Giving is Living; the Call to Communion
By Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. "This is how you are to pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions." St. Matthew 6
Today's Gospel reading in the Sacred Liturgy presents us with very familiar words. We call them the "Our Father." This wonderful instruction in prayer follows two chapters in the Gospel of St. Matthew wherein the Evangelist compiles Jesus' teaching to all those who would enter into His new way of living. He instructs them on how to love.
The "Sermon on the Mount" is followed by a series of insights into how to live by giving. At the heart of the Christian faith is this profound but simple truth; it is only in giving ourselves away-to God, and in Him, to one another,- that we find the path to human flourishing and "peace", which, in the Biblical sense, means right relationship, with God and with one another. Before all else, the Christian faith is about relationship, about the call to communion.
After these instructions, we receive this wonderful insight on how to pray. Prayer is the heart of this relationship of communion. It is a dialogue, an intimate encounter, with the God who is Himself a communion of love in perfect unity. In Jesus Christ, we are actually invited into that communion.
This prayer, the "Our Father", has captured the hearts and minds of saints and mystics for millennia. It has inspired some of the greatest Christian writings in our wonderful tradition. It is also the most repeated prayer in our Christian treasury of prayers. It reveals a simple but profound key to Christian living. Giving is living.
If prayer is about getting, why then does Jesus begin this instruction with such a telling reminder as "Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him". Some may then say "Why pray?" Because love, and the prayer that is its fuel - is about relationship. God, who is Love, desires our love. He hungers for our free response of asking, of engaging, of listening, of loving. He wants to give, to lavish His love, because He is love. Love always gives itself away to the other. Just prior to teaching us this prayer, which is in reality a pattern for all prayer, Jesus says "In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them."
Some, in reading these words, fail to grasp their intended purpose, confusing the term "pagan" with a disparaging word. It is not. Pagans had a "religious" system. However, it was rooted in a perspective of appeasing or manipulating an impersonal, or in some instances actually hostile, higher force in order to appease it or to meet their desires, not even their needs.
This is not Christian prayer.
Rather, Christian prayer is rooted in a relationship of trust with a Father who truly does "know best"; a Father who waits for the voice of the son or daughter whom He loves.
The Sacred Scripture reveals a love story; Our Father loved us from the beginning. He fashioned us for a relationship and gave us the capacity to freely choose to love Him in return, to give so as to live. When we chose against love, He continued to love. He continually gave Himself, revealing His love to a chosen people who were to model the covenant of love and lead the entire human race home to love.
We are continually reminded of the story as our beloved priests address Our Father in the Liturgy (Eucharistic Prayer 4): "You formed us in your own likeness and set us over the whole world to serve you, our Creator, and to rule over all creatures. Even when we disobeyed you and lost your friendship you did not abandon us to the power of death, but helped us seek and find you. Again and again you offered us a covenant, and through the prophets taught us to hope for salvation. Father, you so loved the world that in the fullness of time you sent your only Son to be our Savior."
"While we were yet sinners", as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, Our Father sent Jesus to give Himself for us. This Jesus, fully God and fully Man, now reveals the way of giving and the way of living for all who choose to walk, to live, His way and respond to His invitation.
In writing to the Christians in Philippi, the Apostle Paul instructed them (and us) to "have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2). This God Incarnate, who walked among us, who shared our very humanity, showed us that giving is living - with every word, every action, and every breath - culminating in His last breath as He surrendered His life as a free gift to the Father and on our behalf.
He "emptied Himself" for us and now invites us to, in Him, empty ourselves for others. His entire life and His death were about giving Himself in love, for love and to Love. And, as we will soon celebrate at the end of this Lenten Season, Love conquered death. He is thus the "Way, the Truth and the Life..." and we still come to the Father through Him.
Giving is not an "add on" to our busy lives, a religious practice that we add to the day to day "stuff". Rather, giving is living for the Christian; a way to communion with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit and a life now lived for others.
In this communion of love we live our lives differently in this world as a sign of the world to come. When we live this way, we learn the true meaning of love; and we begin to really live. Our Father knows our needs before we ask. He invites us to live our lives now in His Son and, through Him, to continue His great mission of redemptive love.
Let us join Jesus and pray the "Our Father" with our words- and with our lives.
Deacon Keith Fournier is a Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia who also serves the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy with permission. He is a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Deacon Fournier is the Senior Editor and Correspondent for Catholic Online.
Third Millennium, LLC
http://www.catholic.org VA, US
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