who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done
on earth as it 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
Often a priest suggests we pray the ‘Our Father’ slowly as a form of penance, following confession. Here are some thoughts to help slow us down while praying this most important of prayers.
Father in heaven
This prayer is directed towards God the Father, just as Jesus’ prayer was directed there. We are daring to call God ‘Abba’ meaning ‘dad’ or ‘daddy’.
We do so because Jesus invited us to do so and because, through our baptism, we have been reborn as God’s adopted sons and daughters.
The God we pray to is indeed beyond our imagining and yet Jesus has shown him to us. He is outside of time and space and yet not remote from us.
Jesus invites us to pray to a personal God, a fatherly God, a God who calls us into ever more initimate friendship
We pray ‘Our‘ Father. This reminds us that we are not alone in our prayers. We are praying what millions of Christians from all around the world are praying. We are saying what billions of Christians down the ages have said.
When we were baptised, we were called by name into this wonderful family.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
Jesus spoke a lot about God’s kingdom. Sometimes he referred to the kingdom of God, sometimes the kingdom of heaven.
When we speak of God’s kingdom we mean God reigning as sovereign and Lord whether on earth or in heaven. The kingdom of God is not so much a place as an attitude: the attitude of our hearts. To pray ‘Thy kingdom come’ means to wish that God will take control over every aspect of our being. To say ‘Thy will be done‘ is to commit ourselves to a lifetime of striving to know God’s will and putting it into action.
On earth as it is in heaven
Christians are often dismissed by those who reject belief in God as being overly concerned with the life to come. Our gaze is too heavenward, they say, which is a futile focus on pie-in-the-sky. Since we only think about heaven and our hereafter, we are quite prepared to forget the injustice of our world now.
This is untrue, of course, and unfair. Throughout the centuries, Christians have been inspired to make the world a better place. The ‘Our Father‘ reminds us of this every time we pray it.
When we say ‘on earth as it is in heaven‘, we are promising to try and make God’s love, justice, mercy and goodness a reality here and now. We are asking God to make us his agents in history: to empower us to transform the earth and make it more heaven-like.
Give us this day our daily bread
This could be interpreted simply as a prayer asking God to provide us with what we need each day. A signal that we are willing to trust him and take each day as it comes, living in the present moment and not overly concerned about our future.
Some people see in this line a reference to the Eucharist: the bread of life. It expresses a desire to be nourished by Christ himself, the true bread of heaven. A commitment, perhaps, to making the effort to attend Mass each day whenever family life and work and time allows.
Biblical scholars sometimes translate this line as ‘Give us today the bread of tomorrow’. An unusual expression. The ‘bread of tomorrow’ in Jesus’ time might well have meant the ‘End Time’.
The ‘End Time’ is Jewish and Christian shorthand. It means the belief that at some point all time and space will end and give way to a new type of existence when ‘God will be all in all‘. A time where suffering and sin, where injustice and conflict and poverty, where even death will be abolished.
‘Give us today the bread of tomorrow’ might be a way of asking God to let us experience now something of that End Time: to let our suffering or sorrows, the seemingly endless round of war, the straightjacket of unfairness, our personal battles with sin and the feeling that we are simply trapped in a sinful world, and even our fear of death be overcome by a foretaste of God’s immense love for us.
Forgive us our trespasses
This line seems straightforward. We are asking God to forgive us the times we have hurt others and ourselves through our selfishness and sinfulness.
This line needs to run into the next, however: ‘As we forgive those who trespass against us’. The two are conditional. In this prayer we admit to ourselves that God need only forgive us if we are willing to forgive others.
Perhaps this line can provoke us to think about who annoys and upsets us. Who do we find difficult? Are we still holding on to past hurts? Do we hold grudges?
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
The last two lines of the ‘Our Father‘ should not be overlooked. They are so important. We are asking the help of God’s grace to lead better lives.
We need his help to avoid those moments of temptation to sin. We need God’s love to protect us from harming ourselves and others.
Many of us struggle with what are sometimes called ‘habitual sins’. In other words, we do the same old things over and over again. Probably small stuff, although perhaps for some it’s more serious.
Small stuff can all add up, however. Little moments of selfishness can coalesce into a more permanent self-centred attitude. Indulgence can become greed. Fantasy can become infidelity. Anger can flare into violence. Barbed comments and the odd racist joke can end up masking a deep seated prejudice. In the end the small stuff can become pretty big.
In the ‘Our Father’ we ask God to save us from this:
Delver us from making the snide remark.
Deliver us from flying into road rage.
Deliver us from gossiping about those we don’t like (and even those we do).
Deliver us from treating our sexuality and sexual desires as simply an appetite we satisfy.
Deliver us from viewing others as objects rather than people and treating them without respect and dignity.
Deliver us from evil.