July 25, 2010
We Are Cordially Invited!
A man had a minor heart attack, and was rushed to the nearest hospital for immediate coronary surgery. The hospital was run by the Sisters of Charity. The operation was successful, and the next day, the nun visited him in his room. “Mr. Jones, you’re doing just fine,” the nun said with a big smile as she gently patted his hand. “But we have to know who will pay for your medical bills. Do you have a medical insurance?” “No, I don’t have,” the man said in a weak voice. “Are you going to pay in cash, then?” “I don’t think I can, Sister. I have no money.” “Do you have a family or any close relatives around here?” “Yes, I have. But she is an old maid, a spinster nun assigned in Florida,” said the man. The nun’s smile vanished, and quickly corrected him, “I beg to disagree, sir. Nuns are not spinsters. They are married to Jesus.” The man’s face brightened up and said, “Really? Then, you may send the bill to my brother-in-law!”
This story reveals a profound truth. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he started with the word “Abba”, which, in the English language, is equivalent to how a child would call his father, as in “Daddy” or “Papa”. Jesus is telling us that we are closely related to God. He is not just our brother-in-law. He is our loving Father!
In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus is not merely giving us a formula of prayer that is easy to memorize and recite. Rather, in giving us the prayer “Our Father”, Jesus is offering a three-fold invitation to us. In the first place, he is inviting us to enter into an intimate relationship with God. St. John pointed it out in his letter: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us in letting us be called children of God. Yet that is what we are.” Hence, we are reminded that when we pray, our only and best disposition is to be like little children. That is why Jesus insisted, “Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” God wants us to relate to Him as a child relates to his own father – with love, trust, honesty, humility and total dependence.
Many times, when parishioners come to me asking for prayers, they would invariably say, “Father, please pray for my intention. I know you are close to God and you are an expert in praying.” I am not even sure if this is a compliment. Contrary to popular belief, praying is not the monopoly of priests. It is supposed to be the main priority in the life of every follower of Christ. In the Gospel last Sunday, Jesus told Martha: “Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.”
Prayer is the lifeblood of our soul. Saint Padre Pio calls it the “oxygen of our soul”. We cannot live without it. All of us need and are expected to pray. And if we love God, we will find time to pray. Prayer is an expression of our relationship with God. We pray, not because we are close to God. Rather, we are close to God, and so we pray. A child who does not have close relationship with his father will not talk to him in an intimate way. Prayer is the fruit of our relationship with God. The more we love God, the better our prayer will be. Therefore, there are no experts in prayer, but only true lovers of God. Likewise, seniority has no value in prayer, but only the ability to become like little children.
Secondly, in teaching the “Our Father”, Jesus also invites us to enter into a more meaningful relationship with him and with one another. If we call God “Father”, then Jesus is our Brother. Perhaps, nobody among us here will object to that. But Jesus has identified himself with our fellowmen, especially those considered the least, the lost and the last. In the parable on the Last Judgment, Jesus concluded: “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me.” He demands that we also accept his brothers and sisters as our own. That is why the prayer starts with the first person pronoun “our”. It is never “My Father”. A selfish person has no right to pray the “Our Father”.
In his book “Jesus of Nazareth”, Pope Benedict XVI said: “Only within the ‘we’ of the disciples can we call God ‘Father’, because only through communion with Jesus do we truly become ‘children of God.’ In this sense, the word our is really demanding: It requires that we step out of the closed circle of our ‘I.’ It requires that we surrender ourselves to communion with the other children of God. It requires that we accept the others – that we open our ears and our hearts to them. When we say the word our, we say Yes to the living Church in which the Lord wanted to gather his new family…The Our Father overcomes all boundaries and makes us one family.”
Finally, in teaching us the “Our Father”, Jesus is inviting us to share his vision of this world. The Lord’s Prayer is not as simple as it looks. It is radical and revolutionary: it is a prayer that demands a fundamental change of the world – from being a world of injustice, selfishness and misery, into a world of justice, peace and happiness. It is a prayer that impels us to obey God’s will so that we can be instruments for the transformation of this world into becoming God’s kingdom on earth: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is heaven.”
In the Our Father, Jesus is offering us his threefold invitation: to become God’s children, to become brothers and sisters of Jesus and of one another, and to become instruments for the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. There is an RSVP attached to this invitation. Our reply is needed and it should be: “Amen!”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002