The Our Father, Part II
Hallowed be Thy Name
by Father Reginald Martin, O.P.
I. An Invitation to Confidence
Saint Thomas Aquinas reminds us that calling God "Our
Father" ought to inspire the same Confidence in God that children have when they
address a Loving Human Parent. Experience teaches the Sad Lesson
that not all Parents do - or can - adequately care for their children, so to address God as
"Our Father in Heaven" should remind us that our Prayer
does not address a Flawed Human Parent, who might prove Incapable of returning a Childís Affection,
but a Father whose Loving Care is altogether
In the Gospel Parables, Jesus always chooses examples from the Real Life of those whom
He addresses, so Jesus often asks
His Listeners to see a Sign of Eternal Life in some Common Aspect of Everyday Existence.
On some occasions, a Parable describes a Very Low Standard, which we are supposed to Exceed; at other times, a Positive Standard we
should Strive to Meet. At one point Jesus asks, "If you then, who are
Evil, know how to give Good Gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?"
This question encourages us to look at ourselves, not to see a God
Flawed with Human Imperfection, but to conclude what a Parentís Love might be, were it
not Hampered by the Inadequacies that limit Human Love. When we approach
God, we bring everything that makes us who we are. If our experience of our Parents has been
Happy, we reasonably expect God to show us the same regard we have encountered at home.
But if we have experienced a Violent or Unhappy childhood,
the "Lordís Prayer" encourages us to see these Experiences
as precisely what we should not expect from our Encounter with God.
Who Art in Heaven
The Old Testament Book of Ecclesiaticus tells us, "Before Prayer, prepare thy Soul"
(18:23). To identify God as Our Father "in
Heaven" begins this Preparation by reminding us that the Encounter with God we look
forward to in Prayer is no Ordinary Activity. Not only do we address our
Prayer to a Father whose Love is Vaster than any Human
Parentís, the words ought to remind us that we, as children of the Father in
Heaven, share - or at least look-forward to sharing - the Glory that our Heavenly
Father enjoys. Saint Paul encourages us, "As we have borne the
image of the Earthly, let us bear the image of the Heavenly" (1Corinthians 15:49), so our words do not only
remind us who God is, but what we are (and are called to be) by our Relation to
A Call to Contemplation
Jesus warns us, "Wheresoever thy Treasure is, there also is thy
Heart" (Matthew 6:21). These words can be quite Frightening when we think of
some of the things that make our Hearts beat faster. However, to approach
God as our Father "in Heaven", allows us to
direct our Minds toward our True Home, to "seek the things that are
above, where Christ is" (Colossians 3:1). In one of his Sermons, Saint John Chrysostom preached that the
words "in Heaven" do not confine God to one place,
but rather invite us to withdraw from Earthly Concerns and fix our attention on things Outside
and Above us. These thoughts of Heaven lead us more and more to desire our True Home, and this desire
Elevates and Purifies our Hearts, enhancing the Spiritual Dimension of our Life and uplifting both
our Lives and the Nature of our Prayer.
A Call to Morality
When he considers the Words of the "Lordís Prayer", Saint Augustine asks us to
look at our Relation to our Human Parents and draw some conclusions about our Relation to God. We
have Parents on Earth, he says,
"That we might be born to Labors and to Death; but we have found other Parents, God our Father, and
the Church our Mother, by Whom we are born unto Life Eternal".
These Relations not only Ennoble us, they equip us to Act Nobly.
Saint Augustine uses the words of the "Lordís Prayer" to remind us of the Intimate
Connection between our Prayer and the other Activities in our Lives.
"Let us then consider", he urges, "whose
children we have begun to be; and let us live as becomes those who have such a Father".
The Power of Heaven
To acknowledge our Father "in Heaven" asserts our
Faith in Godís Power and the Majesty
of His Nature. Unless they are Aided by Grace, our
Minds cannot grasp much beyond what greets our Senses. Our
Imagination may furnish Heaven with all sorts of familiar,
everyday details, but when we Pray to our Father in
Heaven, our language refers to a Plane of Existence that is beyond anything we can
Imagine. To acknowledge Godís Existence in this State-of-Being, acknowledges our belief in
His Superiority (and Control) over every Atom of Physical Creation. Our
Prayer also acknowledges His Greatness, which exceeds anything
Human Imagination can picture.
The Communion of Saints
Thus far we have considered the words "in Heaven" to refer to
Godís Spiritual Abode. Saint Thomas Aquinas offers an additional meaning to these words, remarking they can also refer
to the Saints, whose Glorified Lives are filled with Godís Presence.
When we Pray, our Prayers are United to the
Prayers that the Heavenly Host continually offer for the
Church. And because Jesus promised, "If any man love Me ...
My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our Abode with him" (1John 4:16), our
Prayers also Unite us with every Faithful Christian who enjoys the State
II. An Invitation to Ask
The very first words of the "Lordís Prayer" inspire Confidence. They tell us who
God is, and they remind us what Godís Love calls us to be. Once
we grasp (however imperfectly) the Reality of Godís Love, and the Immense Benefits this
Love confers on us, we may approach God with Trust and Confidence.
The words of the "Lordís Prayer" now teach us what we should ask of our
Loving Father, and how we should Frame our Request.
