George F. Riley, O.S.A.
Saint Thomas Monastery
Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8
“When you pray, say, ‘Father, hallowed be your name’” (Luke 11:2).
A top a mountain called Olivet, outside Jerusalem, there stands today a church with a strange name. It is called the Church of the Our Father. It stands over the spot where tradition holds that Jesus taught His prayer to the apostles.
In the Judaism of Jesus’ time, it was customary for individual religious groups to have their own distinctive prayers and practices. Just so, in today’s Gospel, when an anonymous disciple requests Jesus to “teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples,” he is asking for a distinctive prayer that will mark Christ’s disciples off from other groups. In fulfilling this request, Jesus bequeaths to every generation the prayer above all other prayers. It is a prayer which gives voice to the hunger of our hearts. For out of the depths of our very being we all need and want a father.
Thomas Wolfe, the author, looked back over his own life and said that for him it had been a search, for a Father – not merely the father of his flesh, not merely the father of his youth, but a Father of the spirit with whom he could identify in his weakness, a father who could accept and love him as he is, a father who would give him strength and hope. There are many other contemporary writers in our time who have beautifully expressed the need for that kind of Father – literary giants like Eugene O’Neill, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and Albert Camus.
But just to mention these names is to raise a problem. All of the authors I have just mentioned are not only for the beautiful way in which they state our need, but also for their pessimism, their despair, their depression. They say that this need will never be satisfied. Together, they say to us, in effect, that there is no Ultimate Reality, no God, no Father. What a contrast to the striking words of Saint Augustine. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they rest in You.”
The one devastating and unchangeable thing you must know from the Gospels is that God is Love. Your decision as to whether the Ultimate Reality you call “God” is real, and whether He is against us or for us, is the most important decision of your life. It will color everything you do and say and believe. And when you use the opening address of the Lord’s Prayer – “Our Father” – if you really mean what you are saying, you have made your decision. You have accepted Jesus’ proclamation to sinners: “God, your heavenly Father, knows your name. He knows you. You!”
There are many things we can say about God. He is just, He is powerful, He is holy. But when Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven,” he was trying to tell us that at the vary core of “Being” Itself, at the heart of Ultimate Reality, there is only one thing that counts when the chips are down: the unfading love our Father has for all of us.