 3-4, 8e-9 | Psalm 23 | Romans 8:14-17, 26-27 | Matthew 6:9-13
Today we did the RCIA presentation of the Lord’s Prayer to the Elect at our evening Mass. There are special readings for that, as above.
Where do you go when you’re at the end of your rope?
Bob was not accustomed to praying and didn’t really have a relationship with God. But life, as it often does to us, started piling up: job concerns, health scares, relationship problems – everything. And so he knew he couldn’t make it all work on his own. So in his desperation, he looked at the old Bible he got for his first Holy Communion, and took it down off the shelf. Dusting it off, he realized he didn’t know where to turn so he decided to just open it up, point to a verse, and see what God had to say to him. So that’s what he did, and on opening the Bible, he read “and Judas went off and hanged himself.”
Now, obviously, we know God didn’t want Bob to go off and hang himself like Judas did. But the point here is that Bob was doing it wrong: you can’t choose not to have a relationship with God and turn to prayer only when everything else fails. That’s never going to work. Prayer, for the believer, is an ongoing conversation with the God who longs to be intimately involved in our lives. And so, the important thing is to work on that relationship first.
That’s why we are presenting the Lord’s Prayer – one of the great treasures of our faith – to you, the Elect, so late in the process. You’ve been in this for a year or more, or almost two for the children, and we are less than two weeks away from the Easter Vigil, that night on which you will receive the sacraments. And only now do you receive this treasure of prayer. Why? Because you had to work on the relationship first. Praying authentically isn’t something you can do right away. You have to come to know Jesus and in him, see the Father, before you can have that intimate conversation that we call prayer.
And the prayer we are giving you isn’t just any old collection of words. This is the prayer that our Lord Jesus himself gave to us. He literally says “this is how you are to pray.” And in that prayer, he covers all kinds of different prayers. “Hallowed by thy name” is a prayer of praise to God who is the source of all holiness. “Thy kingdom come” is a prayer that our world would be transformed into what God intends it to be. “Thy will be done” is a prayer that opens ourselves up to God’s will for us and allows him to enter in and do what is best. “Give us this day our daily bread” is a prayer that we would be filled up, not so much with what we want, but what we truly need, each and every day. “And forgive us our trespasses” prays that we would be forgiven for the many ways we turn away from God, both in what we do and what we fail to do, while “as we forgive those who trespass against us” prays that we would be as merciful as God has been merciful to us. “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” is a prayer that we would continue to walk in God’s ways, and not give ourselves over to the evil one.
It’s a wonderful, complete prayer, and a prayer that very significantly begins with a statement of relationship: “Our Father…” We pray not to a distant God who created us and then backs off to watch us get messed up in our own foolishness, but instead to God our Father. That’s the kind of relationship God wants us to have with him: one that depends on him as a child depends on a parent, a relationship that sustains us and advocates for us in our need, but also corrects us in our wandering, and shields us from what is truly evil. It’s a relationship that we can’t live without, a relationship that is there on our best days and also when we’re at the end of our rope. It’s a relationship that the Church wants for all of you, so that you’ll never have to decide how to use that dusty old Bible you’ve left up there on the shelf.
Remember: this is how you are to pray: Our Father, who art in heaven…