20 June 2024, Thursday of the 11th even week

Si 48, 1-14; Mt 6, 7-15


           As we saw yesterday, this text from the "Our Father" was part of the passage on prayer that we find in Matthew chapter 6. As we know, the Evangelist Matthew collected, in what we call the Sermon on the Mount, several teachings of Jesus given in different places and times, many of which are found in the other synoptic Gospels.

           St. Luke gives us (Luke 11:1-4) probably the original context in which Jesus gave this teaching on the "Our Father". One day Jesus was praying. And when he had finished praying, one of the disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples”.

           John the Baptist, like other spiritual teachers of his time, including the Pharisees and Sadducees and the doctors of the Law, taught his disciples methods, gestures and formulas for prayer. So, Jesus' disciples, many of whom had been disciples of John, were no doubt puzzled by the fact that they often saw Jesus withdraw, especially at night, to pray in secret, but that he taught them neither method nor formula. Jesus' response, summarised in what we call the 'Lord's Prayer', is not a 'prayer formula' that he invites them to repeat, but a very rich teaching on prayer.

           First of all, we must pay close attention to the way Jesus introduces his answer: "When you pray, say..." He does not say, "Prayer is this or that." He does not say, "Prayer consists in reciting this or that formula." Rather, he says, "When you pray, say..." That is, when you are in a state of prayer, or when there is a prayer in your heart and you want to express it in words, you can, for example, use the following words, "Our Father, hallowed be thy name, etc."

           If Jesus does not answer the question directly, the reason is probably that what is most important to Him is not that we learn to pray but rather that we learn to turn our whole life into prayer. “It is not the one who says, 'Lord, Lord,' who will enter the kingdom of God, but the one who does the will of my Father..."

           We must not conceive of prayer as a situation in which on the one hand there is someone who begs and on the other hand someone who is asked to do this or that. If we take the biblical message in its entirety, God does not appear to us as someone sitting on his throne up there in heaven, listening to the prayers that come to him from his subjects here on earth. Instead, he manifests himself as a Father. Not as a father with his children, but rather as a Father with his adult sons and daughters, who have become his friends and to whom he himself opens his heart.

           In the brief prayer that Jesus offers to his disciples, we find these two poles: The first is "hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come...". And the second is "give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our sins, lead us not into temptation..."

           There are times in our lives when prayer wells up from the depths of our hearts like lava from a volcano -- either because we have had a vivid experience of God's love, or because we have become acutely aware of our sinful and wretched condition. But it is likely that in most cases our prayer is that of the Publican: "Have mercy on me, a sinner". This prayer is always heard, because it is the prayer of the poor. When we recognise ourselves as one of these poor people, we can say with the disciples: "Lord, teach me to pray...". The answer will be new each time and always demanding.

Armand Veilleux