Prayer has always marked Christian life. The evolution of Christian prayer spans centuries and bears the character of countless faithful whose hearts and voices call to the one who is at once, the source of their yearning and the goal that they seek.
“Prayer is the language of the city of God.” It is a language of encounter, where the believer and the living God meet for an intimate dialogue. The dialogue is individual and communal, personal and liturgical. Its patterns are born from the words and deeds of Christ Jesus, who, in response to his disciples’ inquiry: “Lord, teach us to pray …” entrusts to his disciples and the church the fundamental Christian prayer.
Within the Lord’s Prayer we find a basic “outline” of seven petitions (Mt 6:9-13) that support the significant elements of discipleship and a summary of the whole Gospel (CCC, 2761). St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “The Lord’s Prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them.” So, that the innermost movement of the Holy Spirit may animate and guide the rightness of our life in Christ, by the rightness of our prayer (Cf. 2764).
Through these simple words, “Our Father” Christ reveals to us the love of the Father and “reveals us to ourselves” (CCC, 2783). With humble, trusting, and joyous hearts, we embrace our identity as God’s children – the children of the God of the universe.
When the church prays “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done …” we acknowledge the presence of God’s love in the hearts of every believer and become signs of God’s kingdom already here among the church. In turn, we call out to God in prayer for the fullness of the kingdom that is yet to come.
We pray for Christ’s return and for the ongoing growth of the kingdom of God in the “today” of our own lives. In doing so, we – the church – continue Christ’s work of proclaiming and building the kingdom.
Our vocation as baptized disciples reinforces our duty to put into action all of our energy and means to serve justice and peace in keeping with the beatitudes (cf. 2820-2821). In this way our work and prayer are unified into one “ceaseless prayer of praise to the Father.” God’s love has no bounds, and neither should our prayer.
Whenever I think of my prayer experience of the Lord’s Prayer I am reminded of Joey, a 10-year-old in a long ago faith formation program. Often the children would pray the Lord’s Prayer together during our common prayer time. On one particular week, I began to walk the children through the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer.
When we came to the phrase of the prayer that states: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” Joey, a precarious young man, jumped up and down in his seat and said, Miss Sharon, Miss Sharon, I know what that means.”
I replied, “Okay, Joey, tell us what Jesus’ meant by that part of the prayer.” He stood up, turned to the rest of the group and said, “If we all do what we are supposed to by listening to what Jesus asks of us, we will have heaven on earth.”
His response still makes me smile as I think of the wisdom of this child. Yes, indeed! The more we live, proclaim and pray the message of the Gospel – the more our world will begin to resemble the Kingdom of justice, peace and love that Jesus announced.
Let us pray for the coming of God’s kingdom. May our work become an unceaseless prayer of praise to God – and may each of us be signs that God’s kingdom is at hand.
This is the final article for the fall six-week series of Why Catholic? Sharon Bogusz is coordinator for evangelization and adult catechesis for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.