Father John A. Hardon, S.J. Archives
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Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius
The Lord's Prayer
Conference by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Will it be our will or Gods will? On judgment day this will be the story of our lives, this will determine our destiny. But let Fr. Hardon, through this meditation, open the doors of our mind and move our heart to realize the need to conform our will to Gods will. Our Father, who art in heaven hallowed, be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. Fr. Hardon.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.
Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our present conference is on the Lords Prayer. This will be the last of the conferences covering what we call the third week of the Spiritual Exercises. Our next conference is on Easter, Wednesday, April 19th and it may seem ironical but it will be on the Last Supper. Our title for this evenings conference is The Lords Prayer, A Synthesis of Christianity.
We live in an age when people are looking for digests to condense large amounts of knowledge into a small span of print. If we wish to capsulize all that Jesus taught, all that He stood for, and all that He wants us to do, we cannot find a better synthesis than what has come to be known as the Lords Prayer. The Lords Prayer is the only prayer that Christ taught directly to His apostles, and through them has been teaching the human race. It is an imminently practical synthesis of the faith, because it both tells us what to pray about and with emphasis, how we should pray. Over the centuries, notably by the Fathers of the Church, up to the 8th century of the Christian era, the Lords Prayer has been called the most efficacious prayer we have, always, outside of the seven sacraments. In the Lords Prayer there are seven petitions and the language of the Bible the number seven symbolizes fullness or plenitude. They are petitions, implied that although there are other ways in which we can pray, for example, by expiation, or our prayer of love, or our prayer of adoration, nevertheless, petition or asking God is, on Christs own witness, very pleasing to Him. He wants us to ask, and let us never be embarrassed about it Christ wants us to ask. Which I submit might be a good description of who we are, asking creatures. There is furthermore, a hierarchy of values within the Lords Prayer. In pursuing Christs own formula, as He tells us, Seek first the kingdom of God, and
everything else will be given to you. The first three petitions have to do with the things of God. It is only in the fourth petition that we come down to earth, I might add, with a heavy thud. Give us this day our daily bread, yes the sublime creature of spirit also needs food for the body to keep spirit and body together. When the disciples asked the Master, Lord, teach us to pray He replied, When you pray, then watch what Jesus says, when you pray, by implication, we are not always in the strict formal sense of the word, praying. There should then be whens in our life, when we do what? When following Christs injunction, we pray. And let me tell you the single most important act of our freewill that we as creatures can make nothing more sublime within the power of man then to choose to pray. Finally, the opening words of the Lords Prayer, place us into the highest possible context for prayer, namely, in union with others. Because, we dont just invoke God, we invoke God as, watch it, as our, plural, Father. It is we who are praying with millions of others and they pray in union with us responding to that very important aspect of our nature, that we are not just social beings in any pedestrian or secular sense. The deepest meaning of man as a social being is that we human beings pray together. I know that at times you may feel that the social sciences have done less than justice to what we really are, members of the society created by God after His own Trinitarian society. Yet as believers we know, we know, we are a society, why because, God, hear it, God is a society, a Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the human race must be, could not help but be a society patterned on the Trinitarian community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We address God as our Father with that trustful love that a child should have towards his parents. And we tell God that He is in heaven and we, ah, dear Lord, and we are still on earth. Of course, we are not really telling Him as though He needs to be informed. We are the ones who need to be informed or re-informed, and how we need that. We know what we mean, but sometimes we have to express it in a childlike way. Though we are still here we are already in contact with God who is what a precious adverb, there.
Prayer, then, as expressed in the opening invocation of the Lords Prayer, bridges this gap between where we are and where God is. It is the only thing that can span the chasm between time and eternity. There is no other way that we can span the distance between earth and heaven now except by prayer. And there is no other way we shall reach heaven after we leave the earth except through prayer. Now we take up each of the petitions in sequence.
