Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I’m sure all of us recall memorizing the Lord’s Prayer when we were children.  My grand-nephew, Jonah, learned it at his mother’s side.  He was 4 years old and he and his mom, my niece, Holly, had been working on it for several nights.  Finally, he was ready to go solo.  Holly listened proudly as he knelt by the bed, reciting it perfectly right up to the end when he said, “…lead us not into temptation, but deliver us some e-mail. Amen.”

The key word he got right was “Father.” Jesus is telling us that prayer should have the simplicity of a child asking her father. Someone once said that the Lord’s Prayer is the sum total of religion and morals.  Thoughtful reflection on the prayer has shown that over the centuries. 

Those who have studied this prayer have found that each of the 7 petitions in the prayer reflects one of the 7 foundational virtues of the Christian life.

Our first request of “Our Father” is that His name be hallowed.  God’s name reveals Who He is.  To hallow that name means to recognize its holiness.  We ask here not that His name be made holy, it already is, but that we recognize it as such.  In praying this we pray that He open our heart to reverence Him, to prefer Him to self.  This is the virtue of Faith.  It knows God in a manner not possible apart from grace.  That we ask this of “Our” Father means this will be done within the community of the Church. 

Next, we ask that “Thy kingdom come.”   Our hearts long for a state of perfect justice, love, and understanding.  In short, we long for ultimate happiness.  This is the virtue of Hope.  When our hope is informed by faith we pray that this kingdom of God, this ultimate happiness, come to pass in us.           

The kingdom of God is where all happens according to His will.  Thus, our next petition is that “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”   This is the purpose of the heart.  Here we ask God for the virtue of Love so that we are able to keep His commandments by loving Him and neighbor.  Love is the virtue of this petition because in heaven, where we see God face-to-face, love will remain when faith and hope are no longer needed.           

The first three petitions, then, orient our hearts to our end: union with God.  The last four petitions strengthen the heart here on earth by making it mindful of the means to that end.           

“Give us this day our daily bread.”   “This day” refers to our present life and the bread we seek, according to Thomas Aquinas, is the bread of wisdom.   We are nurtured in our journey to God not by just edible bread, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Here we are asking for the virtue of Prudence, of the practical wisdom to know the truth and take it seriously.              

The petition of the Lord’s Prayer that is least commented on in the Tradition is “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Forgiveness is the restoration of right relationship with another.  Right relationship with others is also the practice of the virtue of Justice.   Here we pray for a right relationship with God and with our neighbors.  This is so important that of all the petitions this is the one Christ commented on further at the end of the prayer in the gospel of Matthew.           

When we ask that God “lead us not into temptation” we ask for the virtue of Temperance.  Obviously, we will not be exempted from any temptations, but as one saint said, “We will not be conquered by temptation; it will not lead us where we do not want to go.”  To not “want to go” means that we have been given the grace of temperance to enjoy the good things of life in moderation because our hope is set on the kingdom.            

The final petition is to “deliver us from evil.”   This does not mean we will be spared from experiencing evil, but that through the virtue of fortitude it will never defeat us in our efforts to place our faith, hope, and love in the Father, in His kingdom, and in living for His will.  It is important to remember that we are not asking for this deliverance for our personal comfort, nor so that we might be admirable to others.  It is sought so that the display of His power, which does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, will occasion us and others to give God glory.           

In this prayer, then, we pray that we become people that are enabled to enjoy true happiness that comes only from God, our Father.  To enjoy that happiness we need the foundation of theological virtues to turn our hearts to God. We need the moral virtues to build on that foundation by using rightly the gifts He has given us.