Every religious tradition recognizes the importance of prayer, a time spent in the presence of the divine. Most people see themselves as poor prayers. They try to be still and bring their thanks and their troubles to God. Immediately they are bombarded with what we call ‘distractions’. They think of all the things they should be doing, the idea being that their time could be better well spent getting things done. Thoughts of their unworthiness trouble them, why would God be interested in me or care for me after all the things I’ve done? Memories of recent of past conflicts with family members or co workers come to mind and the feelings of anger and resentment resulting from such conflicts still bother them. The list could go on and on.
You’ll notice that in the gospel the disciples asked Jesus, ‘teach us to pray as John taught his disciples’. And so Jesus does; he teaches them and us that prayer is entering into a relationship, we speak to our father, not as someone distant and impersonal, but someone very close to us. Our first words to our father are words of praise, ‘hallowed be thy name’ we are in wonder and awe in the presence of God. Next we open our lives to the will of God as we ask, ‘thy kingdom come’. Thy kingdom come to that part of my life which has yet to be redeemed, that part of my life that resists your will, your love, your forgiveness. Thy kingdom come to that part of my life that resists keeping your new commandment, ‘love one another as I have loved you.’
We recognize our dependence on God as we ask for our daily bread, found in the graces of God that will see us through the day. We ask for bread, that grace of God that strengthens us to be faithful to who we are and what we are to do each day. We ask for the bread of God’s graciousness so that we can be gracious to all those who come into our lives in the course of the day. Especially we ask for the bread of willingness to forgive those who have hurt, harmed, disappointed or failed us in any way just as our Father has willingly and graciously forgiven us. Finally we ask to be protected from all those things that could lure us away from the life and love of our Father.
We’ve taken the lesson Jesus taught his disciples and made it into a prayer itself, our prayer the Our Father. It would be good for us if we said this prayer thoughtfully, knowing that it is more than a prayer, it is a lesson on how we should come to God in prayer.
Too often we associate prayer with asking, even bargaining with God, it’s a bit like the ‘gimmes’, give me peace and quiet, give me patience, give me a job, give me health. We can have the attitude that if we say certain devotional prayers, if we say so many rosaries, if we say certain chaplets, if we keep the first Fridays or first Saturdays, if we pass this powerful prayer on to others, God will certainly hear us and give us what we want. This is called devotional prayer and it sustains many people in their lives. But it is good to remember the warning of Jesus that we not multiply our prayers thinking that by using many words we will be heard. Jesus assures us that our heavenly father knows our needs even before we ask.
Ideally our first prayer should be about praise and thanksgiving. Conscious of how blessed we are we thank God for the gifts with which we have been blessed.
The most perfect of all prayer is what we are doing right now – this prayer of thanksgiving – this Eucharist. In thanksgiving we offer the same sacrifice, the same gift Jesus offered his father, his very life for the reconciliation of the world. We offer this gift in thanksgiving. To be what it is meant to be there should be full and active participation. We all should be involved in the prayers and the songs.
The first reading and the gospel are about perseverance is our prayer. We can remember times when we knocked ’til our knuckles were raw and nothing seemed to happen. But the closing words of the gospel call us to keep things in perspective.” If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.’
You know how you love and care for your own children, you want nothing but the best for them. How much more will our heavenly Father care for us and our needs as he draws us deeper and deeper into his life and love. This is the truth we have to trust as we say,’ they kingdom come, thy will be done.’
As we continue to celebrate this greatest of all prayers, this Eucharist, we pray for ourselves and for each other that we never cease to say, ’Lord, teach us to pray.’