As we finish the first line of the Lord’s Prayer, the question on my mind is why the locator? Why ‘in heaven’?
This word ‘our’ also gives us the key to understanding the words that come next: ‘Who art in Heaven.’ With these words we are not pushing God the Father away to some distant planet. Rather, we are testifying to the fact that, while we have different earthly fathers, we all come from a single Father, who is the measure and source of fatherhood. As St Paul says: ‘I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named.’ …
God’s fatherhood is more real than human fatherhood, because he is the ultimate source of our being; because he has thought and willed us from all eternity; because he gives us our true paternal home, which is eternal. And if earthly fatherhood divides, heavenly fatherhood unites. Heaven, then, means that other divine summit from which we all come and to which we are all meant to return. The fatherhood that is ‘in heaven’ points us towards the greater ‘we’ that transcends all boundaries, breaks down all walls, and creates peace.
In his meditation on the prayer, St Francis takes us in a slightly different direction, reminding us what Heaven means:
Who art in Heaven:
in the Angels and in the Saints;
enlightening them unto knowledge,
because Thou, Lord, art Light,
inflaming them unto love,
because Thou, Lord, art Love;
indwelling and filling them unto blessedness,
because Thou, Lord, art the Highest Good,
the Eternal One,
from whom is every good,
without whom nothing is good.
And the Catechism ties these two ideas together:
The symbol of the heavens refers us back to the mystery of the covenant we are living when we pray to our Father. He is in heaven, his dwelling place; the Father’s house is our homeland. Sin has exiled us from the land of the covenant, but conversion of heart enables us to return to the Father, to heaven. In Christ, then, heaven and earth are reconciled, for the Son alone “descended from heaven” and causes us to ascend there with him, by his Cross, Resurrection, and Ascension.
When the Church prays “our Father who art in heaven,” she is professing that we are the People of God, already seated “with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” and “hidden with Christ in God;” yet at the same time, “here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling.”
[Christians] are in the flesh, but do not live according to the flesh. They spend their lives on earth, but are citizens of heaven.
We are made for heaven, made for God – ‘our hearts are restless till they rest in you,’ said St Augustine, when he at least reached safe harbour after a lifetime of searching. God is our deepest desire, our everlasting ecstasy, the fulfillment of our wildest dreams, the answer to all our questions, the One for whom we were made. CS Lewis described that longing in his book, Surprised by Joy:
You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it — tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest — if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself — you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say “Here at last is the thing I was made for.” We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all…
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not mean that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.
The Church Fathers tell us that in this prayer we not only reach towards God in Heaven, but we begin to bring Heaven about.
The path that leads human nature toward heaven is none other than flight and detachment from worldly evils. And the manner of flight is, it seems to me, none other than to attain likeness with God. Likeness with God is to become just, holy, good and the like. If such traits visibly stamp the character of a person insofar as it is possible, then one effortlessly and spontaneously will pass from earthly life to the heavenly realm. The distance between the divine and the human is not physical. There is no need for some mechanical instrument or human device for us to transpose this heavy, dense and earthly body to a course of life which is bodiless and spiritual. Virtue and vice are distinguished in a spiritual manner. The crucial factor lies solely with one’s free choice. It is free choice that leads a person to go wherever his desire inclines him.
This is the third 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 second post was Our Father.