The Lord’s Prayer

 

“Teach us how to pray,” the disciples asked Jesus. (Luke 11, 1) His answer was the prayer we call the Our Father or The Lord’s Prayer.

Because Jesus taught it, the Lord’s Prayer is the most important of our prayers. We learn it by heart; it appears everywhere in our Christian life, in public and private prayer, in worship and sacraments. It ‘s a treasured  prayer.

Though we memorize it as a set formula, the Lord’s Prayer shouldn’t become words we say mechanically without thought. It’s meant to lead us into the presence of God, who is the Father of Jesus and our Father too.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.

When Moses approached God on Mount Sinai, a voice said, “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” An infinite chasm separates us from the transcendent God.

In the Lord’s Prayer, however, Jesus tells us to come close to God who is beyond human understanding, who dwells in mystery, who is all holy. Go to God as your loving father.

To call God “Father” does not mean that God is masculine. No description of God is ever adequate, because God is beyond human categories like gender. We call him our “heavenly Father” because he is beyond male or female.

Calling God “Father” more rightly describes our own relationship to God rather than who God is. Jesus says we are God’s children; we have a filial relationship to God, who sees us as his daughters and sons. We should approach God like children going to a loving parent. Jesus himself, God’s only Son, invites us to a relate to God like this.

Thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus often said that God’s power would appear and renew all creation. Using human terms again, he spoke of God as a mighty king who rules over the world according to a plan that unfolds from the world’s beginning. When God’s kingdom comes, good will triumph and evil will be defeated. God’s kingdom will bring peace and justice, it will end sorrow and suffering. No eye can see it now or imagine what it will be like, but it will be a glorious kingdom. Jesus taught it’s not far off, but is already present and growing in our midst and soon to be revealed.

In the Lord’s prayer we pray that God’s kingdom come, that God’s will, which is for our good, be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

As God’s children, what’s more childlike than to ask for daily bread, a term that means more than physical food?  When we ask for our daily bread we ask for everything we need. With the confidence of children, Jesus taught,  say: “Give us today what we need.”

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

This petition of the Lord’s Prayer is a demanding one. Not only do we ask God’s forgiveness for our daily offenses, but we link God’s forgiveness of us with our forgiveness of others. That’s not easy to do. We need God’s help to do it, but we must do it to receive God’s mercy for ourselves, and so we say it everyday.

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Life’s not easy, it can be a daily battle. Trials like sickness, old age, failure, or disappointment can crush our spirits. False values and promises can fool and entice us. The times in which we live can seem hopeless. And so we ask God to help us not to fail these tests, but to lead us on the right path and deliver us from evil,  to help us go on as his children.

The Lord’s Prayer sums up the teaching of Jesus. It was his prayer before it was ours. He approached God his Father with childlike confidence, he looked for God’s guidance and relied on him to face whatever life held, even death. “Your will be done,” he said as he faced his own death. He forgave his enemies.

The Lord’s Prayer is the norm for every other prayer we say, whether we use words of our own or forms we find that lift up our hearts to God. An early saint once said: “God wants us to pray in our own voice.”  Like children in a family, we each have our own voice, yet a mother or father recognizes the voice of each one.  In one sense, The Lord’s Prayer is a common language we speak. Whatever prayers we say will be heard if they share its language.

The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer of Jesus and our prayer. It leads us to our Father in heaven; it also leads us become like his only Son, who taught us this prayer while on earth.

 

 

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Why Look Down on Yourself?

Today’s the feast of St. Peter Chrysologus, a bishop of Ravenna in Italy, who died around 450 AD. The prayer for his feast describes him as “an outstanding preacher of your Incarnate Word.”  You can see why in this excerpt from one of his sermons:

“Why do you look down on yourself who are so precious to God? Why think so little of yourself when you are so honored by him? Why do you ask how you were created, and don’t want to know why you were made?

“This entire visible universe is yours to dwell in.  It was for you that the light dispelled the overshadowing gloom; for you the night was regulated and the day was measured: for you the heavens were brightened with the brilliance of the sun, the moon and the stars. The earth was adorned with flowers, trees and fruit; lovely living things were created in the air, the fields, and the seas for you, lest you lose the joy of God’s creation in sad loneliness.

