The first point is that we approach God as a community. Even when we pray this prayer on our own, we recognise that we are not truly alone. We pray in communion with all other believers, including the saints and angels that watch over us and pray with us. We pray always with our Elder Brother, who taught us to say ‘our’.
“The word ‘our’ is really rather demanding. It requires that we step out of the closed circle of our ‘I’. It requires that we surrender ourselves to communion with the other children of God. It requires, then, that we strip ourselves of what is merely our own, of what divides. It requires that we accept the other, the others – that we open our ear and our heart to them. When we say the word ‘our’, we say ‘yes’ to the living Church in which the Lord wanted to gather his new family. In this sense, the Our Father is at once a fully personal and thoroughly ecclesial prayer. (Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI)
The Catechism says:
The baptized cannot pray to “our” Father without bringing before him all those for whom he gave his beloved Son. God’s love has no bounds, neither should our prayer. Praying “our” Father opens to us the dimensions of his love revealed in Christ: praying with and for all who do not yet know him, so that Christ may “gather into one the children of God.” God’s care for all men and for the whole of creation has inspired all the great practitioners of prayer; it should extend our prayer to the full breadth of love whenever we dare to say “our” Father.
The second word brings us into a new relationship with God. We address God not as Lord, not as King of the Universe, awesome creator, Almighty – though, to be sure, he is all those – but as ‘Father’. We claim, on the authority of Jesus who is the trueborn Son, the relationship of beloved children, sons and daughters. The Catechism says:
Humility makes us recognize that “no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him,” that is, “to little children.” The purification of our hearts has to do with paternal or maternal images, stemming from our personal and cultural history, and influencing our relationship with God. God our Father transcends the categories of the created world. To impose our own ideas in this area “upon Him” would be to fabricate idols to adore or pull down. To pray to the Father is to enter into His mystery as He is and as the Son has revealed Him to us.
The expression God the Father had never been revealed to anyone. When Moses himself asked God who He was, he heard another name. The Father’s name has been revealed to us in the Son, for the name “Son” implies the new name “Father.”
We can invoke God as “Father” because He is revealed to us by His Son become man and because His Spirit makes Him known to us. The personal relation of the Son to the Father is something that man cannot conceive of nor the angelic powers even dimly see: and yet, the Spirit of the Son grants a participation in that very relation to us who believe that Jesus is the Christ and that we are born of God.
St Thomas Aquinas says that, because God is our father, we owe Him four things: honour, imitation, obedience, and patience under chastisement.
We are children of God because He created us, but above all because – through Christ – He adopted us.
This is the second post in a series on the Lord’s prayer, drawing from the meditations on this prayer in Pope Benedict’s book Jesus of Nazareth. The first post was As Jesus taught us, so we pray.
We are not ready-made children of God from the start, but we are meant to become so increasingly by growing more and more deeply in communion with Jesus. Our sonship turns out to be identical with following Chirst. To name God as Father thus becomes a summons to us: to live as a ‘child’, as a son or daughter. ‘All that is mine is thine,’ Jesus says in his high-priestly prayer to the Father (Jn 17:10), and the father says the same thing to the elder brother of the prodigal son (Lk 15:31). The word father is an invitation to live from our awareness of this reality. Hence, too, the delusion of false emancipation, which marked the beginning of mankind’s history, is overcome. Adam, heeding the words of the serpent, wants to become God himself and to shed his need for God. We see that to be God’s child is not a matter of dependency, but rather of standing in the relation of love that sustains man’s existence and gives it grandeur. (Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI)