By Sahayaraj Stanley, SJ
A book that brings Pope Francis’ reflections on “Our Father,” the prayer that we love praying day after day.
I am happy to speak about a book that I recently enjoyed reading. This is a book that brings Pope Francis’ reflections on “Our Father,” the prayer that we love praying day after day and the very prayer that Jesus taught us.
This is a small book of 141 pages. It has ten chapters, with a preface by the Holy Father and an afterword by Marco Pozza, an Italian journalist who interviewed Pope Francis.
In this book, Our Father – Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer, the Holy Father says, “’Our Father’ gives me a sense of security – I do not feel uprooted.” I do not have the sense of being an orphan.” He recalls the words of Jesus to his apostles, “I will not leave you orphans” (John 14:18). The sense of being an orphan is a recurring theme in this small book. Pope Francis talks a lot about the love of the father, the love of the family, and the love of the grandparents, and emphasizes the fact that we are never abandoned as orphans in this world. He says that the world has lost the meaning of fatherhood and so suffers from ‘orphanism’.
The Holy Father points out that many of us would like to hold God as our “private property.” Instead of calling Him as “Our” Father, we want to possess Him as “MY” Father! One can understand how, in this age of market monopoly, this ‘patenting’ of God by the selected few in countries like ours is done systematically!
The Pope points out that today’s fathers are not ready to spend time with their children. He says that fathers should “waste” time with their offspring. Citing work or other reasons, today’s fathers fail to spend time with their kids. The absence of the father creates a vacuum in the lives of children. Are we ready to become ‘responsible fathers?’
The sense of being an orphan is a recurring theme in this small book. Pope Francis emphasizes the fact that we are never abandoned as orphans in this world.
Father in heaven: For the Pope, ‘heaven’ means the greatness of God, his omnipotence. Though God is great, he is close to us and walks with us.
Hallowed be Thy Name: God’s name needs to be revered and hallowed. But are we doing that? Don’t we fight in the very name of God? The Pope’s question is very relevant. When we pray, we need to ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps us to live well, to live with wisdom and love, and helps us do God’s will.
Thy Kingdom Come: The Holy Father here talks about the expression: “The protagonist of history is the beggar.”Luigi Giussani, an Italian theologian, coined this provocative statement. Giusssani writes that Christ begs for the heart of humans, and our heart begs for Christ. Pope Francis points out that the Kingdom of God belongs to material as well as spiritual beggars. Therefore “To say ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ is to be a beggar.
The Holy Father says that this Kingdom project of God needs our cooperation. God needs our participation, but above all, the kingdom of God is an initiative and a gift of the Lord.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven: If we are sincere and open with the Lord, we will be able to do his will, because God does not conceal his will. He makes it known to those who seek it.
Give us this day our daily bread: Pope Francis reiterates what he has been saying all along: The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. It is our duty to feed the hungry. Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis says that feeding the hungry is an ethical imperative for the universal Church.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us: Forgiveness is connected with shame. If shame leads to forgiveness, it is grace. The Holy Father talks about three characters in the New Testament: Peter, the Good Thief and Judas. We know the story of the first two. Regarding Judas, after betraying Jesus, he goes to the high priests, but they wash their hands. With guilt suffocating him, Judas goes and hangs himself. The Holy Father points out: If he had found Our Lady, things would have changed!
And lead us not into temptation: We know that recently the Pope changed this line. According to the Pope, God never tempts us. Temptation is the work of Satan. So, for Pope Francis, “Lead us not into temptation” is not a good translation. He says, “do not let us fall into temptation” – could be the correct translation. Therefore ‘lead us not into temptation’ is now changed into ‘do not abandon us to temptation’.
Deliver Us from Evil: According to the Holy Father, evil is not something intangible that spreads like the fog of Milan. Evil is Satan, a person who is very cunning. The Lord tells us that when Satan is driven out, he goes away, but after a certain period of time, perhaps after several years, he comes back with more cunning and tricks than before. He does not forcibly enter a house. No, Satan is very courteous; he knocks at the door, or rings the bell, and enters with his typical seductive charm, along with his legendary companions. This is the meaning of the verse’ “deliver us from evil.”
Citing poet Leon Bloy, the Pope says: “He who does not pray to God – prays to Satan.”
At the end of the book, the Pope quotes Goethe: “What you have inherited from your fathers, you must earn again to make it your own.” For us, the Our Father is an inheritance. However, it is not enough to inherit it; I must earn it to be able to truly call it my own. This is why it is important to return to our roots. Above all, in this rootless society, we must return to our roots, earn them again.
I found these words of Goethe very powerful, as they made me think of our Jesuit legacy. Our Society of Jesus has a very rich, long, legendary legacy. By becoming a Jesuit I have inherited this rich legacy, but if I do not earn it again and make it my own, I may not be worthy of being a Jesuit.
What the Pope says about the grandparents is interesting. The Holy Father says that we learn life from our grandparents, including our basic prayer life. He talks about his grandmother. That made me realize I was unlucky. I learnt my basic lessons about life, including family prayers, from my parents. I was not fortunate enough to learn anything from my grandparents. They were dead when I came of age! I’ll suggest that you read the Holy Father’s book to understand and appreciate better the sacred prayer that Jesus taught us, asking us to call God, ‘Our Father’.
Fr. Sahayaraj Stanley, SJ (MDU) holds a licentiate in Moral Theology from Accademia Alfonsiana, Rome, and a doctorate from the State University of Innsbruck, Austria. He is the Academic Director of Arul Kadal, the Jesuit Formation Centre for Theology in Chennai. He teaches courses on Moral Theology and Ethics.