Our Father

Jesus hugging someone, Holy Spirit in backgroundThe prayer begins with two words – but what a wealth of meaning our teachers have found in those two words: Our Father.

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.

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)

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.

About joyfulpapist

JoyfulPapist is an adult convert to Catholicism, with a passion for her God, her faith, and her church.
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23 Responses to Our Father

  1. Gertrude says:

    “we pray always with our Elder Brother”. I’m a wee bit confused about this Joyful – do you mean Our Blessed Lord? It’s just I have never heard Him referred to as ‘our Elder Brother’!

  2. joyfulpapist says:

    Oops, Gertrude, are my Protestant roots showing?

    Yet it is a venerable usage. Romans 8:29 speaks of Jesus being the firstborn among many brothers. And the Morning Prayer hymn of the Church in the Liturgy of the Hours says: “Christ is the world’s light, he and none other. Born in our darkness, he became our brother.”

  3. Gertrude says:

    Right – I have just never heard that usage before and was not familiar with it from the Divine Office. It just sounded a bit NuChurch to me – I must be getting old. Thank you for your explanation.

  4. Brother Burrito says:

    JP and Gertrude,

    I see both sides of this, thus:

    As True God, Jesus is Our Lord and King, and as True Man, He is our Brother and Friend.

    He told us to pray to ‘Our’ Father (including Himself), not ‘The’ Father.

    (Allah, and other gods could at best be addressed as ‘the’ father).

    A Christian should feel like a commoner invited to marry into the Royal Family of the Holy Trinity.

    Please put me right if I’ve said anything out of order.

  5. joyfulpapist says:

    Gertrude and Burrito:

    “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me” (Hebrews 2:11-13)

  6. toadspittle says:

    .
    Love the illustration. Gay Pride Week on CP&S, is it?

    Somehow Jesus, if that is, indeed one of the gentleman pictured, always looks in modern depictions – like a hippy from Surbiton.

    Maybe he actually did. Who knows?

  7. Gertrude says:

    Precisely Toad. Whilst I certainly agree, in Christ we are all brothers (and sisters) I still feel that we have lost some of the awe appropriate to the Son of God Incarnate. At that moment during Holy Mass when we kneel (or bow) at ‘Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sanct ex Maria Virgine; et homo factus est” we are acknowledging the Kingship of Christ and the Incarnation that ‘took away the sins of the world’.Since this post is about prayer, each will approach the Throne of the Most High in a manner one feels appropriate, and that’s fine – but please, let’s not lose our sense of awe at the sacrifice of the Son of God, made man in the Incarnation and in our familiarity lose our sense of wonder and gratitude for such a sacrifice – that very few (if any)earthly ‘brothers’ might hesitate to undertake.

  8. joyfulpapist says:

    Awe, wonder, gratitude. Exactly.

    Thank you for these reminders, Gertrude.

    I chose the image because it reminded me of the story of the Good Father, who, seeing his son from afar, ran out and embraced the boy, and sent his servants to prepare a feast.

    We may be the prodigal son who has wasted his inheritance, or the elder brother who has obeyed but resented, but in this prayer that Jesus our Lord gave us, we are reminded of the welcome that awaits us when we turn our face home.

    Burrito, to take another analogy from a parable, I feel like a beggar collected from the street and given a wedding garment to wear. I sit at the feast wondering if the servants will throw me out on my ear. Yet the Son of the King calls me sister and bids me call His Father, Father.

    Awe. Wonder. Gratitude.

  9. kathleen says:

    I remember reading once that St Therese of Lisieux, when proposing to meditate on the “Our Father” prayer, came out of chapel a long time later saying she had got no further than the first two words! She found such wonder, such a vast amount to meditate on in the awesome reality that God is our Father, there was no time left to go further into this beautiful prayer.

    Yes, it is the only set prayer taught to us by Jesus Himself. It is a shame therefore that it is so often recited without due reflection on the many wonderful truths it contains.

  10. kathleen says:

    P.S. Like Gertrude, I had never heard Our Blessed Lord referred to as our “Elder Brother” before. But Joyful’s quotes from the New Testament and Liturgy of the Hours explain the reason. One lives and learns!

    (Edit) Now I’ve just read what you discovered Teresa – very interesting!

