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Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Lord's Prayer Part 2 - Our Father Who Art in Heaven I

As we continue our study of the Lord's Prayer, based on the structure of Romano Guardini's book, it is time to examine the first petition of the prayer, "Our Father, Who Art in Heaven."  This will be the first of two parts exploring this petition, as there seems to be a lot packed into it.  So, we will begin.

The words themselves point us in the direction of heaven, as our gaze goes upward and our face seeks to meet that of another, God the Father.  It is a deeper dimension than that though, in that the movement of man's heart is compelled to find its way to the heart of God.  The ironic thing about this however is that  our sins have hidden His face from us (Isaiah 59:2) yet here is Jesus, God in the flesh, telling us all of a sudden to address God in such a way as to seek his face!  Why is that?   Quite simply, we must remember that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," (Romans 3:23) and that "there is none righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:10), because of what happened in Genesis 3, namely the Fall.  God is holy and righteous, and in his sight no wickedness or sin can share presence.  So, why did Jesus all of a sudden say that we can petition the Father face-to-face??  Here it is - "having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:1).  As to how this happened, it was when Jesus died on a cross, restoring life to us through His atoning death and resurrection, and that blood we believe covered a multitude of sins (I John 2:2).  As Catholic Christians, we would take this a step further by saying that the piercing of Jesus' side in John 19:34 that brought forth water and blood symbolized our new life in Christ by the sacraments of Holy Baptism (the water) and the Holy Eucharist (the Blood) - as Adam birthed his bride Eve from his side when God took the rib (Genesis 2:21-23), so the new Adam, Jesus Christ, brought forth His bride, the Church, with the flowing of blood mingled with water from His side.  As we are now the Bride of Christ as the Church, we can also boldy approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16), and this petition of the Our Father affirms that from the mouth of Jesus Himself.  However, this is not just a mere intellectual exercise, but rather we live these petitions in spirit because words are movements of the heart and of the mind.

We need to remember that God is a Who, and not a mere "what."  For many years, many of us have prayed the Lord's Prayer wrong, saying often at the opening petition "Our Father which art in heaven."  The reason this is wrong is that it reduces God, as so many false religions do, to the status of an abstract force instead of the person he is, and this depersonalization of God does violence to him as a being, a person - God is being qua being exemplified, a being totally transcendant yet personal at the same time.  When we correctly address God as a "Who" rather than a "which," it instills into our own being an awareness of someone above and all-pervading.  All we see in creation points to something else - creation is enveloped by something that transcends it, something mysterious yet profoundly familiar.  That someone is the Holy, the Divine - God!  In the Sanctus Hymn ("Holy, Holy, Holy") that we sing at Mass every Sunday just prior to the Communion of the Faithful, we profess this truth - "Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory - Hosanna in the Highest!"
That proclamation is also found in Scripture in two places - first, directly in Isaiah 6:3, and it is also found indirectly in Revelation 4:8.  Another place that affirms this truth in Scripture is Psalm 24:1 - "The earth is the Lord's and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein."   However, we must remember also that God the Father is not merely an authority we are touched by, but also possesses a countenance we are now called to look upon.  Being justified by Christ's atoning Death and Resurrection, we have that communion with the Father we need, but we must also remember some other things too.  First, God is not some touchy-feely goosebumpy thing, nor is he a big demiurge up there ready to whack us with a stick when we make a mistake either - God too has a heart, and it is to that heart which we are to turn.  In short, thanks to God's love for us that even cost him the life of his only-begotten Son, we can address God as a person rather than an abstraction!

Despite this fact though, we need to also remember Who we address and not take that for granted.  God's allowing us to approach him in this way is not a privelege or a right; it is a gift.  He first called us, addressing us as persons.  In doing so, he gives us a face (nature) with an inclination to turn toward him.  Therefore, in addressing God directly, we are capable of seeking His face.   We do this in such a simple way though that it is unfathomable to our human wisdom - the "Our Father" tells us in effect to simply address ourselves to Him who is in heaven, and our prayers will reach Him.  James 5:16 reminds us that "the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much," and in Psalm 37:23 we are also told that "the steps of a good (righteous) man are ordered by the Lord, and he delights in His way."  And, finally in Proverbs 17:28 we are assured that "He hears the prayer of the righteous."  In other words, location is irrelevant, as He is omnipresent.  Time is irrelevant, because God transcends the time/space dimension we live in.  And, experience and state of mind on our part are irrelevant, because God is simply bigger than us!  Thankfully for us too, God has a great deal more patience than we often give him credit for, because I know that even my own prayers at times can be frantic, and yes, I am not too proud to admit that on more than one occasion I have fought with God - many times it was a one-way battle though with me doing the tongue-lashing, yet God always makes everything turn out despite my own limitations (praise be to Him for His mercy too, believe me!).  When God says "effective and fervent," he is talking about the prayer from the heart that sincerely seeks Him, and thankfully perfection is not a prerequisite for talking to God, which leads to the next point.  This righteousness - where does it come from?   In Romans 3:10 we are given the glaring reminder that "there is none righteous, no not one," and the reason for that is in Romans 3:23 - "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  Yet, we are told about all these blessings that righteous men receive in the other verses we discussed, so what is that about??    2 Corinthians 5:21 gives us that answer - "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him!"  Again, through Christ do we receive the righteousness to boldly yet in humility approach the throne of grace, and although our earth-bound thoughts often take things for granted, it is an immeasurable marvel to know that God is accessible from anywhere, anytime, and in any human condition we may find ourselves subjected.  Thus, that is why we can address God the Father as a person, and can do so simply.