“And the Creator is still devising things that can add to your glory. He has made you in his image that you might make the invisible Creator present on earth; he has made you his legate, so that the vast empire of the world might have the Lord’s representative.

“Then in his mercy God assumed what he made in you; he wanted now to be truly manifest in men and women, to be revealed in them as in an image. Now he would be in reality what he was in symbol.”

 

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The Gift of Prayer

 

Do you pray? Often or just occasionally? Is prayer important to you?

These are essential questions for our life of faith. Like breath in the human body, prayer makes our spirits live. Without it, they die. Prayer helps us live and grow spiritually.

Why pray?

     Prayer is God’s Gift

Prayer is a gift of God. “Gift” is a good word to describe prayer, because praying is not something we can do ourselves. ” We do not know how to pray as we ought,” scripture says. (Romans 8,26) God gives this gift to us.

Why? Because God loves us and wants to draw near to us as a friend. How strange that sounds! God all-sufficient, all-powerful, all-knowing, wants to draw close to be our friend. God calls us his friends and looks for our company and hears our prayer. What seems unbelievable is true.

At the same time, prayer fulfills a desire we have as human beings to know God. We’re made in God’s image, and something in our being thirsts for the One who made us. It’s a thirst described in the psalms:

“O God, you are my God, for you I long. For you my soul is thirsting. Like a dry weary land without water… so my soul longs for you, my God.”

We can’t be satisfied unless we are draw near to God. “Our hearts are restless,” St. Augustine says, “until they rest in you.” When we pray, we rest in God.

God gives that gift generously, without considering our worthiness or unworthiness. Sinners as well as saints can pray. People of every religious tradition, or no religious tradition at all, receive the gift. It’s given to every human being. We’re all called to pray.

(cf. The Catholic Catechism: The Universal Call to Prayer. 2566-2567)

All are called to pray

“All” are called to pray. Surprisingly, some who think they are unworthy or ungifted may pray best and be graciously heard. That’s what Jesus taught in his parable about the Pharisee and the Publican who together went up to the temple to pray. The Publican, an outsider who thought himself unworthy of approaching God in prayer, was found more pleasing by God than the Pharisee, a professionally religious person, who seemed to pray so effortlessly. (Luke 18,9-14)

Prayer is God’s gift to the strong and the weak, to the smallest child and frailest of the old. It’s given to those who say, ” I’m not really religious; prayer is beyond me.” It’s given to you, no matter who you are.

That’s not to say we can’t refuse to pray or neglect it. Like any gift, prayer has to be received and, as we know, we can throw gifts away. “If you knew the gift of God,” Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well. A Gift was there before her eyes. At first she was blind to it, then she enthusiastically received it.

Don’t go through life leaving the gift of prayer unused. Thankfully, it’s always there to be taken up!

In the prayers of the church, you often find an acknowledgment that prayer is God’s gift and a request that God give and strengthen that gift in us. At the beginning of her daily prayers, the liturgy of the hours, the church prays two verses of the psalms.

O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

O God, come to my assistance.
O Lord, make haste to help me.

Simple, truthful words. I cannot open my lips in prayer unless God give me the gift. O God, come and assist me; help me approach you.

God graciously gives us this beautiful gift, hastening to help us open our lips and our hearts. Delighting to give us the gift of prayer, God welcomes us into his presence to share his life with ours, his love with our love.

Prayer’s God’s precious gift; cherish it always.

 

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Martha, Martha

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St. Luke’s account of Jesus’ visit to Bethany is found in his description of Jesus’ journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. You realize right away that Luke’s not using Google Maps. (Luke 10,38-42) He’s not giving us a geographical itinerary but describing how various people responded to Jesus as he met them on his way.

Some reject him outright, like the scribe who in the previous story to this one is out “to test him.” When Jesus visits Martha and Mary, he comes to them as a prophet speaking his word. Martha, busy about many things does not hear him, and Jesus rebukes her. Mary listens to his word and is praised. The “cares of this life,” which Jesus warns about, make Martha deaf to the prophet’s word.

That’s what Luke wants us to notice in his  gospel, but there’s more to Martha than what Luke says of her.

