As editor of a Catholic newspaper, I am privileged to work with a group of very dedicated people. Our employees put in long hours for low pay and sometimes take work home. Their dedication is something you cannot buy.
Other people have jobs in the secular workforce and then devote their evenings to the service of the church. They perform various unpaid ministries in their parishes, the diocese or with other church-related organizations. Without the commitment of these people, the church would cease to be the church in the form we know it.
But more than it needs dedicated employees or lay ministers, the church needs saints. The church's whole reason for being, in fact, is to be a saint-making factory.
Saints, to be sure, do not roll off an assembly line. They are all unique beings who live lives totally dedicated to God using the unique, personal gifts God has given them. But the church is our means of salvation and the body of Christ exists to nurture the grace and life in each of its members. Our call is to become saints -- people so thoroughly dedicated to God that Christ is immediately visible in our lives.
One of the basic convictions of this series of reflections on the Catechism of the Catholic Church is that believing, praying, acting and celebrating are all one. They all have their root in the heart. They are different modes of relating to God, but they all express the state of one's heart and they all form one's heart.
If one spends one's time drinking and carousing, that not only expresses the pleasure-oriented state of one's heart, it also makes one even more oriented in that direction. If one spends a couple of hours a day in prayer, it not only expresses one's devotion to God, it strengthens that devotion.
The words of the Lord's Prayer may express what is in one's heart; meditated on, they will surely form and strengthen one's heart to be in accord with God's will. The problem is that the words of this prayer are so familiar to us that we may tend to rattle them off without thinking.
But a prayer is not an incantation. It is not a magic formula which, by being recited, will cause some bit of magic to transpire. A prayer expresses what is in one's heart and it forms what is in one's heart.
The Lord's Prayer is a special prayer. It was given by Jesus himself. Moreover, Matthew's Gospel records this prayer as part of the Sermon on the Mount, that discourse in which Jesus describes the way of life his followers should pursue. So we can expect to find in the Lord's Prayer a description of saintly living.
In fact, if one reads the Lord's Prayer in reverse, one can find something resembling stages in the Christian life which bring one closer and closer to God.
The first steps toward holiness are to leave evil behind and to overcome temptation. One never totally overcomes temptation, of course. But our striving, with God's help, to do so is the most crucial step on the way of holiness. It shows a changed orientation -- a change away from putting oneself first and towards putting God first.
As we struggle with temptation, we will continue to fall and need God's forgiveness. In the Lord's Prayer, we ask God to forgive us in the same manner that we forgive others. Here, we are making a commitment to forgiveness, a commitment which goes against our nature which wants to remember how we have been hurt. Yes, we want to avoid similar hurts in the future; but we also tend to bask in our hurts, to portray ourselves as victims. This petition says we will strive to overcome such self-centredness.
And then there is the desire to seek our security in possessions. When we pray that God will give us our daily bread, we are asking that he will give us what we need to live, but only what we need. At this stage, we are beginning to place our full trust in God.
When we can truthfully say "your will be done . . .", our trust in God has become fuller. We are saying that not only my possessiveness towards things must be abandoned, but also my own goals and aspirations. One becomes more like Mary who, instead of trying to control her destiny, simply received it from God. And by receiving her destiny, she gave infinitely more than she could have on her own strength.
If a person has been faithful this far in the Lord's Prayer, he or she enters more fully into God's kingdom. The world of self-centredness has been left behind and one is walking in the light. The saints saw life in this world as a time to tune up their instruments to play in the heavenly symphony. When we pray for God's kingdom to come, we say that we are trying to live now as we will live in heaven. Our love will always be less than perfect but at times it may come close to approximating the perfect love with which we will live in heaven.
When we live with perfect love, we hallow God's name -- we make God's face appear to those around us. God lives in me and his life in me is apparent to those whom I encounter. This is a high degree of sanctity.
With such sanctity, one truly lives as though God is one's Father. Every fibre of one's being comes from God. There is not a shred of rebelliousness against God, for to rebel would be to assert that I am a slave of God, not God's beloved child. It would be to reignite the fire of original sin.
The Lord's Prayer is thus a way to union with God. It does not rely on apparitions or peak experiences. In fact, it will be aided more by suffering than by pleasure. It is a way to God which anyone can travel. It is the way all are called and implored by Jesus to walk. It is the way to be most fully human, most fully alive.
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