Now, what about the "art in heaven" part of the petition?  First, although God is everywhere and in all happenings, He is also transcendant - he is not "in" his creation, as a heresy called panentheism teaches (via Jurgen Moltmann and others, this has also permeated some sectors of Christianity unfortunately) but rather is He who is alone in himself.  What on earth does that mean??  For some, it means heaven is a dimension, and although it is that, I personally would hold that it is also a real location somewhere in the universe too.  Guardini doesn't invest a lot of detail debating where heaven's location is, but rather he focuses on what it must be, and there are four things that he notes:

1. Heaven is infinitely pure and holy.
2. Heaven is absolutely calm and hidden.
3. Heaven is strange yet familiar
4. Heaven is beautiful and blessed.

Heaven is, in Guardini's explanation, the inaccessibility of God, His "otherness," but it is also our ultimate homeland, a place of origin.  So, that tells us what this invocation is to mean then.

We ourselves start from the place we are when we pray this petition, and in the hour we live and what we are engaged in.  The God we seek is in heaven, and distinct from all else. To address him, we raise our minds above the earth, and that is because God must be granted his 'otherness."  And, that leads to a discussion of some important issues.

We as human beings tend to think certain ways, and when it comes to God it gets us into some hot water.  Therefore, when we pray this prayer, invoking "Our Father who art in heaven," we have to come to the admission that God is not necessarily like things, time or ourselves.  We don't prescribe to Him what He is supposed to be like according to our preferences, yet we must agree that he is one who is of Himself.  That being said, we have to prepare ourselves for the fact that God is going to be different from our own expectations of Him.  I believe the Thomistic approach of viewing this, as prescribed by the late Fr. Norris Clarke in his seminal text The One and the Many (Notre Dame, IN:  University of Notre Dame Press, 2001) is the best way, in that it affirms that God is love, truth, etc., but on a far more greater level than we as human beings can understand.  We know that  He is all those things, but not how.  We know, for religious purposes, that God is supreme wisdom, love, power, etc., but we don't know the details (Clarke, p. 233-235).  Therefore, being we are created in the imago Dei, we hold that God has those attributes which we share, but that they are in the most pure form with God.  That being said, we need to now discuss some cautions Guardini deals with at the end of the chapter, as they are important.

Guardini notes on page 16 of his text that human beings have this propensity to defend themselves against God, and one of the ways we tend to do this is create God in our own image, making him innocuous by projecting man's own image upon God instead of seeking a true face-to-face encounter.  Much of this is embodied in the way popular culture views Jesus, God the Son.  Because He was human too, it is a temptation to try to paint Him like we want Him to be, and one of the most glaring examples was one  I came across a few years ago in a New Testament class of all places at my former university, and I call this one the "Caveman Jesus:"

I am not sure what on earth the artist had in mind for making this abomination, but to me it makes our Lord look like a boneheaded retard who can't tie His own shoes, and that borders on the blasphemous.  In the efforts of many to "humanize" Jesus and God, making them thus more culturally-relevant, this sort of thing happens frequently.  As Guardini correctly notes, stuff like this is not God,  but rather a projection of man's self upon God.  It is, in essence, trying to re-create God in man's image, and that is insulting to the Holy One who created the whole universe and everything in it.  Equally offensive though is this picture, which I call the "Hippie Jesus," and it is unfortunately a portrait that has shaped many's image of Christ for centuries:

Although generally we tend to be a little less offended at the second than the first, fact is neither of them I believe represent the true Jesus.  Will you go to hell if you have these pictures in your home?  Not at all - as long as you're not worshipping the picture, I think it is fine, although that first picture is just in bad taste!  It is time for us to maybe get back to worshipping God as He is, where He is, rather than trying to project our images onto Him.  The opening petition of the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father, who art in heaven," exhorts us to do just that - we are, in essence, praying "I want you God, as you are in yourself."  As God said to Moses in Exodus 3:14, "I AM WHO I AM," so should we approach God.  His Hebrew title YHWH, as a matter of fact, means simply that - "I AM!"  When Jesus came, the name He took for Himself at the Annunciation, Y'shua, actually also translates to "I am the salvation."   Jesus IS our salvation, and as part of the Godhead, it means that God too is our salvation.  Therefore, when we address "our Father, who art in heaven," we are addressing the very source of our salvation, as well as the fact that He in Himself is our homeland - and as Matthew 11:28-30 tells us, it is in this "homeland" that is God that we find our rest.  And, this concludes the teaching for now, but I hope it edifies your spirit.