27th Week OT (Wed): Luke 11.1-4
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX
It can be just a formal noise, can’t it? Sort of like how we greet strangers on the street: heyhowyoudoingdoingfinegood. It is so familiar, so much a part of who we are as church-going people that the words mush together, the sounds seem to rush out as one long word, breathless to be spoken, almost as if we were about to run out of air praying: “Ourfatherwhoartinheavenhallowedbethyname…” Sort of like praying on auto-pilot or maybe something like a trance-state where we slip into the mantra and just hum through it.
Repetition can sap meaning if the heart isn’t in it. And by “heart” I don’t mean our emotions. Walt Disney, Inc., Oprah, Inc. and years and years of self-help litter have convinced us that “heart” is about feeling, about emotion. The music rises, the eyes brim with tears, and the magical bear (or bird, etc,) tells our hero/ine, “Just follow your heart.” Cue music cresendo. The end. Problem solved. Not quite.
In secular terms “follow your heart” often means something like: “feel your way through it and do as you please.” In Christian terms, specifically Catholic terms, the heart is something very different: “The heart is the dwelling place where I am; where I live…[it is] the place ‘to which I withdraw.’ […] It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, b/c as image of God we live in relation, it is the place of covenant”(CCC 2563). The heart, then, is our Catholic way of talking about our bond with the Divine, a place, if you will, where God dwells, where our covenant, our living contract with the Father rests. We are made to be walking, breathing tabernacles of God’s presence. When we pray from the heart, out of our covenant, as images of God, we become living, breathing tabernacles of God’s presence.
So, what does this have to do with the potentially meaningless repetition of “Ourfatherwhoartinheavenhallowed…”? The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. He responds with those all too familiar words. Those words, spoken from the heart, evoke the convenant, spark the fire of the Spirit; they rededicate us to a life of holiness in service to others, committing us to day-to-day to dependence on God.
Jesus’ prayer teaches us how to pray not by giving us a precise liturgical formula or the correct magical spell; he teaches us to pray by describing for us how to stir up our baptismal covenant, how to place ourselves within the filial bond of Christ—how to understand ourselves as children of the kingdom, heirs to the kingdom—and how to bring that bond into our lives with one another, sharing our daily bread, forgiving one another’s sin, and helping each other to avoid evil.
Prayer is never about glorifying the one praying. Father, blessed is your name. Prayer is never about manipulating God into doing our will. Lord, your will be done. Prayer is never a Neiman-Marcus shopping list. Give us our daily bread. Prayer is never a demand for holiness. Forgive us our sins.
Prayer is not wishing thinking, magical manipulation, or bargaining with God. Prayer is the means by which we feed our covenant with God. It is how we bring ourselves to see, to accept, and to give thanks for God’s blessings. To pray in your heart, for us to pray together as the heart of the Church, is to invoke an intimacy with the Divine that leaves us breathless, shining, and ready to go out from here as brillant tabernacles of the presence of the Lord.