The “Our Father” — An Early Christmas Gift

God is shining His purifying light on His Church in a very public way. Humbled and even humiliated by revelations of abuse by the clergy, Catholics have been shaken to their core. Although it is a temptation to accuse, Jesus warns us not to point fingers at anyone because none of us are perfect. In fact, if we are open to the Holy Spirit, the Father will also shine His purifying light on us.

Looks like I must be open to God’s work because my whole life has been shattered by decades-old secrets revealed by angry adult children lashing out. God breaks through my anxiety some days and I can respond to His call for complete surrender but like most mothers, I try to fix problems only to make situations worse. Back and forth I go, from heavenly peace to a state of sheer panic when I can hardly function. However, through it all, I know God is using this mess to bring healing to the whole family, just like He is healing His entire Church. Our only recourse is to draw closer to the heart of the Lord and give Him our fiat, in the middle of our confusion and say with Mary:

“May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38).

The Our Father Is Now in My Spirit

Even though I understand God is in control and purifying me, I slipped back into my stress mode once again earlier this week, I stopped praying and instead worried. Then, in the middle of what I call mental kung-fu, (picture words battling with each other in my head), I could “hear” a musical version of the Our Father, deep in my spirit, at the same time as I indulged in my own whirling thoughts.

Our Father who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us,

and lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

When I paid attention, the words Jesus taught His disciples rose up, sweeping away all my own thoughts, ushering in joyful worship and thanksgiving. The sense I had was this was a gift, an early Christmas gift from the Father. I did not earn this gift of prayer. I did not even ask for it. It is not a sign of holiness. I was simply desperate enough to in my core to accept unconsciously any help God sent my way. Now the Our Father is implanted in my heart, soul, mind, and spirit. I am surprised but relieved and at peace at the same time.

I always thought the prayer of the heart was supposed to be the Jesus Prayer. After all, the early monks repeated these word many times throughout the day in an effort to pray constantly: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The ultimate goal was for the Jesus Prayer to become a litany in the monk’s heart and soul. As always, though, God surprised me and did it His way, not my way. It is the Our Father which is now a constant litany in my spirit, deeper than conscious thought.

I have been trying to pray for over forty-five years. The first five years after I committed my life to God were like a honeymoon, with the gift of tongues sweeping me into the presence of God without any effort on my part. Then came the dry years, decades of struggle and suffering. Sometimes I dreaded prayer time when it seemed like I was talking to a wall, relying on traditional written prayers when my own words felt like dust. Sometimes I simply sat in silence as God looked at me and I looked at Him.  Once in a while, God would offer me a drink in this desert by overwhelming my senses with joy and love.  I would often discover a book where every word pierced my soul, giving me the courage to keep walking closer to Him.

We are all called to pray without ceasing but this is not an easy task for mortals. This journey into the Heart of God not only takes perseverance and love it also takes humility. The process of purification and transformation is not an ego-building endeavour where we earn merit badges for holiness.  No, intimacy with God is all about learning how to embrace reality and the reality is we are little and God is big; we are weak and God is strong. This fact is hard to swallow because it goes completely against our ingrained competitive nature to look successful. There is no room for pride in the Kingdom of God.

The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. (Romans 8:24-26)

It is true, people really do not know how to pray, to connect with God. Thankfully, God always initiates by acting and speaking first; Christians need only listen and respond. Of course, our response is not perfect. In a General Audience on June 18, 2014, Pope Francis reminds us:

When we recognize that we are sinners, God fills us with His mercy and love, and He forgives us. He always forgives us. This is what makes us grow as the people of God, the church.

The conundrum is that although God dispenses His graces where and when He wants, not as payment for a job well done, it also takes effort on our part to grow spiritually.  Prayer is a gift from God which we are told to seek with all our whole heart, mind and soul. Thank God for the incredible teaching and traditions of prayer in the Catholic Church. Catholics can read about saints’ experiences in prayer as they point out both the pitfalls and the tried and true path to intimacy with God.

I love how Saint Teresa of Avila describes the process of learning how to pray, how to connect with God. Basically, she says Christians must first build a causeway with stone and mortar but this waterway remains dry until the Holy Spirit comes and fills it with the living waters of God’s presence. When I recall this explanation of the spiritual life, God keeps me grounded and humble. I am completely dependent on God.

It is Not Easy

The Catechism of the Catholic Church warns us that it is a battle to learn how to pray constantly:

“Pray constantly … always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.” St. Paul adds, “Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance making supplication for all the saints.” For “we have not been commanded to work, to keep watch and to fast constantly, but it has been laid down that we are to pray without ceasing.” This tireless fervour can come only from love. Against our dullness and laziness, the battle of prayer is that of humble, trusting, and persevering love. This love opens our hearts to three enlightening and life-giving facts of faith about prayer. It is always possible to pray: The time of the Christian is that of the risen Christ who is with us always, no matter what tempests may arise. Our time is in the hands of God. (CCC 2742)

For those serious about growing in prayer,  David Torkington describes the true way of prayer in modern language. He is a columnist at Catholic Stand, an author of volumes of books on prayer, a scholar steeped in the historical teachings and traditions of the Church from the very beginning. See Wisdom from the Western Isles: The Making of a Mystic and Wisdom from the Christian Mystics: How to Pray the Christian Way.

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