Pater Noster

Pater Noster

The proof that you are sons is the fact that
God has sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son
Which cries out, “Abba” (Father)

(Gal 4:6)

I

In English translation we put ourselves first: Our Father. But It is not so. In this prayer given us by Jesus he sets our priorities in order, beginning with the very first word: Father.   Nothing, absolutely nothing, comes before the Father nor may come before the Father in our life’s orientation. Even Jesus himself, God-become-Man, our Lord and Savior, our King, our Bridegroom, our Head, will ultimately turn his Kingdom over to the Father so that he (the Father) may be all in all (1 Cor 15:24).  In the Gospel we find many passages would show us where Jesus’ own pure and unwavering point of reference is to be found: in the Father. This does not mean that God is divided; on the contrary. It is Jesus himself who teaches us this prayer. It is in him and through him that we go to the Father. He is the Way; we follow him to the end, and we do so individually, yes, but as God’s family, as members of Christ’s very Body. And therefore we pray “Pater Noster”.   Dr. Scott Hahn, renowned professor of biblical theology, is very strong in pointing out the importance of covenant in our relationship with God.   If we are alert we will see clearly how conscious Jesus is of the covenantal nature of his mission on earth. But, as Dr. Hahn explains, a covenant is more than a mere contract between two or more parties. A contract is a mere business deal, whereas a covenant creates family, and this manifests itself in the very first words of the prayer which Jesus teaches us: Our Father.  God had offered covenants to his people again and again throughout their history, but  this people had broken the covenant every time. Now Jesus is giving himself to them and to us in a new and eternal covenant in his own blood, a covenant which will never be broken. This he did in instituting the Eucharist, the bread become his very Body “given for you”, and the wine become his very “Blood of the new and eternal covenant, shed for you and for the remission of sins”.

Why does Jesus specify that our Father is in heaven? Perhaps this detail fits into the pattern of how he mercifully enters into our limited condition of time and place, simply because that is where we are. We need focal points. Possibly as Man he himself needed a focal point, for we are told by Saint John (Jn 11:41 & 17:1) that Jesus looked upward when he addressed the Father.

II

The first petition which Jesus would have us make to “our Father who art in heaven” is that his Name be sanctified. This may seem enigmatic to us, for certainly God’s name is holy: How can we possibly hallow God’s name? Here we may do well to take a look at Ezekiel’s chapter 36, especially  verses 20 and following. There we learn that the Israelites, by their sins, “profaned” God’s holy name among the Gentiles. That is, they caused their pagan neighbors to despise the God of Israel, seeing that his people’s conduct was as evil as their own.  Deuteronomy 4:5ff can cast further light here, for their we read that the Lord God through Moses tells the Israelites that if they keep the laws which he is giving them and live by his decrees, the pagans, seeing the Israelites as such wise and intelligent people, will esteem their God who has given them such excellent statutes and laws. From these citations we can understand that to hallow the Father’s name is to show the glory of his holiness by the holiness of our conduct. Therefore we ask that we ourselves and all of God’s people throughout the world made by our lives of obedience and goodness bring others to revere and desire to worship our God.

III

This first petition leads naturally into the second.  For what is the kingdom of any father? Is it not his family?  The father is King, the mother the queen of this little family. We, God’s family, desire that he be truly our King, that we be truly one as his family-kingdom, and that this family- kingdom extend to include all people of every time and place. We the Church cannot rest until the kingdom of God our Father comes about in every corner of the world. “Thy kingdom come!” is our constant daily prayer and the goal of our evangelical labors. Let it be so, Lord, let it be so!

IV

Our Father’s will is about us. That is what Saint Paul tells Timothy (1 Tim 2:4), namely, that his will is that all people be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. This is the dearest desire on our Father’s heart: that we be saved in truth, and come at last to share in the eternal joy and glory of his own life. This is another aspect of the covenantal theme. For in a covenant, the terms are: you fulfill the law as given, and I respond with these designated benefits. As we know, God has no need of us. The entire advantage of our doing his will falls to us. Of course, all analogies limp or fall short. The point of our keeping God’s commands is our ontological need to be readied for the fullness of divine life, to be strengthened to bear the weight of divine glory (II Cor 4:17). Therefore we pray that we may live on earth as the saints in heaven live;  that our time on earth may begin the transformation we need to receive our share in that incomprehensible life of God himself.

V

There is a passage in the prophesy of Isaiah (55:1-3) which situates us squarely in the meaning of the next petition. There the Lord, through the mouth of the prophet, invites us to come to him and share the joy of the banquet in which rich wine and bread are given to us without cost, and in which the renewed and everlasting covenant is assured to us. All the benefits promised to David are provided for us in this holy meal, and are ours for the asking. It is notable here that the invitation is extended to “ all you who are thirsty”  and  to “ you who have no money”.  It is important that we recognize our inner poverty and that we hunger and thirst for this Eucharistic banquet. The banquet is for those who long for it. We remember too that covenant creates and denotes family. In this happy scene we are shown our own place around the table within the family of Jesus, the Son of David and in fact the new David.

VI

It is mutual love and forgiveness which defines healthy and fulfilling family life, and this atmosphere of warm familial relationships is what God our Father wishes to see in his children. Humble acknowledgement of failures is an important part of the fabric of the communion which exists among us. As long as we live here on Earth we are bound to fail in many things. But we beg forgiveness and kindly forgive.

VI

This final twin-petition  of the Lord’s Prayer may perhaps be, from our perspective, a bit enigmatic. Does our Father lead us into temptation? According to Israel’s great heroine Judith (Jud 8:25-27 ), he does indeed put us to the test as he did the great figures of Old Testament times, not for vengeance but as admonition and chastisement. The Jewish Wisdom literature insist again and again that testings are necessary for our strengthening, our maturation and purification. Yet Jesus in the three Gospel accounts of his agony and Gethsemane warns the disciples to watch and pray lest they enter into temptation. Furthermore, Jesus himself prays that the cup pass away, while yet he yields his will to that of the Father. Temptation is a dangerous reality in our lives. Often it is brought about by our own impudence in exposing ourselves to evil occasions and by our failure to have recourse to prayer. The Psalms provide ample evidence that Israel was aware of its need for God’s help and protection: “Keep me safe, O God!”; “ Hide me in the shelter of your wings!”;  “Defend me, O God!”. Because we know our weakness, in these last lines of the great Prayer we humbly acknowledge our frailty, asking our Father that we not be led into temptation, but delivered from all evil.

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 thine is the kingdom
The power and the glory
Forever. Amen.