The Our Father

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Pray then like this: 
Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our trespasses As we forgive those who trespass against us; And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
–Matthew 6:5-15

What a powerful text. A prayer that was taught to us by God Himself and has been prayed by Christians ever since. It has been passed down from father to son, and the other night I had a wonderful prayer experience with my young son.

We prayed the Our Father before bed and then he wanted to say it again. So I got him started and then repeated after him as he made similar sounds to the ones that he hears me pray with him each night before bed. I repeated after him clarifying the words that he was trying to say. It was one of those moments that made me very proud to be a Catholic Daddy as well as making me think of the amount of stuff that he is taking in and to reflect on this most powerful prayer that I have been teaching him since before he was born.

It is a prayer that puts into perspective so much of what we unconsciously do wrong day after day. A prayer that sums up all of our needs and puts things back into the hands of the only one that can truly do anything about them. Let’s break this prayer down and have a good look at what each line is saying.

I know that all too often I will ramble it off and barely realize what I’m saying. Other times I’ll focus so much on what I’m saying that I’ll fall out of rhythm and have to start over again so that I can remember the order of the words. Sometimes writing out what we mean is a great way to organize our thoughts.

Our Father who art in Heaven

I can only imagine how the first century Jewish men that Jesus was talking to would have reacted when He told them to begin a prayer with the words “Our Father”. We take for granted the fact that many Christian prayers begin with these words (or similar words like “Heavenly Father”, “God our loving Father”, etc.), but there is no evidence of any Jewish prayers being so intimate with the Creator of the entire universe! It’s amazing that the Gospel writers held on to a single word of this prayer after they would have been floored by this start.

He goes on to remind us that this Father of ours is in Heaven, which seems like a pretty straightforward point. But what does it mean for us to know that we have a Father that is in Heaven? Having always lived in the same city as my earthly father, I’ve never had the option to really travel home to spend the weekend or a holiday with my family. Though I may go to their place, I don’t really think of it as a homecoming. But for those of you that live in a different city, state/province, or even country would know the feeling that home is where your parents are. For us, this means that home is Heaven. If our Father is in Heaven, then our Father is waiting for us to come home and stay with Him in Heaven.

Hallowed be thy name

We come to our first of the seven petitions of this great prayer. As we will see, the first three petitions that we pray are pointing us toward God and reminding us that His will is the most important thing that we need to keep in mind, where it’s not until the last 4 petitions that we list our needs.

Hallowed is not a word that is used very often these days other than when we’re praying this prayer or maybe around the end of October, so it’s one of those words that may need defining. Hallowed simply means to make holy, which begs the question: how can I make God’s name any more holy than it already is? The truth is, we cannot. But we can remind ourselves that our Heavenly Father is perfect in holiness, and that we are to strive to emulate the Father’s holiness. We know that we will fall short, but we must strive nevertheless.

Thy kingdom come

The second petition to our Heavenly Father is that we will have the strength and the courage to bring forth the Heavenly Kingdom on Earth in our daily lives. We are not asking God to come down and start building a physical kingdom, but rather we are reminding ourselves that every single time that we choose to do what is right instead of what is wrong we are doing the will of God and we are making His Kingdom visible for others.

Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven

In our third and final God oriented petition we are again pleading with God to give us the strength and courage that we need to do His will. God has given us all free will, and in that free will we have the choice to go against His will. In asking that His will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven we are reminding ourselves of how much better life is, how much happier we are, and how much happier God is when we decide to do His will.

Give us this day our daily bread

If God is our Father, then we have every right to not only expect but demand that he provide for us. Just as the father in the house is generally the primary breadwinner for the family, we should expect nothing less from our Heavenly Father and in the fourth petition – the first addressing our basic needs – that is exactly what we do. As he says a few lines later in Matthew 6:26 “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Here is one reminder that our Father in Heaven will always provide for us.

However, our daily bread has also since become another term for the Holy Eucharist. Almost anywhere you go you will be able to find daily Mass where God provides for us the bread of life on a daily basis. We may argue that the Mass times aren’t convenient for us, or that we just don’t have time to go to Mass every day, but if we take a close look at our priorities, we will likely be able to find time at least a couple of times per week where we can make a little more time for God. It may not be easy to get into the routine, but the affect that it will have on your life will be monumental.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us

Oh, how easy it would be to reword this petition. We could make it a little easier on ourselves and say “forgive us our trespasses while we try to forgive those who trespass against us”. We could cut off that last part completely and just leave it at “forgive us our trespasses.” But we are asking God to forgive us our sins in the same way that we forgive those who sin against us. We are setting the standard for God’s forgiveness with this statement and we see this in the final verse of the text above. If we are seeking revenge when someone wrongs us, the when we say this prayer we are telling God to seek revenge on us when we sin against Him. If we hold a grudge when someone sins against us, then we are telling God to hold a grudge against us when we wrong Him. But if someone repents and we forgive them, then we are asking God to forgive us when we repent. If we are forgiving others before they even have an opportunity to repent, then we are asking God to do the same for us. We are asking God to treat us the way that we are treating others. This could be a damning or liberating line for us depending on how we live our lives.

Lead us not into temptation

This is a petition that is often misinterpreted. God is not capable of tempting us to do what is wrong. God is completely good, but he gives us the freedom of choice. I have always thought of this petition as a request to turn up the volume on my conscience. When I’m about to make a bad decision without really thinking it through, I want God to yell at me from within to think about the consequences, think about the harm it will cause, just to take some time to think! All it ever takes is a few seconds of thinking and we will know what is right and what is wrong. Choosing to do what is right is not always as easy as establishing the fact that it is indeed right.

Deliver us from evil

This final petition goes hand in hand with the previous. This is for the times when we make the wrong decision. We’re in a bad situation. We want to get out. We are praying for the strength to admit our faults. To accept the consequences. To get ourselves back on track. Again, God is not asking us if we’d like to take the evil path or the good path with this being our answer, but we do face temptations in our lives. When we end up in these evil situations, God will deliver us if we have a contrite heart and seek Him.

——

This is definitely a prayer worth reflecting on regularly when we pray it as it can become very routine if we pray it as regularly as we should.

Know that this is just a personal reflection on this prayer and that there is a lot more out there about it. I hope that this reflection will get you thinking about the prayer and nudge you to think about what it is that you’re saying when you pray this prayer.

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