The Our Father: Privilege and Responsibility

Homily for the Presentation of the Lord’s Prayer. Gospel: Mt. 6:9-13.

When I’m having a hard time coming up with a homily, I sometimes share that fact with my parents. And their reactions are usually a bit different. My mom will encourage me to trust that God will provide, as He has in the past, and she’ll promise to pray for me. My dad will promise to pray for me as well, but he’ll also offer to write the homily for me. Of course, his offer is very much tongue-in-cheek, and I’ve always turned him down, but last night I was tempted to reconsider. The Lord’s Prayer: The Our Father: What in the world do I say about that?

For most of us, myself included, the Our Father has become so common and routine that we hardly think about it when we’re praying. “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by 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.” It’s no wonder that children are often confused by what their parents are saying. “Daddy, I didn’t know Howard was God’s name, I thought it was Jesus!” “Daddy, why are we asking God to forgive us our mattresses?” We’ve said this prayer so many times. We could say it in our dreams. We could say it in our daydreams. But what do those words even mean? And what do they mean for us?

It’s said that St. Teresa of Avila had difficulty praying the Lord’s Prayer. Her difficulty was with the first two words: “Our Father.” She found these words so moving that she could hardly get past them. They were for her like a beautiful sunrise she never wanted to end, a beautiful place she never wanted to leave. “Our Father:” what could be more beautiful than that! In these two words is contained the entire history of salvation. They are a summary of the whole gospel. We can call God “Father” because Jesus has become our brother. He has made our humanity his own, and so made His divinity our own. Jesus has shared His own Divine Sonship with us, making us sons and daughters of God in Him. Because of what Jesus has done for us, we can now dare to say, and have the privilege of saying, “Our Father.”

“Father.” This is a relational word. The Father exists in relationship with the Son. And the Father wants to exist in relationship with us. There’s this idea out there that all God wants is for us to be nice people. That’s certainly an image many people have of God, even many Catholics. But it’s not an image of a father. No father, no good father, only wants their children to be nice people. “Oh, I don’t care if I see my children ever again. I don’t care if they ever talk to me again. I don’t care if they call or text. I don’t care if they’re ever around. As long as they are nice people, that’s all that matters to me.” No earthly father, no good earthly father, thinks this way. So why should our Heavenly Father, who is Goodness itself, think this way? Why should He only want us to be nice people?

Our Heavenly Father desperately desires to be in relationship with us. He wants to take us into His arms, to draw us to Himself “with bands of love,” as the prophet Hosea said. Because that is what we are made for. Maybe at times we wish we were made for something else, but we’re not. And it’s fruitless to wish for that. It’s like wishing up was down or right was left. We’re not made for anything less than the deepest and most intimate relationship with the Father. We’re made to share in the very same deep and intimate relationship that Jesus had and still has with His Father. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer and say “Father,” we’re invited to remember who and what we are made for.

But we don’t just say “Father” when we pray the Lord’s Prayer. We say “Our Father.” “Father” reminds us of the relationship each of us is called to have individually with the Father. “Our Father” reminds us of the relationship all of us are called to have communally with each other. We may have different earthly fathers, but we share one Heavenly Father. Saying “Father” is a privilege; saying “Our Father” is a responsibility. The Catechism says this: “if we pray the Our Father sincerely, we leave individualism behind, because the love that we receive frees us from it. The “our” at the beginning of the Lord’s prayer…excludes no one. If we are to say it truthfully, our divisions and oppositions have to be overcome” (CCC 2792). Powerful and challenging words to reflect on during these divisive times.

In just six days, our elect, Nadine, will be baptized. From that moment she will be able to say, as she’s never said before, “Our Father.” She will be able to say “Father,” because she will have become His beloved daughter. She will be able to say “Our Father,” because she will have gained billions of brothers and sisters in Christ. We presented the Lord’s Prayer to her today in anticipation of that moment when she will be able to pray it in this new way. May we too pray it in a new way this day. Amen.