Other sources tell us about these good women.  John’s gospel and also Christian tradition say that, besides knowing him as a prophet, these women and Lazarus their brother were his long time friends.

When I read the story of Martha and Mary in Luke, I keep two other sources in mind. One of them is a painting (above) by the 13th century Tuscan artist, Giovanni di Milano, illustrating the gospel story of Jesus with Martha and Mary at Bethany.

The artist imagines a supper at Bethany. The table’s set for four people, that would be for Jesus, Lazarus, Mary and Martha. But, others are coming in the door. Obviously, they’re Jesus’ disciples, led by Peter. One them is gesturing towards Peter, as if saying, “He told us to come.”

Poor Martha in her apron holds up her hands in frustration, “What are we going to do?”
There will be no miracle, except the miracle of Martha’s hospitality. Surely, more than four are going to be fed.

We need the kind of reading of the gospel the artist provides.

The other source I like is St. Augustine who obviously has a soft spot for Martha and the work she does. Both Martha and Mary had the same holy desire, Augustine says: “ They stayed close to our Lord and both served him harmoniously when he was among them.”

Martha served him as the “Word made flesh,” who was hungry and thirsty, tired and in need of human care and support. She longs to share what Mary enjoys, his presence, his wisdom and his gifts. And she will find her desires fulfilled.

“You, Martha, if I may say so, will find your service blessed and your work rewarded with peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland you will find no traveller to welcome, no one hungry to feed or thirsty to give drink, no one to visit or quarrelling to reconcile, no one dead to bury.”

“No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose. There we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed. What Mary chose in this life will be realized there in full. She was gathering only fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. Do you wish to know what we will have there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants, Amen, I say to you, he will make them recline and passing he will serve them.”

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The Sign of the Cross

The parable of the mustard seed tells us to watch for small things. Small gestures, small acts of kindness, small prayers. Life comes from small things.

I was thinking of the Sign of the Cross, a small prayer.

We pray as Jesus did. How did he pray? He prayed from the heart, yet Jesus used words and signs– sometimes even cries– to pray. Like him, we also use words and signs in prayer.

One prayer we pray frequently is the Sign of the Cross.

The Sign of the Cross goes back to the earliest days of Christianity. It’s made on us at baptism, when we become members of the church and it’s the last sign made over us as we pass to our future life. The Sign of the Cross is used in liturgical prayer and celebrating the sacraments. We begin and end our prayers with it.

When we “bless ourselves” we trace with our hand the figure of the cross on our forehead, our heart, our shoulders, and say:

In the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 
Amen.

The Sign of the Cross is a prayer of blessing because it symbolizes God embracing us and blessing us. For the Jews God is always One who blesses.  God blessed Noah and saved the world from the flood. God blessed Abraham and Sara with blessings more than the stars in the sky. God blessed the Jewish people, redeeming them from the slavery of Egypt. Life itself and all creation are blessings from God. And God’s blessings, beyond measure, continue, always and everywhere.

Since God blesses us continuously, we bless God in return. “I will bless the Lord at all times,” the psalmist says.

As Christians we bless God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  As Father, God offers us the blessings of creation and also gives us his Son. “Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing.” ( Ephesians1,3 )  Jesus Christ is our God, our Friend, our Brother, our Savior. With the Father he sends the Holy Spirit  “to complete his work on earth and bring us the fullness of grace.”

When we bless ourselves, we remember God “from whom all blessings flow,” Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Blessed by the Cross

As Christians we believe the Cross of Jesus Christ is the greatest blessing given to us. Why is it our greatest blessing? Because God expresses his love for us above all in Jesus Christ who died on the Cross for us and rose again.  The Sign of the Cross is a reminder that Jesus’ love never ends. His blessings are ours forever.

We express our daily relationship to God in this simple prayer. We have God’s blessings each day, in good times and bad, in danger and sorrow.  God’s blessings and love are always there. Before we take one step, we receive blessings from his hands.

 

 

 

 

 

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Finding Treasure (17th Sunday A)

You can find an audio of the homily here:

There are treasures in life, but you don’t get ahold of them easily. You need to discover them and then give all you have to get  them. That’s what Jesus teaches in the parables we’re reading today.

