A Lenten Reflection by Fr. Larry Swink: The Our Father

Fr. Larry Swink is a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington and a friend of the CIC. He recently offered a Lenten Evening of Recollection at the Catholic Information Center on cultivating a right attitude of prayer. We invite you to view his (30-minute) meditation here on what St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas both called the perfect prayer, the Our Father.

Be sure to like and subscribe to the CIC’s YouTube Channel and other social media feeds as we will share segments from Fr. Larry’s meditation, “7 Prayerful Habits Leading to Piety,” in these upcoming final days of Lent and through Holy Week. Father offers practical tips for developing and improving our prayer habits.

Since we are in the time of Lent, I think it’s appropriate to pray about prayer. I think the one thing that we all realize is that we all can pray better—to pray more deeply and with better intentionality. My reflection will be on the Our Father.

In the Gospel, Our Lord Jesus teaches that “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them…” (Matthew 6:5). Then He goes on to say about prayer, “Do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them.” (Matthew 6:7-8)

When you pray, say:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one.”  (Matthew 6:9-15)

I think the first thing that we have to meditate on is when we pray the Our Father, do we babble it? Think about how we pray the Rosary or even at Mass…are we praying it as a reaction?

Both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinus said the Our Father is the perfect prayer. Why? Jesus gave it to us. He’s God, and He says “When you pray, this is how you pray.”

The other thing the prayer tells us is (#1) what we should ask for in prayer—AND (#2) in what order we should ask for these requests. If we can master the Our Father, we could get a lot accomplished in prayer: we would know what to ask for and then it would open us up to a deeper trust in Him.

The first point to first meditate on is that Jesus says, “Our Father.” Our Father—and in this, we are taught that God is a loving father. The Father knows, as Jesus said, what we need before we even ask Him. We also have to meditate on that when we pray, “Father,” — do we really believe that God is a loving father and that He knows what He is doing?

The Father has a plan for us and He knows exactly what is good for us, even the junk that happens in our lives—that it is part of the bigger plan. And I know that aspect for many people is incredibly difficult to accept. We react, “I’ve been asking God to fulfill this request/this desire forever, and I’m not even getting a hello from Him!”

We must believe that what is true is that God does love us and He is a loving father. The catechism makes an interesting point that sometimes our image of God has to be purified because it has been distorted from what we have witnessed and experienced on Earth.

For instance, if someone’s earthly dad was distant, worked all the time, or wasn’t present at all in his kids’ lives, or perhaps he was an alcoholic, or was in some way abusive—that can very much distort a person’s reality of God as a father.

I recall the story of one of my priest friends, who is a very good priest and whose father walked out on him and his mother when he was a teenager for a much younger woman. It was an embarrassing scandal that was known throughout his community. My friend shared with me that one of his hardest undertakings while in seminary was looking at God as a father. The Lord eventually healed and purified him of that distorted image, and my friend realized that “God is not like my dad. God is going to take care of me, and God is not going to abandon me.”

In order to understand the Our Father, we have to be convicted of that point: that God is going to take care of us. You’ve probably heard the anecdote in the book by Scott Hahn, A Father Who Keeps His Promises, which is sort of an overview of the Bible as being a love story. Hahn opens his book with the true story about a father and his little son named Armand from Armenia. Armand and his dad had a morning ritual during their morning drive to school. Before saying goodbye, Armand’s dad would kiss him on the forehead and always say, “You know, Armand, Daddy will always be there for you.” And one day they went through their ritual, the father kissed Armand, and dropped him off at school. As Armand’s father was driving off, all of a sudden there was this terrible earthquake. Armand’s dad looked back, and everything was destroyed. He thought, “My son!!” He gets out of the car and runs backs to the school, which at this point was completely demolished. Armand’s father starts digging and the people around him are trying to stop him telling him to go home and comfort his wife because his son is dead.

