We’ve often referred to the importance of prayer for a good Christian. Although the time we can devote to it every day is small, even if we cannot recite the Rosary very often, finding a time of recollection just for us, to speak with God and address our thinking, isn’t that difficult. Indeed, it’s vital to find similar moments, throughout the day, to help us live serenely and with greater spiritual force through all the beautiful and bad things that happen in life.
Sometimes there are small tricks that help to remember this need. Prayer rings, for example, are a great reminder. Worn every day, as fashion accessories and as ‘talismans’, they bear the words of the most famous prayers engraved on their surface, and although wearing the prayer ring cannot replace the act of praying, it constitutes a a sort of preferential channel to God, a contact that is always open and known by him. Every time our gaze falls on the Our Father prayer ring, every time our eyes see the ancient and powerful words engraved on it, or even simply when we become conscious of its presence on our finger, it is as if the words of prayer resounded in the our mind, and everything else, stopped being important.
The prayer that perhaps features most often on prayer rings is also ancient and important, for Christians, being the one Jesus himself taught to His disciples (Matthew 6: 9-13 and Luke 11: 2-4): the “Our Father” “.
In Matthew 6: 9-13 we read: “So you pray like this: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name; thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as is 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’“.
Here it is, the prayer of all prayer, the first taught to us when we are children, when obviously we are not able to fully understand its meaning. And this prayer, more than many others, is full of meanings that transcend the words it is made of; the formulas that we are accustomed to hear repeated, too often mechanically, sometimes hastily, considered by some as spells.
The Our Father is much more than that: it is God who teaches us to turn to Him, in our heart, asking for all the things we can and must desire, in the right order. God certainly does not care whether we recite words by heart, or demonstrate to Him what a beautiful intonation we have! Words are mere words, if behind them there is no heart to give them a voice.
Matthew writes: “Instead, when you pray, go into your room and, closed the door, pray to your Father in secret; and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathens do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. So do not be like them, because your Father knows what things you need even before you ask them“(Matthew 6.6-6.8).
In this sense, the Our Father is not only a prayer, but a “guide” about how we should pray. Paradoxically, we could elaborate a personal version of ourselves, one of Our Father, to address our Heavenly Father.
The Our Father and his formula
But let’s look at the Our Father in detail, his words, his formula.
Already, the opening says everything: Father. This is how we turn to God Almighty, Creator of all things, beginning and end of existence. He is so great, He is everything, and we call him ‘Father’, with an intimacy, a confidence that would be unacceptable and inconceivable if He was not also and above all a God of Love.
The opening of the Our Father already defines the nature of our relationship with God: a son who turns to the Father, with respect and reverence, but above all with total trust and love, with the certainty of always being able to listen, forgive, welcome, a safe place to come back and find shelter.
And that isn’t all. God is not only My Father. He is the Father of all men and women, without distinction. It does not matter where one comes from, what its history is, what we have done good or bad. God exists, for him or her, and he is ready to welcome him in his embrace in every moment. For this we say Our. His love is unconditional, boundless, addressed to all His children, one by one, in equal measure and yet taking into account the nature of the individual, his history, his frailties and fears. His infinite generosity led him to give himself to men, to sacrifice himself to give us hope, salvation. This is also why He is ours, because he has made of His Body and His Blood the vehicle for an eternal bond.
After the opening, the prayer continues with other phrases that identify God, not only as a Father, but also as the Lord of everything. We called him Father, we said that he is Our, and yet we do not forget His greatness, His omnipotent, omniscient being, Lord of the Earth and of Heaven. In fact, let’s say that you are in Heaven‘, not to indicate that He is far from us, but to remember that, from where he is, He knows everything, He sees everything, He can do everything, and this does not stop being our Father.
The three statements
From this point onwards there are three statements that manifest our commitment to the part of us witness “Let your name be sanctified”, to fidelity “Come your kingdom” and love and total trust in God “Your will be done”.
Let’s say ‘Hallowed be thy name” as it should be, because every believer’s task has always been to glorify the name of God and make it known to all, even to those who don’t know him. With this formula we preserve the name of God from contempt, from the blasphemy of those who do not recognize it, we praise Him with respect and joy, hoping that it will be respected and loved by everyone.
Also ‘Thy kingdom come’ it is a wish for more to ourselves than to God. He certainly does not need our encouragement! But hoping that His kingdom will come, let us manifest on the one hand our hope that His will be done, that Jesus will return, for the salvation of men, on the other our will to do our best because every day, around us , the kingdom of God exists, alive, also thanks to our good deeds, to the good we do for our brothers. Heaven can be much closer than one might think, if we try to make it real, to build a piece of it every day.
The next formula, ‘Thy will be done in the same way it is not so much directed to God as to ourselves, because we learn every day to recognize the will of God, to accept it with humility and faith. When we say ‘your will be done’ we do nothing but recognize the superiority of God’s will, of His great, immense design, compared to our fallacious and selfish will. We will never be far-sighted enough, wise enough, to know the great divine plan, but recognizing and requesting its fulfilment we can equally be part of it.
This is also clarified by what follows, “on earth as it is in heaven”: as in heaven the angels surround the celestial throne, glorifying God at every instant, so it should also be on earth, as should all of us, however small, unworthy. It is another way of reminding us that paradise begins here on Earth, and that it is up to us to build it, with God’s benevolence.
The request of the God’s support
Three requests follow: the request of the God’s support “Give us this day our daily bread“, that of the forgiveness of sins “Forgive us our trespasses“, and finally that of salvezza “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.
‘Give us this day our daily bread‘ is a request to God to give us what we really need, what really matters. No frills, no desires useless, deceptive. We live in an age devoted to the superfluous, to the non-essential, often to the detriment of what is really necessary. For us faithful there should be nothing more necessary than the Bread, Body of Christ, symbol of the Salvation that God has prepared for us. And since we also have needs, real needs, linked to the limits of our body, of our being alive, who better than God can decide what is really useful for our livelihood? So we ask God to give us what we need, and, implied, to free ourselves from the desire for what is superfluous.
We also ask God to forgive our sins, but not just that: we also ask him to enable us to forgive those who have committed against us. We are the first proponents of our salvation: if we do not learn to forgive our enemies, how can we expect God to forgive us? Here is the formula ‘forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us’, that is, make me like Christ, who has forgiven those who were scourging him, who crucified him, and for his executioners he had only words of forgiveness and love. No prayer has value if it is not supported by good deeds, by sincere repentance, by the real will to do good.
Even the third request, ‘and do not lead us into temptation‘, refers to the need, on our part, to live with righteousness and virtue, to show strength, courage when faced with adversity, and temperance and wisdom before sin, to the temptations that the devil puts along our path. That is why we pray to God, not so much because he does not let us meet these temptations, but because he makes us strong enough to face them and overcome them.
Jesus has won his battle down here, for all of us. His is Glory, forever and ever. When we ask God ‘but deliver us from evil‘ we ask him to support us in our daily battle, because we are not yet like Jesus, we are not as strong as He, great as He is, and we alone sometimes struggle to fight against evil that manifests itself with deceits, temptations, difficulties, troubles . Once again, what we ask of God is not that He is fighting for us against evil, but that makes us strong enough to face and overcome our daily war. As children frightened by monsters in the darkness, we ask our Father for infinitely good help and protection, and so prayer closes, as it began, in the comfortable embrace of God, beneath his benign gaze.
The Our Father is a prayer, but it is also a return home, the most precious home we can ever have, the safest place we will know in all our lives and beyond.