February 2, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Second of two columns on the Our Father

John F. Fink(Fifteenth in a series)

It has always seemed to me that the petition “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is the heart of the Our Father.

I understand that some people look on this petition as just one of submission to God’s will, but I think that we are praying to have the courage to do God’s will. It’s an active petition, not a passive one. Not only are we to passively suffer whatever God wills for us, but we are to actively do it.

I don’t think anyone has difficulty understanding the next petition: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Everyone realizes that “bread” stands for all the things we need—our food and all appropriate things, both material and spiritual. We should note, though, that this petition for material needs is the fourth of the seven petitions, not the first.

Remember what St. Thomas Aquinas said? “This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them.”

Now we come to an important petition: “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It’s easy to ask for forgiveness, but Jesus is telling us that our petition won’t be heard unless we first forgive others.

Jesus obviously considered this petition important because it’s the only one to which he returned after teaching the prayer during the Sermon on the Mount. He explained, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

The petition “lead us not into temptation” bothers some people. “Why,” they ask, “would God ‘lead’ us into temptation?” Since the Greek verb really means “do not let us yield to temptation,” there are sometimes attempts to change the prayer.

But the idea of changing the Our Father always meets with opposition. Nonetheless, that’s what this petition means. We are asking God to keep us from falling into sin. Of course, to do that, we have to do our part by avoiding, whenever possible, the things that lead to temptation.

I wonder how many people understand that in the petition “but deliver us from evil,” evil is not just an abstraction. It refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the devil.

There are many people in our society today who say they don’t believe in the devil. They’re fooling themselves. We need God’s continual help to be delivered from him. However, the petition is also a plea to the Father to deliver us from all the distress that exists in this world, of which the Evil One is the instigator.

Early in Christian history, liturgical use of the Our Father concluded with a doxology, “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever.” It was not part of the prayer as Jesus taught it.

Today it’s included in the Catholic liturgy, but separated from the main body of the Our Father. †

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