Hallowed be Thy name: I like the Latin, Sanctificetur Nomen Tuum, may Thy name be sanctified. The name of God in biblical language stands for God Himself, when then, we pronounce the first petition, we are really praying, may God be sanctified. Which needless to say is at least a strange if not a curious expression. What do we mean? And in my father in God tells us, having telling members of the Society of Jesus for over four hundred years, teach the people to understand the meaning of the prayers they recite. And there is no more important prayer whose meaning we should know than the Lords Prayer. So what do we mean? We mean that although God is God, He created man in order that He might be known and loved by human beings. We are therefore praying that God might be sanctified by His rational creatures. We know, how well we know, that not all human beings, either know God as well as they should or knowing Him, do not love Him as they ought. So we pray that everyone, but hear it, beginning with ourselves, the first beneficiary of the Lords Prayer should be we. Lord that I might sanctify Your name. We therefore pray that everyone, beginning with ourselves, and including those who most need to know more about God because theyre ignorant of even who He is. We pray also for those who know Him, but knowing Him do not love Him, either at all or as much as they should, and theirs is a greater guilt. Behind this first petition is a plea that people might use their human liberty so that in exercising their freedom they might want to know more about God. The single most fundamental, most elementary reason why we have a mind is to know God. And the principle function of our free will is to use this stubborn will of ours to learn more and more and still more about God. But remember, if theres one thing that is not forced on us it is knowledge and correspondingly not coerced the response to what we know by love. We know what we want to know and we love whom we want to love and we pray that God might be sanctified, by being known and loved, by the creatures whom He gave a mind and will to for this fundamental reason. We ask, and this is, I might say, an unanswerable question, except on the basis of human freedom. Why are there still so many who do not know the true God and why do those who know Him not love Him as they should? Is it because God does not want to be known or loved by everyone? Heaven forbid. It is because somehow, either they themselves or others have been neglectful and that, quotes, or others is part of the social dimension of the mystery of salvation. The single deepest duty we have on earth, is to teach people about God. And the gravest responsibility we have in our lives is to inspire others to love God. Ah, but we shall teach others to know God and inspire them to love God only, only in the measure that we ourselves both know and love the God except for whom we would not even exist.
The second petition: Thy kingdom come. This petition is different from the first, because it is in effect a plea for the extension of the kingdom which Christ came to found throughout the world. Remember the word most often used by Jesus was not church, it was rather, in Greek (Greek word-bosilaea?) kingdom. What then are we praying for? We are praying that the Church, the kingdom that Christ the King of the universe became man to establish, that it might be extended throughout the world in terms of the number of people who become Christians by entering the Church through Baptism. And remaining in it, by the profession of the true faith. This by the way is also the ecumenical part of the Lords Prayer. Because, although there are many, many more than just Catholics who are Christians, they do not share with us the fullness of the faith we enjoy, we, I add, undeservingly. We pray for those loved ones and our families who though Christians, are not Catholic. We pray also for that larger ecumenism, for the two-thirds of the human race which do not even profess the Christian faith. How this has troubled me over the years. It cannot be; that would be blasphemy that Christ does not want His kingdom extended to the farthest reaches of the globe. It can only be, dear God have mercy on us, it can only be because of our own lack of zeal. This is the missionary cry of the Church, Lord Thy kingdom come. After two thousand years that some three billion members of the human family are not invoking the name of Jesus the Son of God and not venerating His Mother, Mary, my notes tell me to say it, its our fault. And the fault of those Christians, who over the centuries, though they recited this prayer, did not live, dear Lord, forgive us, did not live the Lords Prayer. Were also praying for those within the Church, how this needs to be prayed for today, who are within the Church nominally, but sadly are not in the Church faithfully, lovingly and generously. We continue.
Still on the level of seeking the kingdom of God first: Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Notice the comparison. Can you imagine the chaos if this petition were reversed? Thy will be done in heaven as it is on earth. As though the way Gods will was done on earth was a pattern of how God wants His will to be done. What then is the model for praying that Gods will should be done? The pattern is the way Gods will is being done now in heaven. It may sound odd to us because we associate struggle, effort, resistance, overcoming obstacles, with doing Gods will. We should, therefore, remind ourselves what the qualities are of as it is in heaven. Then we can, how I like to say this, then we can spiritually relax. We talk about relaxing the muscles, well, the spirit, analogously has its muscles too, looking forward to heaven we can relax, no more struggles, no more conflicts, in a word, no more cross. How is Gods will done in heaven? First of all, everyone does the will of God in heaven. We are praying, then, that the will of God on earth might be done by everybody; of course, we are realists and so we pray, may be done by more and more people all the time. Secondly, Gods will in heaven is done perfectly in heaven; nobody does not do Gods will or conversely everyone does Gods will generously and as generously as they can. No one holds back, you know what that means. How we can hold back in doing Gods will? How do we hold back? One guess, by doing our own will, Ive watched it. Forty-seven years in the priesthood have taught me many things most of which I would never publish. What a difference between giving God my whole will, every shred, every fiber, every particle of my freedom and hold nothing, and the word is, nothing back. The gospel is uncomplicated. Gods will is done in heaven with complete generosity with all the created power given to the saints and the angels. And since we are here giving conferences that are for the Spiritual Exercises or the retreat. Whatever else you examine your consciences on for the rest of your lives, in the name of God, lets all, beginning with the speaker, daily examine our consciences on how completely we give our will to God every day in every thing we do. All I can tell you, we do, (comma) we do, (comma) we do, hold back.
