When one of Jesus’s disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray, Jesus responded with the Lord’s Prayer (Lk 11:2-4; Mt 6:9-13). In Matthew’s version, the prayer begins with “Our Father.” Jesus chose to begin His prayer with “our,” not with the individual “my.”
Since the first century A.D., there have been countless discussions, works, commentaries, books, and writings of all types about that first word, “our.” For example, centuries ago St. Cyprian of Carthage wrote about Jesus choosing to teach us to say “our” Father, not “my” Father:
Before all things, the Teacher of peace and the Master of unity would not have prayer to be made singly and individually, as for one who prays to pray for himself alone. For we say not My Father, which art in heaven, nor Give me this day my daily bread; nor does each one ask that only his own debt should be forgiven him; nor does he request for himself alone that he may not be led into temptation, and delivered from evil. Our prayer is public and common; and when we pray, we pray not for one, but for the whole people, because we the whole people are one. The God of peace and the Teacher of concord, who taught unity, willed that one should thus pray for all, even as He Himself bore us all in one.”(St. Cyprian, On The Lord’s Prayer).
Jesus did not give us one prayer to be said in community and another to be said when alone. Even in those situations in which we are alone, Jesus wanted us to pray for all of us. Prayer for the entire Body of Christ. He also wants us to pray to His Father as Our Father.
St. Augustine on the Our Father Prayer
St. Cyprian wrote that we should each pray for all of us. St. Augustine saw this “all” as meaning that we are all equal and having the same Father. The bishop of Hippo wrote,
Of which the first clause is, Our Father, which art in heaven. We have found then a Father in heaven; let us take good heed how we live on earth. For he who has found such a Father, ought so to live that he may be worthy to come to his inheritance. But we say all in common, Our Father. How great a condescension! This the emperor says, and this says the beggar: this says the slave, and this his lord. They say all together, Our Father, which art in heaven.” (Sermons on the New Testament, Sermon VIII).
As spiritual brothers and sisters with the same heavenly Father. Augustine saw the Lord’s Prayer as beginning with an implicit declaration that we are all one spiritual family:
Ye then who have found a Father in heaven, be loth to cleave to the things of earth. For ye are about to say, “Our Father, which art in heaven.” You have begun to belong to a great family.” (Id., Sermon IX)
With all the discussion and writings down through the centuries, there is nothing new under the sun that can be said about the Lord’s Prayer. So this article will conclude with some actual happenings involving the power of the Lord’s Prayer in our lives today.
In terms of prayer “power,” there is arguably no more powerful prayer than the Our Father.
A few years ago a man stood up to speak publicly to the mayor and city council of San Antonio, Texas. He spoke against the evil of allowing some fraudulent re-zoning to take place that would allow a new, large Planned Parenthood business location to open. Here is an excerpt of what he said:
Some years ago my Brother gave a speech. Actually it was many years ago, and it was about why we are here now. He used the word “us” several times and by “us” he meant all of us, everyone here tonite, everyone in San Antonio, and all of our children, including those still happy and warm within their mothers. And He used the word “evil” and evil is what we have in San Antonio today. It is a horrorific, terrible, wicked evil. My Brother spoke of this evil being overcome and of us being saved from it. It is a short speech that I am going to repeat now, it is often called a prayer, and I would welcome anyone here now who remembers it to say it with me. It begins with the words “Our Father.
After the man began the prayer a huge number of those present finished it with him. As he began, several council members began literally squirming in their seats. They knew the entire session was being videotaped. They rose to leave, stared at the camera, and then sat back down. When the man then began the prayer, again, but this time in Spanish, they tried to ignore what was going on. Even more voices were raised saying the prayer en espanol with him. Then the man continued to speak:
Never forget, each time you say these words, “us” is all of us, and all the children; and “evil” is the evil we now face here in San Antonio. Yes, my Brother is Jesus. Now that two or three, actually so many more, have gathered here in His name, He is here with us. This is not a story, this is not a myth or a dream or a fantasy. Here in these chambers Jesus Christ, God Almighty, Lord and Savior of us all is here now with us. And He is here not only as Himself, but He is here in each and everyone of us because He made each of us in His image and likeness, and He wants all of us with Him. And let us go forward this evening knowing that we are here first, foremost, and primarily to do all we can to see to it that all of us spend that long happy eternity with God in heaven.
Personal Testimony to the Power of the Our Father Prayer
Sometimes the power of the Lord’s Prayer is not immediately evident. Once a group of us stood outside an abortion business, a Planned Parenthood franchise location, and prayed. The prayers included the Rosary and the Chaplet of Mercy. Both devotions include the Lord’s Prayer. We watched as about 26 persons, 13 girls and women, and their babies, went in that day. It appeared that all of them were there long enough to have an abortion. All of them. We were devastated. Not one sidewalk save.
A number of us went to a nearby restaurant for a late lunch. While we were there, spiritually deflated, a young woman came over to us and asked, “Are you the ones who were praying outside Planned Parenthood today?” We told her we were. She replied, “I just want you to know you are the reason I am still pregnant. When I drove up and saw you all, I was moved, and I knew then I could not kill my baby. My child is alive because of you.”
Ironically, the babies that were killed that day heard the Lord’s Prayer for the first time from our lips as their mothers went into Planned Parenthood. This was also the last time they heard Jesus’s prayer on this earth.
Jesus told His disciples:
And when they will lead you and hand you over, be not thoughtful beforehand what you shall speak; but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak you. For it is not you that speak, but the Holy Ghost. (Mk 13:11)
If many situations, if no words come to you, you can always rely on the words already given to you. You can always pray “Our Father.”
This is the second of a series of excerpts from a treatise on the Lord’s Prayer by Saint Cyprian of Carthage which is used in the Roman Office of Readings. It focuses on the Our Father as a communal prayer of God’s children (Cap 8-9: CSEL 3, 271-2). It appears in the Roman Office of Readings for Monday in the eleventh (11th) Week in Ordinary Time, with the accompanying biblical reading taken from Judges 4:1-24.
There is a line in the Catechism that should touch our hearts as we pray: “God’s love has no bounds, neither should our prayer. Praying ‘our’ Father opens to us the dimensions of his love revealed in Christ: praying with and for all who do not yet know him, so that Christ may ‘gather into one the children of God.’”
So let us pray for one another this week — pray for our brothers and sisters everywhere and for peace in our troubled world.