When we pray, we usually use formula prayers, those we have recited since childhood, using another’s words, like the Hail Mary. When we mature to a personal relation with Mary or Jesus, we use our own words, spontaneously. Both are good, and we need the former for group prayers, but it is better if we can make that one-to-one relation part of all our praying — a huge jump for most of us.
Take the Lord’s Prayer. If we translate it into our own way of saying it, it might sound like this:
“Our Father…” The first two words do what the Lord wanted. They locate us in a parent-child relation with God. “Our” also relates us to all God’s other children, making everyone our sister or brother, ending all racial or other discrimination or pretense that we are superior to anyone who does not look like us. In God there is no gender, so we could just as correctly say “Our Mother,” something catechists teach children with a poor relation with their fathers. In Jesus’s culture, the father was the wage-earner and helpmate of the mother, but Israelites had to battle with patriarchal chauvinism as do we. We could just as correctly pray “Our Parent.”
“… in heaven …” This is the haven from the storms of life everyone faces here on earth.
“… blessed [or praised or holy or saintly] be you …” “Hallow” is a word we use on the eve of November’s All Saints day for the people who are blessed. The day after Hallows’ eve celebrates all the holy ones. Next Oct. 31 have your children dress as saints.
“… may your domain become real …” God’s kingdom is all creation, not just the church, and we pray that all people will realize this. Once this happens, all harsh human domination of some people over others will yield to proper control in the universe. It is one of Scriptures’ many affirmations that the many -isms of the world, such as communism or fascism or capitalism, are not the supreme arbiters of right and wrong. God rules.
“… may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven …” This is self-explanatory, but it also is the root definition of holiness or sanctity: uniting our human and fallible wills to God’s. In theory we always admit that what God wants is best, but we have a harder time living out our professed submission of what we want when we want it.
“… Give us today’s daily food …” Poverty means depending on others for the very bread we eat. The poor have a much greater understanding of this since much of the day and its mental stress are consumed with getting the food on the table and pleasing the family with the work of preparing supper.
“…and forgive us our sins just as we forgive those who offend us…” This is the one part of the prayer that brings us up short. What would happen if God were to forgive us only to the extent that we forgive others? If God were to measure out to us with the same teaspoon or eyedropper we use in giving out our own compassion and release, where would we end up? Do we really want God to be as stingy with us as we are with others? Jesus has a parable about a steward whom the master absolves of a huge debt. But the steward turns around and flogs a fellow servant for a nickel-and-dime debt, bringing down on him the master’s wrath.
“… Don’t put us to too severe a test …” Pope Francis recently commented on this baffling part of the prayer. The “temptation” is a testing that we pray is not too much for us because we know how weak and wobbly we are, just from past experience. God does not tempt us the way evil does, presenting something appealing but known to be off limits. We can only sin if we choose what we know is wrong. Mortal or venial, there is no banana-peel sin, on which we slip when unawares.
“… but deliver us from evil.” Having asked to be given an easy test, we conclude by asking that God would save us from evil which we know is more powerful than we are.
“Amen.” All the people together ratify the foregoing.
The Lord’s Prayer, translated for our own time
Our Father in heaven, blessed be you. May your domain become real, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today’s daily food and forgive us just as we forgive those who offend us. Do not put us to too severe a test but deliver us from evil. Amen.