I’ve Been Thinking … Teach Us to Pray
In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 11, Jesus prays alone, off by himself. When he is finished, the disciples ask him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (v. 1); and he replies, “When you pray, say: ‘Father . . .’ ” (v. 2). This word is the “secret” of the prayer of Jesus; it is the key that he himself gives us so that we too may enter into that relationship of confidential dialogue with the Father, which accompanied and sustained his whole life.
There are two requests that Jesus associates with the title Father: “hallowed be thy name” and “Thy kingdom come” (v. 2). The prayer of Jesus, and therefore Christian prayer, is first a matter of making room for God, allowing him to manifest his holiness in us, and also advancing his kingdom through the possibility of exercising his lordship of love in our lives.
Three more requests complete this prayer that Jesus teaches, the Our Father. They are three petitions that express our fundamental needs: bread, forgiveness, and help in temptation (cf. vv. 3– 4). The bread that Jesus has us ask for is that which is necessary, not the superfluous; it is the bread of the pilgrim, just enough, a bread that is not hoarded and not wasted, that does not slow us down on our way. The forgiveness is, first, that which we ourselves receive from God. Only the awareness that we are sinners forgiven by the infinite divine mercy can make us capable of carrying out concrete actions of fraternal reconciliation. If a person does not feel like a forgiven sinner, he will never be able to perform an act of forgiveness or reconciliation. It begins from the heart, where we feel like forgiven sinners. The last request, “lead us not into temptation,” expresses the awareness of our condition, which is one of constant exposure to the snares of evil and corruption. All of us know what temptation is!
The teaching of Jesus on prayer continues with two parables, in which he takes as a model the attitude of one friend toward another and of a father toward his son (cf. vv. 5–12). Both of them are intended to teach us to have complete trust in God, who is Father. He knows our needs better than we ourselves do, but he wants us to present them to him with boldness and insistence, because this is our way of participating in his work of salvation. Prayer is the first and primary “tool” in our hands! Insisting with God does not serve to convince him, but to strengthen our faith and our patience, which means our ability to fight along with God for the things that are truly important and necessary. There are two of us in prayer: God and me, fighting together for the important things.
Reprinted from OUR FATHER: REFLECTIONS ON THE LORD’S PRAYER by Pope Francis. Copyright © 2017 by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Citta del Vaticano. Copyright © 2017 by Rizzoli Libri, S.p.A./Rizzoli, Milano. Translation copyright © 2018 by Penguin Random House LLC. Published by Image, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Originally published in Italian by Rizzoli Libri S.p.A. in 2017.