Q: Archbishop J, How do we pray? Pt 3
The ‘Our Father’ is an ancient prayer. Originally spoken in Aramaic, it was written in Greek, translated into Latin and later into English. This is why we have so many variations in the text, in different versions of the Bible.
We have seen thus far, God is our Daddy, we are brothers and sisters and we have a common home—this earth—to care for. We have also seen that Daddy is in heaven, which is first experienced imperfectly as a dimension of living where we come to reconciliation with God, neighbour, the creation and self—in perfect harmony—surrendering our will to God’s will.
This is how we find our highest good and truest self. So we pray, ‘Bend my heart to your will, O God’. This single act of bending to God’s will is the stuff of spirituality and holiness; how we become the best version of ourselves.
The first part of the prayer contained a statement to God and two petitions also addressed to God: the ‘your’ petitions. The second part of the prayer focuses on the ‘us’ petitions—give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us.
While the first part of the prayer focused on heaven and the truth of our reality as children of God, the second part focuses on our needs while on pilgrimage on earth.
(c) Give us this day our daily bread,
(d) and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
(e) and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Give us this day our daily bread
This should be so easy! A child asking Daddy for bread! Not for self, for it is OUR bread. Daddy will not give to one child and not to the whole family. All members of the family are included in this petition.
Bread is basic food that a contemporary of Jesus needed for life. The petition holds two concepts: (1) the bread is daily and (2) we only ask for today’s portion.
This is reminiscent of the Exodus where the people collected “bread from heaven”, every day, for that day (cf Ex 16:4 ff). They were forbidden to collect tomorrow’s bread, unless it was the sabbath.
They had to learn that God would supply the bread every day except on the sabbath. Very slowly their trust developed that God would deliver and give what was needed, not only today, but every day.
This trust is the hallmark of Christian spirituality. It is the disposition we need to move to the next stage of the relationship with Daddy and to abandon our will to His will—to trust completely.
This unconditional trust of Daddy and gratitude for the daily gift of bread is what challenged the Israelites. It is what challenges us. Will Daddy give us every day what we need for this day?
The Christian is called to live within a tight space. At one end, God will give us what we need every day. At the other, the gift will be needs not wants. God is not a slot machine.
The ancient text has some challenges. In the Greek there is a word not found anywhere else in Greek literature or in the Bible—epiousia. ἐπίοὐσία (substance).
The Fathers of the Church have spilled much ink on this. St Jerome translates it to supersubstantial bread. This concept holds two realities (1) the Exodus—Bread from heaven and (2) John 6 —Bread of life that is real food.
St Augustine interpreted it on three levels: (1) the things we need to sustain this life, (2) the sacrament of the Body of Christ which we may daily receive, and (3) our spiritual food—Jesus.
This petition is pivotal as it connects our deepest need with a loving daddy who gives us each day supersubstantial bread.
Prayer teaches us that we can trust Daddy to provide on the three levels. We move now from infancy in our faith journey. We are on our way.
Forgive us our trespasses
From bread to forgiveness, from heaven to earth: we are confronted with truth. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). We cannot eat the bread of life if we are in rebellion against God (sin). So we ask for forgiveness.
We cannot have God on our terms. We cannot forgive ourselves (cf Mk 2:7). We need God as a fish needs water, so we ask for forgiveness. If we come to consciousness at all, we know the countless ways we are in need of mercy.
This petition sees trespasses as communal—our. The petition is asking for forgiveness beyond self. It connects our receiving forgiveness with our giving forgiveness to others—“as we forgive those who trespass against us”.
This is the hard truth. We cannot ask God for mercy if we are not willing to forgive others. Our un-forgiveness is a cancer in the Body of Christ. We cannot raise our minds and hearts to God if we are holding un-forgiveness on earth. There are many parables that speak to this (see Mt 18:21–35).
Forgiveness challenges us at the core of our being. But this is why we need God. We cannot forgive without God’s grace. Christian prayer brings us to this place where we know we are in need of mercy, for we know ourselves as sinners. Prayer changes us at the core of our being and is the engine of reconciliation between us and God; neighbour, creation and self.
This petition catapults us into an adult faith. We have to do what we can for reconciliation. After all, God is doing everything to reconcile us in Christ. We who have received such extraordinary grace respond with generosity towards those who are in debt to us. We are starting to resemble the Daddy. The prayer is transforming us in the depths and in secret places.
Key Message: Supersubstantial (daily) bread and forgiveness are key elements of the spiritual life. As we receive Jesus as Bread we are transformed into Christ and are given forgiveness. Now we too are called to forgive.
Action Step: Reflect on your relationship with God: Is God a loving Father that you trust to give you what you need every day? Have this conversation with God. Look at the countless ways that God has forgiven you. Make a list of those who you find it difficult to forgive. Ask God’s grace to bend your heart to forgiveness.
Scripture Reading: Mt 6:9–13; John 6:25–59; Mt 18:21–35.