Finally, and what is most satisfying, remember, were describing how Gods will should be done on earth modeled on how the will of God is being done in heaven. Gods will is done in heaven joyfully. Do you know why those in heaven are happy? Because they are doing Gods will perfectly. What St. Augustine calls, I quote, The measure of happiness on earth is determined by our doing Gods will, unquote. We are only as happy on earth as we are doing Gods will. Does Gods will include carrying the cross? Dont be silly, of course it does. But whoever said you cannot be happy and carry the cross? Look, will you please graduate from kindergarten. Who is most happy on earth? The one who does Gods will to the best of his ability. But I know, I know myself, I know human nature, its a lifetime learning process. If you object why didnt somebody tell me this sooner? My answer is; Christ did. I have come, Christ says, that you may have joy and have it in abundance, and the key that locks happiness not just in heaven but on earth, is doing Gods will.
Now we come down to earth, in the fourth petition: Give us this day our daily bread. There are two levels to this fourth petition. The first and obvious meaning of the bread that we pray God might grant is of course, food for the body. But, as the Church has taught from the earliest centuries, this fourth petition is also, and with emphasis, a plea that more people might receive Holy Communion everyday. On the first level, remember, we are praying for the whole world. Most of us, dare I say all of us, take for granted that this petition, as far as our body being satisfied, is being fulfilled, why bother praying. But my friend let me remind you, we are praying for the human race. Hear it, in this century alone; where careful statistics have been kept, hear it, millions have died in our century of starvation. And a proof figure for India, one hundred thousand people die of starvation every month in India. Most of the human race, I keep telling audiences, goes to bed hungry every night. How we need to remind ourselves, were the best fed, pardon me, the overfed nation. How we need to pray and lets be honest, and our country is not, not unresponsible for the hunger of millions. But as Pope St. Pius X made so clear, when he brought back the practice of frequent, even daily Communion into the Catholic Church which had lapsed for centuries. Said St. Pius X, The primary meaning of the fourth petition is we are praying that, first of all, all those who are believing Catholics might receive the bread they need to keep themselves supernaturally alive, which is the Body and Blood of Christ. They might receive Christs living flesh and blood everyday. And for the countless millions who do not have our Catholic faith, that they might be converted to Christianity and indeed, Roman Catholic Christianity. And be not just benefit, but sustained in the supernatural life by receiving Jesus Christ, dear Lord, daily.
This fourth petition is a most important invocation on both grounds. On the one hand it is the failure of Christians to live up to the demands implied in this petition that has created the hydra of communism that is murdering millions in China every year. As my Jesuit confrere from France told me during our graduate studies in Rome, our social scientists tell us, the amount of food you Americans waste every year would amply feed the whole country of France each year. But secondly, this petition is such a crucial invocation, it tells all of us to examine our consciences. Am I receiving what Christ tells me I need to remain supernaturally alive, and am I receiving the Body and Blood of Christ daily? And what am I doing to inspire others to do the same? We go on. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. This you will notice is a second comparison. The first comparison; between the way Gods will is done in heaven as the model of the way it should be done on earth. Now, another comparison but as I never tire telling people, a frightening comparison. The word trespass means to offend. How many people offend us? Being offended may indeed be conscience and deliberate on the part of the offender, only God knows. But in my judgment, in most cases it is not so. It is because we take offense. But no matter, whether offense was intended or not, if we were offended, then this prayer is, and I repeat, frightening. We are then told, we are telling God we sinners forgive me in the measure that I am forgiving others. The passive voice of the verb brings out what we so much need to know. We are constantly being offended by people and usually all kinds of emotional consequences follow. Very well, being offended, we are to forgive whether the offense is intentional or not. We must forgive and we ask God to forgive us in like matter. I might add; what a petition. It is if you wish, a malediction, unless, we carry out the condition that Christ bids us insert in our plea. In other words, the request for mercy is provisional. It is a provision four times over; we ask to be forgiven by God, if we forgive, as we forgive, on condition that we forgive, insofar as we forgive. This needs to be stressed. Ever since my priesthood I never tire telling people, we need offensive people in our lives, hear me, hear me, we need people who offend us, we need them. Why do we need them? Because, we need mercy from God, and God will be only as merciful to us as we are merciful to others. There are degrees of forgiveness. And these degrees, I would add, are matters of depth. Ive forgiven her or him but I cant get it off my mind. We want our minds what we want to have in our minds, what we dont want we dont have. This is the heart of the gospel. It took me years to learn this. The most important function of our will is to control the mind, the mind. We think what we want to think and we dont think what we dont want to think. The will, I repeat, controls our thoughts. We continue.