The treasures are hidden in the ground and in the deep waters of the sea, so you can’t expect to see them right away. You have to dig for them and cast your net out for them.

The times you live in may not make finding treasure easy either. The times in which Jesus lived were hardly ideal, as we see in Chapters 10 and 11 from the Gospel of Matthew, which immediately precede the parables. 

 Yet, instead of closing your eyes and ears and hanging on tight, Jesus tells his disciples to open their eyes and their ears, because treasures are there. “Blessed are your eyes, because they see and your ears because they hear. Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it and hear what you hear and did not hear it.”  (Matthew 13,16-17)

Bad times can be the best times to find treasure. Some of the best things we discover in life, some of the best things we have, some of our most creative moments come in bad times.

God doesn’t stop sowing seed in bad times. Even then, treasures, pearls of great price are there to be discovered. That’s the message found in the parables.. It’s the message found in the mystery of his Cross..

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The Story of Ann and Joachim

Joachim among the Shepherds

Ann and Joachim were the parents of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and they lived in Jerusalem, tradition says, where Joachim, a descendant of David, had a role in the life of the temple. A wealthy man, he provided sheep and other offerings for the temple sacrifices.

Tradition says too that the couple had ties to Bethlehem and Nazareth.

They prospered in Jerusalem, but for twenty years one great trial clouded their marriage: they had no child. Even after they vowed to dedicate their child to God, no child came.

At a time when children were thought treasures, they were thought poor. As descendants of David, they were blamed for not continuing the line from which the Messiah would come.

Stung by the criticism, Joachim began to retreat to the mountains to brood among the shepherds and the sheep. As her husband distanced himself from her, Ann too felt the sadness of their childlessness.

God seemed far away.

In the garden one day, Ann noticed some sparrows building a nest in a laurel tree and she burst into tears: “Why was I born, Lord?” she said, “The birds build nests for their young and I have no child of my own. The creatures of the earth, the fish of the sea are fruitful, but I have nothing. The land produces fruit, but I have no child to hold in my arms.”

At that moment, an angel of the Lord came and said, “”Ann, the Lord has heard your prayer. You shall conceive a child the whole world will praise. Go to the Golden Gate in Jerusalem and meet your husband there.”

In the mountains, an angel in dazzling light also spoke to Joachim, “Don’t be afraid. I have come to tell you the Lord has heard your prayers. God knows your goodness and your sorrow and will give your wife a child as he did Sara, Abraham’s wife, and Anna, the mother of Samuel.

” Ann will bear you a daughter and you’ll call her Mary. Dedicate her to God, for she will be filled with the Holy Spirit from her mother’s womb. I give you a sign: Go back to Jerusalem. You’ll meet your wife at the Golden Gate, where your sorrow will be turned into joy.”

Joachim and Ann met at the Golden Gate to the temple, the place of God’s presence. They embraced as they spoke of the angel’s promise. Returning home, Ann conceived and bore a daughter, and they called her “Mary.”

From the time she was three years old, Ann brought Mary to the temple where she learned to read the scriptures, to pray and to take part in the Jewish feasts as they were celebrated through the year. She watched as her father brought lambs to be offered in sacrifice. She grew in wisdom and grace in the presence of God.

When Mary approached the customary marriage age–15 or so–her parent began to arrange for her marriage according to the custom of the time. They sought advice from the high priest in the temple, tradition says, and Joseph of Nazareth was chosen to be her husband. By then, Ann and Joachim made Nazareth their home.

It was during this time that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she was to be the Mother of Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit she conceived the Child.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth where Jesus would grow up. They raised him in a large extended family that included his grandparents, Ann and Joachim, who certainly cared for the Child.

No one knows just when Ann and Joachim died, – or where. But we must believe Jesus treasured them as they passed on to God.

This retelling of the story of Ann and Joachim is based on the 2nd century Protoevangelium of James–an apostle related to Jesus, incidentally. The illustrations of Giotto are found in the Arena in Florence, Italy. Giotto’s 14th century illustrations  helped popularize the story of Ann and Joachim in Italy and Europe.

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