our father

Church of the Pater Noster, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Israel.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

[Jesus] said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name….”   Luke 11:2.

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The Our Father is the central prayer of the Christian community, from the lips of the Savior himself. It is the summation of all our hopes, our trust, our belief, our devotion to God. Wherever and whenever Christians gather, this is the prayer you will hear. At the Church of the Pater Noster (Our Father in Latin), you will see this prayer in 140 languages!


One of the 140 Languages Displayed in the Church of the Pater Noster.

By tradition, this church, and the cave beneath, is where Jesus prayed, and where he taught his followers the most important prayer in Christianity. Matthew’s version of the prayer is more familiar to us so this is perhaps an opportunity to  consider the essential meaning of Jesus’ prayer as we look at Luke’s version. So, for example, “forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us” . I recall reading Matthew’s version out on the school intercom in Brooklyn, where I was a teacher, shortly after 9/11/2001 attack. Several of my students lost their first responder fathers on that day. It means we say to God that we forgive those who sin against us in the same breath as we ask God to forgive our own sins.  Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us….” Looking at Luke’s terminology in today’s gospel, we are saying that those who have run up an enormous indebtedness to us are to be forgiven that debt. Do we, can we, really forgive those responsible for 9/11? But Jesus’ words are pretty much definitive. Yes we must – yes we do. Lack of forgiveness means carrying a grudge, a hatred, which can fester within us for a long time, and can metastasize into something uncontrollable and evil. Hatred is a breeding ground which can even develop into something worse than the original evil act. If we use today’s gospel word “debt”, we know that in the real world, a debt such at 9/11 can never be repaid. Knowledge of that can become overwhelming for us to whom it is due. Only we, to whom it is owed, can forgive it. And that can even be more challenging if those who owe it show no remorse, no sorrow for what they did, as in the case of 9/11 where the guilty even thought they were doing God’s will. Even in the face of such frustration, anger, even hatred, the Lord is clear – forgive them their debt!


The Our Father Updated, Timothy R. Botts, Calligrapher.

Today’s gospel concludes with Jesus encouraging us to ask God for our needs, and even to persist if we do not get what we are asking for, even if we are convinced that our request is good and proper, not, for example, asking for the name of the winner of the Kentucky Derby! I’m sure that you, like me, have asked for what seemed to be absolutely right but did not receive it, perhaps even after years of asking. I don’t have the answer, save to hope that my request is locked in the heart of the Lord for a better reason that I can imagine. Jesus must have felt that in his last moments on the cross. So we are in the best company when seemingly God has, for some good reason, chosen to turn away from our petitions. It is indeed that at such time our faith is tested. In fact it has been said that we only know if we have such faith in times of great challenge. Jesus did not lose hope, even then. We are never to lose hope, no matter what, following in Jesus’ faith-filled footsteps. Just as he found, ultimately, a God of love and hope, so shall we.


Christ at the PilloryBartolomeo Montagna 1500, Gemaldegalerie, Berlin, Germany.


Today’s readings are very challenging. You might like to go a little deeper by looking at the SundayMassReadings for this 17th Sunday three years ago:


Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.