Lead us not into temptation: Clearly, we are not asking God to deliver us from temptation. That would be nothing less than asking for death. We shall cease to be tempted, I dont want to say the moment we die, I would like to add and not cynically, ten minutes after we die. We must continue to be tested to the moment we enter eternity. As long as we are on earth we are given the privilege of being tried. Temptations come from the world, from the flesh and from the devil. And listen, they are part of Gods mysterious providence and intended by God for our sanctification. Never separate two words, temptation and sanctification. We are tempted, why, in order that we might be sanctified. But we do ask in this petition to be enlightened, not to be spared temptation. That I repeat would be asking for death. But to be enlightened, I sure hope Ill be clear, we ask to be enlightened in two very important ways.
First; to avoid unnecessary temptations. You know there is such a thing as being needlessly aggressive and exposing myself to temptation. There is such a thing as tempting God, and that by the way is what the Church means when we expose ourselves to temptation which is more than we have the grace to overcome. There is such a thing as heedlessness. And from another perspective, we ask to be enlightened to avoid temptations that God foresees better than we, would be too strong for us. When are temptations too strong? Hear it, when we get into them. We have just so much strength, we have just so much grace, then with consummate thoughtlessness, where angels who know better would fear to tread, we human beings bluster into a jungle of temptation to which God never really intended us to be exposed. We need, dear Jesus, we need to pray for light. But we go on. There is a second profound meaning to this petition. We also pray to be strengthened to resist temptations that we do face, both those that God in His ordinary providence intends us to experience and even those that fool-heartedly we have unnecessarily exposed ourselves to. We need light then once we are tempted to know how to scramble out of a manhole that we fell into. How to overcome whatever forces of evil are upon us, whether our own passions, or the world, or the evil spirits. How to successfully overcome these temptations and then the clincher, how to be better and more holy because of the temptations. That is the divine providence and purpose of temptations that we grow in virtue. The purpose of temptations cannot be, because it is a divine purpose, that God might see us writhe or struggle. He does not like to watch us wrestle with the devil, what He wants is that, having been tested, we might be strong in our loyalty, in our faith, in our trust and above all, in our love for Him.
Our closing petition: Deliver us from evil, or as the Catechism of the Catholic Church has it, deliver us from the evil one. We might begin by saying that this final petition is a plea to be liberated from sin. What kind of sin? First, all mortal sin, absolutely, and venial sin, increasingly. So, we are praying for a gradual diminution of our deliberate venial sins, but we also pray for deliverance from physical evil that might prove too much for us to resist. Pain can be very salutary, but pain for some people may be too much and so far from making them more holy may be the occasion for their giving in to sin. There are sufferings, whether the social pain of estrangement, non-acceptance or rejection, of someone we love, or physical pain of the body, which we also know, God wants us to endure, but these sufferings should prove good for us. We ask to be delivered from those which God knows would not be for our spiritual benefit. But we pray to be delivered from the evil one, in other words, delivered from the devil. This is the meaning of the closing petition of the Lords Prayer in the Eastern Churches; deliver us from the evil one. But one more meaning, the closing petition of the Our Father is a plea for the grace of final perseverance to be delivered from the absolute evil of hell. We beg God to spare us from such evil on earth as would estrange us from God but we especially plead with the Almighty God to protect us from the everlasting evil of being separated from the God for whom we were made. Let us ask Our Savior who taught us the Lords Prayer to help us not only say it, but to live it. It contains, as we said in the beginning of this conference, it contains all we need to know about our faith; it contains all that we need to understand how what it means to follow Jesus Christ. Above all, it tells us what graces we need in this life so that using our free wills according to the will of God we might indeed enter that heavenly kingdom for which we were made. Where the Lords Prayer will be fulfilled and there, thank God, by anticipation our wills will be always united with the will of God and perfectly happy through all eternity as a result.
Jesus, we thank You for giving us the Our Father, help us to pray it and to live it and to die reciting the Lords Prayer in our hearts. Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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