Pray with the Greatest Simplicity, Reverence, and Love
Tuesday March 2, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier†† First Week of Lent
Reading (Isaiah 55:10-11)††† Gospel (St. Matthew 6:7-15)
In the Gospel reading, Our Lord in teaching us the Our Father, gives to us in one little prayer absolutely everything that we can ever pray for. But what is most important about this prayer is the simplicity. Now when Our Lord tells us that this is how we are to pray, we can look at other places in the Gospels and see that it is not always the way that Jesus prayed. For instance, on the Cross, He intoned Psalm 22 and Psalm 36 and a few others; in the Garden, He prayed that the cup would pass Him by. So it is not just in these exact words, but ultimately it is always the same. It is the forgiveness, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do, and it is always the point of Godís Will, Not my will, but Thine be done. These are the things that we have to be able to learn.
First and foremost is the reverence for God. We recall as we begin this prayer and ask that Godís Name would be hallowed, it is talking about within ourselves. Godís Name is holy; we are not going to make it holy. But it is a matter of saying, ďWithin me may Your Name be holy,Ē because it is so easy to take Godís Name in vain these days and to kind of ignore Who He is and what He is really all about. Whenever we look at the way Jesus prayed, it is always with the greatest reverence for His Father. But we can also just remember in that second commandment the way that the Jewish people treated the Holy Name of God; it was so holy that they would never even use it. To this day, they will not use the proper Name that God has revealed of Himself lest even if accidentally His Holy Name might come out of oneís mouth with even the slightest irreverence. So they would never ever use His formal Name. Of course, we can use other words. They would always use Adonai which means ďLordĒ but they would not ever use Yahweh, and they still do not. We can learn a lesson from this that Godís Name must be kept in the greatest reverence.
And it helps us to think about Who it is that we are approaching when we go before the Lord. To call Him Father certainly says something about our relationship with Him and the love and the confidence we can have in approaching Him, but also remember always that He is God and He is holy. We do not approach Him in a nonchalant way. We do not approach Him in a way that, as Americans, we might approach one another, or even worse, a store clerk or somebody that we tend sometimes to treat in a rather unfortunate way. We need to be very careful with this. Sometimes, if you carry out the analogy, we treat God the way we would the person behind the customer service desk when we want to return something that was faulty. We yell at Him; we treat Him with disdain; we treat Him as though He is some kind of buffoon Who does not know what He is doing and that we have a right somehow to come before the Lord and treat Him as though He is less than we are. Not only do we not have the right to do that to another human being, but this is God. We need always to keep that in mind. Remember that Saint Teresa of Avila, when she teaches us about the Our Father (it is something you can read in her little section on the Pater Noster), makes very clear that always the first thing in prayer is to remember Who you are addressing; and, number two, who it is that is doing the addressing. We are praying to God Ė and look at who is praying! We need to keep things in the proper perspective. We cannot come arrogantly before the Lord, and we cannot treat God as though He is someone who is far less than we. In our minds, of course, we would never suggest that He would be, but just look at our actions and look at the way we pray.
Godís way of prayer is very simple. In the first reading, He says, As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, so will My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me void but will do My Will for which I sent it. Very simple. God speaks for only one reason, that reason is fulfilled, and that is all. When we pray, the Lord tells us, Donít rattle on. Be simple. Come to prayer with the greatest reverence and the greatest love. Seek the holiness of God, seek to maintain that reverence and holiness within your hearts, and seek the Will of God. When we look at these things, the Lord places before us, first and foremost, the disposition we have to have before we ask for anything for ourselves. This is what we have to learn. Prayer does not have to be complicated; it can be very, very simple because it is not the number of words that we use but how much love we have as we pray and the disposition within our hearts as we come before the Lord.
So that is the lesson: that as we continue to enter more and more deeply into this holy season, to make sure we are doing it the way that God Himself desires it to be done Ė with the greatest simplicity, the greatest reverence, and the greatest love.
*† This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.