He told them, “Dead or alive…I’m going to find my kid. I’m doing this.” And they left him alone and he continued digging. Armand’s dad dug for about 33 hours, and as he picked up the last piece of board with his last bit of strength, he looked down and he saw his son was alive with six survivors. Somehow they were protected in this little hole, and the amazing thing was not just the fact that he found Armand, but what his son said to the other survivors. As he pulled his son out of the hole, Armand looked back at the other kids and said, “I told you my daddy wouldn’t leave us here.” Then Scott Hahn asks his reader, “Do you see God like that because that’s the kind of father He is?”

So keep that in the back of your head no matter what you’re going through is that God does love you; and even if it doesn’t make sense, God has a plan. Because if we don’t believe that then we really cannot pray the Our Father. We all know that life has a way of taking turns and sometimes God permits great suffering in our lives with situations that we don’t understand.

“Who art in heaven” doesn’t necessarily mean that this Father God is directionaly “up there.” This phrasing means “majestic.” The catechism teaches us that God is not just a father, but He is this majestic powerful Father right—an all powerful God, an omnipotent God, a God that can just say things like “Let there be light,” and there’s light! He can create out of nothing. He can change things. He can do things. And we have to realize that God is God and He’s not just our dad—but we have the strongest dad in the universe as our God, our Father God is all powerful.

And then we go into what is called the seven petitions. These are powerful and it basically shows us the order of what we should ask for—what we should ask for and the order.

The first petition, “Hallowed be Your name,” is what? Daddy God. I say that because Jesus called God the Father, “Abba,” which is actually an affectionate Jewish word meaning “Daddy.” So it’s kind of beautiful that Our Lord Jesus calls His Father “Daddy, Dad.” It shows a extremely affectionate relationship between the Father and the Son of God. Obviously, the Father and Jesus are one God—They’re one in the same—and They’re different persons. But there’s also this incredible relationship between Jesus and His Father that we also receive. Why? Because we are baptized and we can have that same relationship with Daddy God, who’s all powerful.

Now when we say, “Hallowed be Thy name,” what we have to realize here is that we are not making God’s name holy. God’s name is holy in and of itself. We are not to consider this in a causative sense but it is an evaluative sense. In other words, we recognize God’s name is holy and that we carry the name of God because of our baptism.

We also must think about how do we use God’s name? Do we use it in vain?

The other thing that we need to realize is that we want God’s name to be known, and the way we get God’s name to be known and that it is holy is by the way we live our lives. It’s a very challenging premise. God is basically telling us, “You carry My name so make Me proud.”

Think about when we were kids. What was the one thing we always wanted? To make our dad proud of us. The point is we want Our Father to be proud of us. Do we think about our lives in that way? God is watching our every moment and that He does care about what we do, and He’s proud of us as a dad. So when we get up in the morning, we should want to make Our Beloved Father God proud. “Hallowed be Your name!”

“Thy kingdom come.” Right now what does that mean? Basically we’re saying, “Hey Jesus, come back and take care of evil. Let’s be done with this world and go home.” We’re asking that the Lord come back to take what is His. And what is His? Everything. The sad reality is so few recognize Jesus as God. In many ways, no one really cares about what He says or His teachings. They kind of mock Him.

We want God to come back—and more importantly, we want to be prepared and we want others to be prepared too (if we love souls). But also that kingdom has to start happening in our lives, that we have to start seeing things transform in our lives. The catechism says only a pure soul can boldly say, “Thy kingdom come.” So we have to try to bring God into earthly realities too. As a Catholic we can’t divorce our public lives from our private lives, and we can’t take our faith out of our public life either. Our faith should have a huge impact on everything we do. We can’t live a double life.

Then we go to the most dangerous of all the prayers, “Thy will be done.”

What is the ultimate will of God? It’s basically one line in scripture that He “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4). I’ve been praying “Thy will be done” a lot in the last couple of years. I’ve had some pretty serious health problems that have completely changed my priesthood a hundred percent…pulling me out of a parish, and I have to say a lot, “Thy will be done. I don’t understand what You’re doing, Lord, but You’re You and You must have a big plan.” I then try to remember Our Lord when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane, and He struggled with accepting the chalice. And what is the chalice? The chalice of suffering. And Jesus said to His Father, “If you can, Father, take this chalice—but not My will but Your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42).

