Fr. Ron Millican
THE PRAYER TO BEGIN ALL PRAYER: THE LORD’S PRAYER, 3
I apologize I took a break from writing this column last weekend and interrupted my reflections on the Our Father. You may recall from two weeks ago that the Lord’s Prayer reminds us we never pray alone when we begin with “our.” Also, that God as Father, is Father to all of humanity. He is not “my” God or “my” Father, but “our” Father.
The word father is the most radical word in this prayer—and maybe in the history of religions. Even the most skeptical New Testament scholars—some of whom believe that hardly anything in the New Testament is original—admit that calling God “Father,” as Jesus did, is a fresh idea in the history of religions. Until then it was common to call God all sorts of things: Lord, Master, Creator, King, Holy One, Majestic One, Lawgiver. But not “daddy.”
First, we must understand the word “Father” in the Lord’s Prayer is not about God’s maleness. Admittedly, the Bible mostly uses masculine images for God. But it does not hesitate to use feminine ones as well to show intimacy we can experience with God. In Psalm 131, prayer is compared to a child nursing at a mother’s breast: Lord, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I do not concern myself with matters too great or awesome for me. But I have stilled and quieted myself, just as a small child is quiet with its mother. Yes, like a small child is soul within me. So “Father” is not about fathers or mothers, or males or females. It is about the meaning of prayer, intimacy with God.
Of course, if God is our Father, then we are his children. The apostle John put it this way: See how very much the heavenly Father loves us, for he allows us to be called his children, and we really are! (1 John 3:1). This takes some getting some used to, but once you get used to it, it is pretty incredible.
The apostle Paul wrote: You should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into his family—calling him ‘Father, dear Father.’ For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:15-16).
Because Jesus reveals God as our Father, we can come to with confidence. In Matthews Gospel we read: You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him. (7:9-11).
This does not mean that we can assume that everything we request of God will be granted. God loves us more than that. It does mean that every prayer is heard and that God will give us what we most need (which does not always correspond to what we think we need).
The great theologian St. Augustine put it this ways: Our Father: At this name love is aroused in us … and the confidence of obtaining what we are about to ask …. What would he not give his children who ask, since he has already granted them the gift of being his children?”