A Grammatical Note
The "Lordís Prayer" is an extremely Compact Statement, and the language of the
Prayer is nothing less than remarkable. The Punctuation of the Prayer
will vary with the Scripture Translation, but the Prayer consists of Seven
(7) Petitions, each of which is expressed either as a Wish or a Command. In this Prayer we
either urge God to do something, or we assure Him we will welcome
something He does. This language reflects both our Daring and our Trust. Because
God is "Our" Father, we dare to tell
Him what to do for us; because He is our
Father "in Heaven", unmoved by any of the ignoble Feelings or Motives that detract
from our Actions on Earth, we have the Confidence to say we will Accept, unquestioningly, what God Wills.
The First Petition of the "Lordís Prayer" expresses
a Wish that Godís Name will be Known and Revered. This seems a safe enough thing to ask for, but
Saint Augustine warns that these words also ask God to make His
Name Holy in us.
... Holy it always is. And how is His Name hallowed ... except while it
makes us Holy ... For we do not wish Well to God ... but we wish what is
Good for ourselves ....
The mere fact of our asking God to make His Name known is a
pledge that we will take Responsibility for the Outcome of our Request, and that we will help to make it happen.
Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches that Godís Name, which we ask to be made Manifest and Honored,
is Lovable, Wonderful, Venerable
It is Wonderful because it accomplishes great things. Jesus says,
In My Name they shall cast out Devils; they shall speak Strange Tongues; they shall take up Serpents;
and if they drink any Deadly Things it shall not hurt them (Mark 16:17,18).
We may never be called upon to perform these Specific Works, but Our Saviorís Words should
give us the Courage to Live our Faith Bravely, Confident of Godís Presence to Guide and Guard us.
Godís Name is Lovable because we all desire
Salvation, and "there is no other name ... whereby we must be Saved"
(Acts 4:12). The Lives of the Saints show the Value we should attach to Godís Name; the
Martyrs, especially - who were willing to Die rather than deny
God - help us see how Fiercely we should Cling to Him.
We say Godís Name is Venerable, because it Commands Respect
throughout Creation. Saint Paul says, "At the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, on things in
Heaven, on Earth, and under the Earth" (Philippians 2:10). The Respect paid by the Heavenly Host should be obvious,
but Saint Thomas remarks that "Of things on Earth" refers to Humankind, who bow
before God for the Love of Heaven,
which we desire. "Things under the Earth" the Angelic Doctor says, refers to the
Damned, Who acknowledge God
out of Fear.
Saint Thomas calls Godís Name "Ineffable"
because it cannot be adequately described by Human Speech. We often use Metaphors, which reveal some Quality or Aspect of
God, such as "Rock" or "
Light," to describe the Stability we find in God, or the
Brightness, Warmth and Safety we enjoy in
His Presence. In itself, however, the Magnitude of Godís Name is
beyond our ability to grasp or express. That we can address God by Name at all is
His Gift, given to Moses (Exodus 3:13) - and to us - as a Sign of His Love.
A Hallowed Name
The English Word "Holy" reminds us of the word "Whole".
Godís Name is Holy because it belongs to God,
of course, but at the same time the Name is Perfect (or "Whole")
because it lacks nothing, and because nothing can be added to it. In Latin, the Word "Sanctum"
refers to the Holiness of Godís Name, but also calls to mind the
Word "Sancitum", which means "Firm".
Godís Name, thus, reminds us of the Eternal, Unchanging Solidity of Godís
Love - which the Blessed enjoy in Heaven, and which
we aspire to as we make our way through a daily-changing World.
To call Godís Name Holy is to distinguish it from the things
of Earth. This is not to say that Earthy Things are Unholy, but that Creation is, by its Nature, Incomplete. Moreover,
Creation can do nothing without Godís Assistance. God, on the
other hand, is Eternally Creative, and His Loving Concern guarantees our continued existence as well
as all the Produce of the Earth that supports Life. Finally, we say Godís Name is
Holy because God is the Light that destroys the
Darkness of Sin and Error.
The Proper Order of Things
The previous reflection observed that the "Lordís Prayer" teaches us not only to
Pray Succinctly, but also how our Prayers should be
Organized. Saint John Chrysostom commends the Order of the "Lordís Prayer", saying
we do well to begin by asking First for the Revelation of Godís Glory,
which contains our tacit Prayer that we may be part of making this Glory
known. "His own glory He hath complete ... but He commands him who prays to seek that He may be glorified
also by our life".
Doing Our Part
We may imagine that because our Prayer asks God to do something -
perhaps, especially, to do something for us - we are Passive Partners in the Encounter; the "Lordís
Prayer" should Dispel this Notion forever. We reasonably ask God to provide what we
cannot provide for ourselves, but in doing so we Pledge our Willingness to be a part of what we
Pray for. Godís Name is Holy; we cannot add or
detract from its Holiness. However, if we Pray that the
Holiness of Godís Name be Acknowledged in our World, we offer
ourselves as the Preachers or other Ministers by which this will come about.
One of the Fruits of Prayer is a Greater Understanding of who we are, and a Clearer Understanding
of the individuals God calls us to become. Prayer can be a
Transforming Experience if we allow ourselves to be Transformed. This Transformation comes at a Price,
which is the possibility that we will be Changed by the Experience of our Prayer. When we
Pray the "Lordís Prayer" we ask
God for certain Specific Outcomes; if we are not willing to Play-our-Role in these Outcomes, we should hesitate
to Pray for them.