Jim had an uncanny knack for needling people. Whenever an opportune moment came, you could be sure that a sarcastic comment or negative joke was going to come out of his mouth.
But a few years ago, as he was reading Scripture in his prayer time, Jim came across this passage from the Letter of James: “The tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions. . . . From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so, my brothers” (3:5, 10). These few words convicted Jim and convinced him that he needed to work on his comments. Over the next few months, his wife and friends all noticed that Jim was becoming more restrained in his words. What’s more, he was becoming a positive influence on the people around him.
Beth always tried to be a good person, but she had a tendency to manipulate situations. She would adjust her language or just the tone of her voice to help her get her way—even when she sensed it was wrong. She couldn’t stop the gossip, the shading of the truth, or the cute jokes. Anything to make her look as good as possible. As Beth was reading a passage from The Confessions of St. Augustine in her prayer time last Lent, she came upon the words that changed Augustine’s life: “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mark 8:36). These words touched Beth, and she decided to tackle this manipulation thing once and for all—beginning with a good Confession.
Coming to Jesus Is the Key. Jesus wants to see us enjoying life. He wants to help us not get bogged down in sin and guilt. He is committed to helping us win the spiritual battle for our minds. Of course, each of us has a role to play in this battle, but none of us can change ourselves into the likeness of Christ on our own. We have to come to him and open the door of our hearts to him. That’s why Jesus invites us to come every day to receive the grace and strength that we need. In fact, prayer is one of the most powerful weapons we have in this battle!
Jim was moved to make a change while he was pondering Scripture. Beth was moved while she was praying with St. Augustine’s writings. When we come to the Lord in prayer, it’s not just to present our needs to him. It’s also a time to ask him to fill us with his grace so that we can be changed. Our time with Jesus is meant to affect our disposition and our perspective long after prayer ends.
Now, the word “prayer” can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. There’s praise and worship, there’s the Rosary, there’s intercession, there’s meditation, there’s Eucharistic adoration, and so many more. But no matter what type of prayer we use, we see one common element: prayer is meant to bring us before the Lord and change our hearts and our behavior. With that in mind, let’s focus on one specific prayer and see how this prayer can be a good springboard for our touching the presence of God. We’re not going to use just any prayer; we’re going to look at the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).
Our Father! One thing we know about the Lord’s Prayer is that you can recite it and still not receive all of the grace God wants to give you. This is true of any formal prayer, actually, including the Hail Mary, the Divine Praises, or the Grace before Meals. The key is to recite this prayer slowly and intentionally, with our hearts open to the Lord the best we can. So maybe a walk-through of the Lord’s Prayer will help us be more open and receptive to his grace.
Heaven and Earth.
First, praying, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed is your name” is a wonderful opportunity to glorify the name of the Lord. We can pause at these words and imagine the holiness and glory of our heavenly Father and celebrate his love and his faithfulness. In this way, we can imitate King David, who prayed, “Give to the Lord the glory due his name! Bring gifts, and come before him; bow down to the Lord, splendid in holiness” (1 Chronicles 16:29).
Second, when we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” it’s our chance to ask God for his help. We can tell God that we want to see this troubled earth become just like heaven in every way. Of course, this won’t happen without our cooperation, so by praying these words, we are also committing ourselves to changing the world through acts of mercy, kindness, and generosity.
Bread and Mercy.
The two realizations that come from these opening words—confessing God’s perfection and praying for the world’s imperfection—are the catalyst for the rest of the entire prayer. Seeing the difference between heaven and earth, we ask our Father for the “daily bread” that will strengthen us to be witnesses of God’s love to the people around us. Asking for our daily bread means asking for the grace—especially through the Bread of Life at Mass—to help us make earth more like heaven.
Our lives are all about relationships, and so is the Lord’s Prayer. We should all try to be sincere and honest and caring, especially to the ones closest to us, but we don’t always succeed. Sometimes we say and do things that cause separation and division. And sometimes our loved ones hurt us. These hurts and divisions, along with our own pride and selfishness, lie at the root of all the problems that make earth unlike heaven. So that’s why we ask God to forgive us our own trespasses—even as we promise to “forgive those who trespass against us.”
This gift of daily bread in the form of God’s grace and the Eucharist makes all the difference in the world. It fills us with a desire to love the people around us—especially those we find it hard to love. It moves us to love God and try to please him. It also helps us see ways that we may not be pleasing to our Father, and it encourages us to change. Finally, our daily bread helps us to be alert to the devil’s schemes, and it gives us the grace to resist his temptations.
Of course, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer at Mass, there isn’t much time to reflect on all that this prayer involves. We have to do that on our own. But if we spend some time reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer, our hearts will be captivated by it, and our minds will be filled with a new perspective on our Father and his love for us. Over time—even during that quick moment at Mass—we will begin to say, “Yes, I want to make earth like heaven, and I need daily bread to do that.”
To Receive, Not Just Recite. As you can see, there is a big difference between reciting the Lord’s Prayer and letting the words of this prayer sink into our hearts. St. Paul understood this difference as well. That’s why he prayed for the Ephesians that the eyes of their hearts would be enlightened, and that they would come to know more and more about Jesus and the power of his resurrection (Ephesians 1:18-20).
God wants to open the eyes of your heart as well. He wants to convince you that he is your Father. He loves you and he is always with you. He wants to take care of you. And the best way he can show you his love is by opening your eyes and helping you see all the ways he is loving you.
Every day, God is calling out: “If you’re thirsty for love, come to me. Even if you don’t have any money or anything else to offer me, come anyway. My grace is free for you, and I have an unlimited supply of daily bread for you. So why spend so much of yourself on things that you know don’t satisfy? Come to me instead, and let me give you a taste of my life and my love for you” (see Isaiah 55:1-3).
When you come to the Lord, try to be like a little child. Children are relentless when they want their parents to give them something. Whether it’s a snack, a toy, permission to stay up late, or a host of other requests, they come to the people they know who can give them what they want. That kind of attitude pleases God deeply. It moves his heart when we come to him with childlike trust, and he can’t help but pour out a blessing on us.
A Giver of Good Gifts. If you are persistent in coming to God in prayer, your eyes will be opened. You’ll begin to see God as your loving, merciful Father, and you’ll want to spend more time with him. Not only that, but persisting in prayer will give you the confidence and trust you need to win the spiritual battle. You’ll be convinced that your heavenly Father, who always gives good gifts to his children, is with you to help you. You’ll be convinced that nothing can ever separate you from his love and his grace.