This is the not the Lord simply teaching us what to say or how to say it.
This is our Savior teaching us how to think, how to love, and how to receive God’s love. Jesus is offering us a heart transplant. We have the opportunity to trade in our hard and wounded hearts for his compassionate and sacred heart.
In order to truly understand the “our” in Our Father, we must look at the second word so that we can fully comprehend the first. These words are about relationship: the relationship between Father and child, yes, but more specifically between God and his children.
Once we widen our scope beyond the first word—“our”—to the address, “Our Father,” we quickly see it in context, as an important series of points that our Lord makes. If God is the Father, then we are all his children; we’re all connected as brothers and sisters in the Lord’s Prayer. The Our Father is not merely a private prayer between you and your God or between one child and his or her divine “Daddy.” This is the prayer of a family, a prayer between God the Father and every one of his children. The Our Father is no longer just personal but also corporate; the prayer is intimate but also communal.
Have you ever stopped to consider why there are over six billion people on one planet and not one person on six billion different planets? Couldn’t God have done it that way too? Why put us all together on this spinning blue marble hurling through the solar system? Why force us to live and work together and get along? What is the Father trying to teach his children?
We are more than bodies; we are souls. We are more than creatures; we are children. We are in this together. The fact is that all are created by God in his divine image (see Genesis 1:26-27). This truth cannot be overstated. God didn’t just establish a relationship with us personally; he established and ordained us in relationships with one another. Christ came not just to redeem us but to restore us to proper relationship with God and with one another. His healings of the lepers (Matthew 8:2-4) or the woman with a hemorrhage (Mark 5:29-34) were not just about healing; they were about restoring the outcast to full community. His encounters with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11) or the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-42) were not merely to demonstrate the dignity he saw in women but about broadening the invitation to everyone, sinner and non-Jew alike, into a deeper, universal relationship with one another as the children of God, the body of Christ.
We can never forget that the “Greatest Commandment” has two parts to it. It’s not merely love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength (see Matthew 22:37-38); it includes a second (not secondary) command that reminds us of the relationship. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39-40), we are told. If we fail to see God in our neighbor, much less love him, we have failed to love God himself (see Matthew 25:40). In this way, when we fail to love others, we are breaking the first commandment to love God. How often do we confess that failure? Speaking for myself, I don’t view my neighbors in this light nearly enough.
In praying “our” Father, we are praying not only with but also for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus is giving us more than an invitation to a relationship with his Father in this catechesis on prayer. He’s giving us an introduction to our greater family—the true body of Christ—and an initiation into a new way of living.
This is yet another reason why a relationship with Mary and the saints is so necessary and invaluable in our own growth as Christians. Asking others to pray for us is a sign of humility and trust. Beseeching the intercessory prayer of the communion of saints—those brothers and sisters in the faith who have gone before us and finished the race (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Hebrews 12:2)—is the only way we can be in full and total relationship with the body of Christ. How shortsighted it would be of us as Christians to think that our full communion with the body of Christ would stop with those who are still confined to their earthly, sinful existence. How small-minded it would be not to incorporate the souls of those who are far more fully alive than we are.
True communion with Christ necessitates a relationship with all people, believers and non-believers, whether past, present, or future; we are all inexorably linked by God. We are especially linked to the communion of saints by the upper room and the cross of Calvary. Mass is the greatest warm-up to becoming part of the communion of saints, for at Mass we are worshipping alongside the saints and angels, seeking the grace we need to live lives of joyful abandonment to God as they did.
Adam and Eve had it so good in Eden. All their needs were met. They had been given a priceless gift that could be neither bought nor earned, the gift of divine sonship. They were God’s children. Jesus’ sonship is infinitely more glorious than Adam’s sonship for this very simple reason: Christ (the eternal Son) is God! Through our baptism this is now “our” sonship; we are brought into this divine sonship of Christ by Christ himself. This is where the “our” comes from when we address the Father.
Stop and consider what we are being taught about this relationship with God from the first word of the Lord’s Prayer: Our heavenly Father has given us a gift even more powerful and glorious than the gift he had given Adam and Eve at the very beginning. God gave us himself—Jesus. And Jesus himself gives us to his Father. We are declared and made divinely adopted sons and daughters of God (1 John 3:1). The life that Adam lost in sin, the eternal Son has given us even more abundantly in love.
This love, given so freely (1 John 4:8, 19), reminds us of God’s divine identity, as well as our own eternal destiny as one family. Our family is imperfect, a mixed bag of holy and unholy; our family tree is a wide assortment of fruit (and nuts), with every branch proudly displaying fruit—the good, the bad, and the ugly. And through all this painful reality, God does not play favorites. God loves the atheist as much as the priest, the prostitute as much as the virgin, the drug dealer as much as the saint. Ponder that for a moment. God’s love is not fickle; God’s love is fatherly. God, as perfect unconditional Love, cannot put conditions on his love. God cannot pick a favorite son or daughter in his body (the body of Christ) any more than you can pick a favorite cell in your physical body.
This relationship between you and God (through Christ) and between you and others is the foundation to the rest of the Lord’s Prayer. It is also the foundation of Christ’s Church and ought to be the foundation of our lives as Christians. We are baptized into the family of the holy Trinity (Matthew 28:19-20). He uses this family relationship, offered through our baptism, to invite others (the un-baptized) into his family. It’s through this lens of family, this relationship with God and with one another, that we move deeper into the Lord’s prayer and, more specifically, into our Father’s heart.
This is a selection from The “R” Father: 14 ways to Respond to the Lord’s Prayer by Mark Hart (The Word Among Us Press, 2010). Available at wau.org/books