  11. Gertrude says:

    Kathleen; I found your comment on St. Therese very interesting. I recall doing the very same thing a long time ago during Lectio Divina. I spent almost 6 months on this prayer, and realised that one could spend almost a lifetime exploring the depth and sanctity of this wonderful prayer.

  12. Gertrude says:

    You are so right to point out Teresa that a Novus Ordo Mass, celebrated as you describe can be a fitting celebration of the Eucharist. It is sad that there are less fitting versions!!

  13. kathleen says:

    Oh Gertrude, you say you once spent almost six months meditating on the “Our Father” during Lectio Divina, and still felt that one could go on doing so for a whole lifetime…… what a truly beautiful revelation!

  14. kathleen says:

    Teresa, how lucky you are to be able to attend a Tridentine Mass twice a week! And yes, Novus Ordo Masses vary considerably in reverence and in their abidance to authentic liturgical norms.

    As we are on the topic of the “Our Father”, has anyone else found themselves at a Novus Ordo Mass where the congregation is encouraged to hold hands ( 😯 horrors!) when the Our Father is prayed? It’s happened to me, much to my dismay. I see it as one of the many facets of this focus on the community during Holy Mass, sadly so common all too often these days. Instead our whole being should be solely directed towards the altar – and the Holy Sacrifice taking place thereon – and God.

  15. golden chersonnese says:

    Gertrude, I would have thought that Jesus being our brother also is quite biblical.

    What springs readily to mind is St Matthew’s Gospel 25:34-40 :

    34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

    37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

    40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

    Couldn’t be much more straightforward than that. Quite striking, actually.

  16. Gertrude says:

    Thank you GC. I was not contesting the biblical origins – brother and sister were used extensively throughout the New Testament; I just had not recognised that Our Blessed Lord had been referred to as our ‘Elder Brother’. My question was not intended to become quite as polemical as would appear, and for that I say mea culpa.

  17. golden chersonnese says:

    I see the Vulgate says it also (now why wouldn’t it?):

    Matthew 25:40 – Et respondens Rex dicet illis: “Amen dico vobis: Quamdiu fecistis uni de his fratribus meis minimis, mihi fecistis”.

    And the Greek:

    Matthew 25:40 – και αποκριθεις ο βασιλευς ερει αυτοις αμην λεγω υμιν εφ οσον εποιησατε ενι τουτων των αδελφων μου των ελαχιστων εμοι εποιησατε.

  18. Gertrude says:

    You are very learned GC. Thank you for the references.

  19. golden chersonnese says:

    I suppose, Gertrude, that Christ as our brother is being stressed in modern-day Catholic spirituality, as Teresa has also pointed out, perhaps with a de-emphasis being foisted on Christ as our heavenly King and such. I know that the three-minute daily retreat on the Jesuit website stresses “Jesus our Brother”. Have you seen it?

    http://www.loyolapress.com/assets/Bookcovers/25572_jesus-forgives-us.swf

    I find the passage in Matthew 25 stresses both. Verse 31-33 read:

    31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

    Jesus is both the King of Glory and our brother.

  20. Gertrude says:

    The link to Loyola was – er interesting, and (to quote a fish) ‘a tad Jesuitical’! But… I am not disputing biblical text (how could I), just usage, and as you say, this is very much spirituality ‘of the day’. As you probably will have gathered I am not ‘in touch’ with this spirituality but maybe, just maybe, I might learn, 😉

  21. golden chersonnese says:

    Gertrude, have you ever heard the ‘Prayer of St Richard of Chichester’ being sung in last few decades?

    It goes like this:

    O holy Jesus,
    most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
    may I know thee more clearly,
    love thee more dearly,
    and follow thee more nearly.
    Amen.

    I found it astonishing that the a medieval English saint (1197-1253) would call Jesus ‘friend and brother’.

    I went and checked one day if he really did say it but was unable to confirm it.

    Do you know anything about it, Gertrude? Ever handled a manuscript of it?

  22. golden chersonnese says:

    Oops! I’d edit that^, if I could.

  23. Gary says:

    We were taught the Lord’s prayer by Jesus the son of God and our Brother in the family of God. That is why we refer to God in Heaven as Our Father.
    Romans 8:29 describes Jesus as the “firstborn among many brothers,”

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