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The Cornerstone of Our Prayer Life

Prayers are not magic words for Christians and when we pray the ‘Our Father’ we can feel God looking at us and this prayer should be the cornerstone of our prayer life (Pope Francis). Jesus always turned to the Father in the most challenging moments, taking his inspiration from the gospel reading where Jesus teaches his disciples to pray the “Our Father”; the Pope’s homily was a reflection on the value and meaning of prayer in the life of a Christian. He noted that Jesus always used the word “Father” in the most important or challenging moments of his life, saying that our Father “knows the things we need, before we even ask Him.” He is a Father who listens to us in secret just like Jesus advised us to pray in secret.

“It’s through this Father that we receive our identity as children. And when I say ‘Father’ this goes right to the roots of my identity: my Christian identity is to be his child and this is a grace of the Holy Spirit.  Nobody can say ‘Father’ without the grace of the Spirit. ‘Father’ is the word that Jesus used in the most important moments: when he was full of joy, or emotion: ‘Father, I bless you for revealing these things to little children.’ Or weeping, in front of the tomb of his friend Lazarus: ‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer,’ or else at the end, in the final moments of his life, right at the very end.”

Pope Francis went on to stress how the word ‘Father’ was the one most used by Jesus in the most important or challenging moments of his life. He warned that “unless we feel that we are his children, without considering ourselves as his children, without saying ‘Father,’ our prayer is a pagan one, it’s just a prayer of words. Praying the ‘Our Father’ is our cornerstone. In the same way, the Pope stressed that the ‘Our Father’ prayer is the cornerstone of our prayer life.  If we are not able to begin our prayer with this word, he warned, “our prayer will go nowhere.”

“Father” It’s about feeling our Father looking at me, feeling that this word ‘Father’ is not a waste of time like the words in the prayers of pagans: it’s a call to Him who gave me my identity as his child. This is the dimension of Christian prayer – ‘Father’ and we can pray to all the Saints, the Angels, we can go on processions, pilgrimages … all of this is wonderful but we must always begin (our prayers) with ‘Father’ and be aware that we are his children and that we have a Father who loves us and who knows all our needs. This is that dimension.”

Turning next to the part of the ‘Our Father’ prayer where Jesus refers to forgiving those who “trespass against us” just as God forgives us, Pope Francis explains that this prayer conveys the sense of us being brothers (and sisters) and part of one family. Rather than behaving like Cain who hated his own brother, he said, it’s so important for us to forgive, to forget offences against us, that healthy attitude of saying ‘let’s forget this’ and not harbour feelings of rancour, resentment or a desire for revenge. In conclusion, the Pope said the best prayer we can say is to pray to our God to forgive everybody and forget their sins. “It’s good for us to sometimes examine our own consciences on this point.  For me, is God my Father? Do I feel that He is my Father? And if I don’t feel that, let me ask the Holy Spirit to teach me to feel that way. And am I able to forget offences, to forgive, to let go of it, and if not, let us ask the Father: ‘these people too are your children, they did something horrible to me … can you help me to forgive them’? Let us carry out this examination of our consciences and it will do us a lot of good. ‘Father’ and ‘our’: give us our identity as his children and give us a family to journey with during our lives.”

How does prayer fortify us with so much dynamic power?  To answer this question (admittedly outside the jurisdiction of science), I must point out that all prayers have one thing in common. The triumphant hosannas of a great oratorio or the humble supplication of an Iroquois hunter begging for luck in the chase demonstrate the same truth: that human beings seek to augment their finite energy by addressing themselves to the Infinite source of all energy. When we pray, we link ourselves with the inexhaustible motive power that spins the universe. We ask that a part of this power be apportioned to our needs. Even in asking, our human deficiencies are filled and we arise strengthened and repaired. But we must never summon God merely for the gratification of our whims. We derive most power from prayer when we use it, not as a petition, but as a supplication that we may become more  like Him.

Prayer should be regarded as practice of the Presence of God. An old peasant was seated alone in the last pew of the village church. “What are you waiting for?” he was asked; and he answered, “I am looking at Him and He is looking at me.” Man prays not only that God should remember him, but also that he should remember God. (Norman Vincent Peale)

Elsy Mathew

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