Thursday June 20, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Sirach 48:1-14) Gospel (St. Matthew 6:7-15)
In the Gospel readings of the last week or so, we have been going through Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Today we come to the very center of that sermon, that is, as He taught His disciples to pray and He gave them these glorious words of the Our Father. In these seven petitions of the Our Father, every single thing that we could ever ask for is contained - everything is there. When we look at that, the Lord is giving us this little, tiny prayer but in it contains all the things that our hearts could desire, and they are also in the right order. So it is something that we need to learn very carefully.
The Our Father is something that rolls off of our lips so often that we usually do not even think about the words because we are just able to repeat it from rote, but that is not the way Our Lord wants us to pray. In fact, He makes it very clear when He says, "Do not babble like the pagans." If you are not paying attention to what you are saying, it is not a prayer. Saint Teresa of Avila says, "If we do not pay attention to who it is that is asking, Who it is that we are asking, and what it is that we are saying, I do not call it prayer at all." Now this is from the woman who was the greatest of all prayers in the Church, next to Our Lady, to say these are the things that must be focused on: who it is that is asking, Who it is you are asking, and what it is that you are saying.
We need to keep in mind that we are nothing and we are coming before God, Who is all. It tells us something about the disposition and the manner in which we must come before the Lord to pray. It is not a nonchalant kind of thing. Prayer is the greatest privilege that the soul can have, and yet it has become so commonplace for most of us that it has probably become rather sloppy. That is not pleasing to the Lord; His Majesty deserves far greater than that. We would not go before a government official with that kind of attitude, yet we would come before the Lord that way. And so, we need to look at our own disposition.
Then the other aspect of it is paying attention to our words. When you start praying about the Our Father and you stop to think that everything we could ever ask for is contained right there, then you begin to realize that there is much more there than what meets the eye and you can begin to unpack it little by little. Just think, from now until the end of your life, you could meditate on simply the words "Our Father" - to call God "Father" and that relationship that you have with Him and what that means: He is not merely one's own but for all of us; and what it means to call Him "Father" as opposed to anything else we could refer to Him as; and the intimacy that that points to and all these different aspects of it. We could pray for years just about what that means. The question is how many of us have really stopped to think about it. And it is not just with regard to the point of God being our Father, but it is on all the points. When we start seeing what is contained in each one of them, we can start opening that up and begin to see the love that God has for us and the love that we are to have for God, because that is contained right in there too.
So these are the most important little words that we can pray. They should not just roll off of our tongue and be repeated in fifteen seconds or less; but rather, we need to pray them, and pray them well, so that we are understanding what it is that we are saying. We also place ourselves before our heavenly Father; we pray that His Name would be hallowed so that we recognize Who it is that we are praying to; and we recognize, then, that we are His children, that we are His creatures, and that before Him we are nothing, yet He gives to us this incredible privilege in praying to Him and calling Him "Our Father". We need to keep those three things very clearly in mind every time we go to prayer so that we will have the right disposition, our prayers will be heard, and they will be answered.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.