The question for ourselves is do we have enough trust in God to realize that His will is being accomplished even in suffering? That God is carrying out His will, but we may not see it because we can’t see the bigger picture presently. Remember God sees everything from 50,000 feet, and we see it from ground zero. God sees everything at once. We only see what’s right in front of us right now, and that’s why we have a lot of anxiety. And what is anxiety? Anxiety is fear of the future. And one of the most powerful prayers is just “Thy will be done.” God, if it’s what You want, I want it. If it’s not what You want, I don’t want it.”

Once we do that, there’s a lot of peace that can come into our hearts even when something difficult happens like your kids don’t go to church, or they are not talking to you, or you have some sickness or marital problems, etc. No matter what, be faithful and say, “Lord, Thy will be done. Use this. I know You have a master plan. I don’t see it, but I trust in You.” Why? He’s our Abba Father, our Daddy God, who is not going to abandon us. “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

The next prayer petition is “Give us this day our daily bread” where we ask Our Father to help us. This prayer is very much tied in with “Thy will be done.” The catechism says the “give us” is the trust of children who look to their father for everything that is beautiful.

When we petition Our Father, we know that we can’t survive without Him. Remember when we were kids, and we depended on our dads to provide for and feed us, to bring home the bacon? The catechism 2830 says, “‘Our bread’: The Father who gives us life cannot not but give us the nourishment life requires—all appropriate goods and blessings, both material and spiritual.” Now that’s amazing! God, because He’s our Dad, He has to give us what we need physically and spiritually to do His will.

See how they’re tied? So we ask for His will, but then we need the bread. If I’m going to do Your will, Father, You have to feed me. If I’m going to endure suffering, You have to strengthen me. I need food for the soul. I need Your protection.

This is supposed to take away some of our anxiety, that we have to trust. We might not get what we want, but God will give us what we need—that’s a promise. He will provide for us what we need also to get to heaven though we may not necessarily be completely happy on earth.

The other day I was preparing a couple for marriage, and we got to the part of discussing openness to life and I asked, “How many kids would you be willing to have?” And they looked at each other, so I asked, “Would you trust God to have as many children as He wanted you to have?” It got very quiet.

Whenever I preach about openness to life in marriage, I always go zone into the point, “Do you really think God’s not going to take care of you if you are open? Do you really think He’s not going to take care of the kids or give you the physical and spiritual support that you will need?”

I have one story about a University of Dallas friend/rugby teammate who is one of 21 kids. We had been nicknamed him “Bunny.” (He also walked a little bit like a rabbit too.) During one of our rugby parties, we were kind of busting his chops and I remember saying to him, “Bunny, how’d your parents do it?” Bunny replied, “Shut up, man! You have nine brothers and sisters.” And I said, “No, seriously. How?” He asked me, “You really want to know how?” I said, “Sure.” Bunny said, “Every time Mom got pregnant, Dad would go to the church and pray to St. Joseph…and he would get a raise.” God gave them their daily bread.

In all parts of our lives, how many times do we have anxiety attacks? We should just think, “Okay, God, if you want me to do this—it’s going to happen.” It kind of simplifies life when we pray that way. If a young guy is thinking about the priesthood or if you are afraid to get married, God will give you the grace to do what you have to do. If there is a job that’s difficult—but you know that God is calling you to do it—He is going to provide for it. If there are bills to be paid, they will be paid. It’s a promise, and I’ve seen this, as a priest, happen all the time. Just trust.

However, this does not mean that we could just say, “Okay, God, give me my daily bread,” and then we get lazy. The catechism 2834 when discussing prayer and work repeats the saying, which is often attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola, “Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended upon you.” That’s key! God does give us grace, but we have to do our work too. We can’t be lazy, and we have to make the effort and work hard too—but God will God will take up the slack. He promises us that.

