Blessed John Paul II wrote these words to the Church as she embarked on the Third Millennium: “Dear brothers and sisters, our Christian communities must become genuine "schools" of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed … in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly "falls in love".” Thomas Aquinas College, no less than any other Christian community, must be a genuine school of prayer. In our classes we read Aristotle and St. Thomas, Euclid and Shakespeare, but always with our final end in mind: union with the Triune God through authentic prayer. This school is indeed a school of prayer, with its chapel at the head and center of campus, and the curriculum truly culminating in the one thing necessary: knowledge of God.
There is no more authentic prayer than the Lord’s Prayer, given us today in the Gospel. The disciples watched Jesus praying one day, and they realized that up to that moment, they had never really prayed. When he returns from his prayer, they implore him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And so the Lord gives us his own prayer to his Heavenly Father: “Our Father, who art in heaven….” We pray it six times in each rosary, and to prepare ourselves for Holy Communion at every Mass. The Catechism calls this prayer the “the summary of the whole Gospel,” the “fundamental Christian prayer.” In the words of St. Augustine: “Run through all the words of the holy prayers in Scripture, and I do not think that you will find anything in them that is not contained and included in the Lord’s Prayer.” If we learned no other prayer in all our Christian lives, if even we taught our children no other prayer but this one, if a pagan in missionary lands discovered only this prayer, it would be enough. It is the only formal prayer that all Christians can agree on.
Bargaining with God
Let us realize what prayer is: when we pray, we do not talk to God so much as he talks to us. As Fr. Barron observed in his Sunday homily this week, we do not pray to change God’s mind; we pray to change our mind—to align our minds and wills with His. Consider Abraham in the first reading. It seems like he is bargaining with God, which is what many attempt to do in prayer. Deftly but respectfully, our Father in Faith negotiates God down from fifty to ten: “if I find ten good men in Sodom, I will not destroy the city.” (As it turned out, God only found four just people in Sodom, and he gave them a free pass out before he destroyed the city.)
Is Abraham negotiating with God? He is certainly persevering in petitionary prayer to save his kinsmen. But what Abraham actually does is persevere in prayer until his understanding aligns with God’s will. The city must be destroyed, even if good men will suffer, because sin has consequences. (Our own cities too are suffering destruction from sexual perversions, as the breakdown of family and social order result from promiscuity.) Abraham comes to understand this, but he also comes to understand how God wills the salvation of every soul. In prayer, Abraham comes to know and love the mind and will of God. We too learn to know God’s will only in and through disciplined, regular prayer. If we have a problem in our life, or with God’s will for us, only in prayer can we find peace. We may need to spend many hours before the tabernacle to learn to love God’s will, but learn to love Him we will, if we persevere in prayer.
With Jesus, Surrender to the Father
The Lord’s Prayer expresses this “Abrahamic faith” perfectly. First of all, Jesus instructs us to address God both as “Our Father” (immanent) and “in heaven” (transcendent). God is my father, understanding my fragility, but God is also the eternal and omnipotent El Shaddai, ruling the cosmos in perfect justice. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray that His kingdom come, not ours—His will, not ours. We pray that we can come to love His will, in every circumstance. When I pray the Lord’s Prayer, I join the Son of God in surrendering my will, my intellect, all that I have and possess, to my Father in Heaven, who alone can bring me to heaven.
So, with Jesus in prayer before his Father, with Our Lady “keeping all these things in the silence of her heart,” let us also put aside distractions and keep silence, listening for God’s still voice. In every time of prayer, following the Church’s own liturgy, let us pray the Our Father, not to change God’s mind, but to change our mind, that it may conform to the mind of God.