The Lord's Prayer…
(from a February 4, 1973 conference)

The Our Father is the perfect model of all prayer.  It is not just a set form of words for us to recite, but the model on which all prayer must be founded.  There are some strange books about prayer . . . being written these days.  One way of judging them is by seeing whether they can be reconciled with the Our Father.  If you read of some author saying our prayer should be concerned only with the needs of this world, and our meditation confined to pondering on ways of increasing social justice in the world, and that God wants us to look at this world and not at Him, then you can dismiss that teaching, since prayer begins by looking at Our Father in heaven and not at His work and wishes on earth.  If someone tells you that prayer is a purely individual affair and you should forget all other people and things in your prayer, then you can dismiss that advice, as we are meant to pray for our common daily bread; we are meant in prayer to forgive our neighbor; and we are meant in prayer to seek release and protection from all evil.  Any prayer that is not compatible with the Our Father is a false prayer.  Although we shall not find all the elements of the Our Father in all our prayer all the time, we shall find all the elements of the Our Father in our prayer in general over any reasonable period of time, if it is true prayer.

One of the first things we may notice about the prayer Our Lord gave when the disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray is that He did not say that they were to kneel down.  He did not say they were to face Jerusalem or use a prayer mat or shawl, or even go into a church.  The Our Father is not concerned with external conditions which may help or hinder our prayer, but is concerned with the actual prayer itself.  This does not mean that the external conditions are unimportant, but they are only needed as the environment that suits prayer and are not part of the prayer.  Prayer is in the heart.

It is true that in another passage of Scripture Our Lord did speak about how we should behave in private prayer in order to avoid spoiling it by having the wrong motive.  He said we should shut ourselves up alone . . . and pray to Our Father in secret.  We can do this by going to our private room, but no matter where we are there is always a secret hiding place within our hearts where we can pray in secret. . . .

When you pray, say “Our Father Who art in heaven.”  The fundamental condition for prayer is that we put ourselves in God’s presence, or rather, since He is always present, that we pay attention to that presence. . . . We need both the right intention and the right attention.  Our intention is to please God.  Our attention is the condition for seeing Him present. . . .  In prayer we turn away from ourselves and all side issues and look straight at God.  And if we have the precious grace of finding God within ourselves, we still look at Him and forget our own interior feelings.

To look straight at God calls for humility and reverence, a holy fear, a deep respect.  This is not because Our Father is touchy and easily offended but because anyone not reverent and awed is obviously not looking at God. . . .  You cannot mess about with prayer; you are at God’s level and not your own. . . .

God is not my Father only but Father of all mankind.  If without realizing it I am really using God and religion to make myself feel better than other people, then I shall see God as mine and not everyone else’s.  I shall feel pleased to be a Catholic or Christian or Friend of the Cross because it makes me feel different from other people, better than they, separate from them.  Such an attitude is not one in which we can pray to God.  We would be saying “Thank God I am not like other men.”  No, we go to God for His sake and for the sake of all men including ourselves.  We are immensely grateful for the gifts He has given us, but not because others have not got them.  We long for everyone to have them too.

When I face God as Our Father I am making the least of my neighbors equal to myself and have no pride over others, no sense of exclusiveness.  You cannot pray, related to God as Our Father, if you consider yourself unrelated to any other person on earth.  If I really look straight at God with reverence and love and awe, and say Our Father, and my heart is open to Him, I am pleading God’s Fatherhood for each person as well as myself.  In some way my prayer is always a prayer for the whole of mankind.  I do not mean I shall be thinking of them explicitly when I pray, but that it is as one of them and as linked with them that I come.

I do not expect many of us could claim that we even begin the Our Father or any prayer by looking at Our Father and seeing adequately what the title really means.  Just think how often most of us pray with hardly a glance at Him.  And when we do remember to put ourselves in His presence, we hardly treat Him as a Father. . . . If we know God as Father, how is it that we pray so little and so infrequently, most of us?  Why don’t we love prayer?  “Lord, teach us to pray.”  When the disciples said that, they had just been watching Our Lord praying.  I suppose His whole bearing when at prayer made a tremendous impression on them.  We can only learn to call God Father properly if we learn to be His sons and daughters properly.  And we can only learn how to be sons and daughters of God by watching the only-begotten Son of God. . . . We shall never say Our Father as we should until we are closely untied with Our Lord, until His human attitudes and understanding and intentions are in us.  We must be modeled on Him at prayer, or even more, we must be so like Him that He prays in us and through us.  So we cannot say the Our Father or any other prayer of which it is the exemplar unless we meditate upon the life and death and resurrection of Our Lord, and all we can find out about Him.

A life of prayer is a life of union with God the Father in Jesus Christ by the influence and power of the Holy Spirit.  This Holy Spirit makes us adopted sons and daughters of God . . . and this Spirit of Christ forces us to cry out “Abba, Father.”  If we can really deeply and with open hearts and with all our love say “Our Father,” we are one with God and man and have a full and comprehensive prayer.  In all our prayer to God, whatever form it takes—public, private, vocal, mental—we must always begin by putting ourselves in the presence of God, if we are not already conscious of that presence, making real on our side that relationship of child to Father, for on God’s side the relationship is always there and always active.

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