One other aspect of “daily bread” is that it is redundant. Why are those two words together? It is a translation from the Greek word “epiousios,” and it’s found nowhere else in the New Testament. Basically it translates properly as super substantial bread. Jesus is talking about the Eucharist. God is basically asking us to desire to receive Him daily in the Eucharist.

I think it is important that you ask yourself, “Do I desire daily Mass and daily Holy Communion?” If we really believe what we believe about what the Eucharist is—that it’s God’s Body and Blood, then why would we not be crawling on our hands and knees to go receive Him? I think a lot of people approach Mass like the flu shot. They want it to be as quick and painless as possible. Most Americans watched this year’s Super Bowl in overtime late into the night, which made the Monday workday kind of horrendous. I wish most of us had the grace to approach the Eucharist that way and to be excited about our daily bread.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Especially in this time of Lent, we should know that it doesn’t matter how many times we fall, God will always forgive us. It doesn’t matter how bad it is. The Lord’s Mercy is greater than our greatest sin— but there is a condition: we have to forgive those that have hurt us. St. Josephine Bakhita was pushed around to different slave owners. One particular slave owner took a razor blade and cut her 110 times on her back and put salt in her back…it was awful. Many years later she became a nun and someone asked her the question, “What would you do if you met that woman that did that to you? And the slave traders?” Collectively all the people that had hurt St. Josephine the most. She responded, “I would kiss their hands because without them, I would never have known Jesus and never become a nun.” That’s what saints do? We have to let go.

“And lead us not into temptation.” The catechism 2846 states that God does not lead us into temptation. What we’re praying for here is a twofold petition. Firstly, we are petitioning the Father to not allow us to go where we will get spiritually hurt and to avoid compromising situations. We pray that we hear our guardian angels firing their warning shots. Unfortunately, because of concupiscence, we often silence our guardian angels’ warning sirens and listen to the other voices.

This leads us to the second part of the petition. If we do find ourselves getting into temptation, we are praying that the Lord will help us get out of it. So, when one’s in temptation we do have to pray that God will get us out of it, but we also have to pray that beforehand when God gives us warning alerts that we will follow His grace. If there is a pattern of committing the same sin and later on we retrace our steps, we can see how God provided so many ways out. We have to listen to that still voice while being tempted and then take the escape routes when God offers them.

“Deliver us from evil’ is not about evil per se. It’s deliver us from Satan. We’re actually praying, “Deliver me from the evil one.” The Greek word “diabolos” means to throw one across the will of God. So we are trying to follow the will of God, and what is the evil one trying to do? Stop us. So, when we are praying the Our Father, we are praying to keep Satan away from us and that we know the Lord is far more powerful than the evil one. Again, Daddy God, protect me.

We have to not be afraid of the devil, but we also have to be sober and recognize that he’s doing a lot of work right now. He’s messing up a lot of lives. Who wins in the end? We know…of course God, but we’re in a big war right now and there’s a war for your soul too. Don’t be deceived about that. Know that the more you strive for holiness, the more the evil one is going to try to attack you. Have you ever noticed in your spiritual journey that when you have progressed three steps forward something then pushes you five steps back? Who do you think that is?

One other tool to help in our spiritual battles: lose all negative thinking. “You stink. You’re ugly. You’re worthless. You’re never going to figure this out.” Blah, blah, blah. You need to renounce those self-defeating thoughts, those lies. God does not talk that way; Our Father does not talk to His sons and daughters that way. The devil’s voice is accusatory and defeating, and the Holy Spirit’s and the Father’s voice is consoling. It’s the voice of the dad. Our Father God is like, “Son/Daughter, you can do it.”

To end, I encourage you in your meditation time to go through the Our Father line-by-line and think about which section touched your heart the most. Maybe just dive deeper there in prayer and meditation. Have a little conversation with Our Lord. Wherever you may have doubts or struggles or concerns, give it to God and say, “Hey Father/Abba Father/Daddy God, here we go.” And whatever it is, “Deliver me from the evil one,” “give me my daily bread” or if you are struggling with God’s will then “Thy will be done.”

God bless you.

Posted on March 17, 2024

Donate Now