This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Lord's Prayer Part 3 - "Our Father Who Art In Heaven 2"

When Romano Guardini wrote the book on the Lord's Prayer that is the basis of this study, he devoted 2 chapters of it to just the invocation of it - "Our Father, Who art in heaven."  This study deals with the third chapter of the Guardini book as it relates to our recent parish Bible study on it.  Many have remarked how this has helped them to look somewhat differently at the way they pray the Lord's Prayer, and indeed it has also helped me understand it personally in a new way as well.  So, with that being in the way of introduction, I wanted to share the thoughts as I presented them in our parish Bible study on Palm Sunday this year (2015).

In the third chapter, Guardini emphasizes that first of all it doesn't matter where it starts from, but the movement of the heart can rise to God. It is not constrained by time, condition, or circumstance, as there is always a way leading to God.  The way, of course, is through the Holy Spirit, who via our relationship with Christ indwells us and convicts us to communicate with God directly, as by the shed Blood of Jesus Christ we now can, as Scripture proclaims to us, "boldly approach the throne" (Hebrews 4:16).  It is in Christ that we are made righteous before the Father, and thus we now can address Him as "Father."  Hence, the prayer Jesus taught us.  Being that through Jesus is the only and right way (John 14:6), it stands to reason then that there are wrong ways too, which Guardini also talks about in this chapter.  However, I have simplified what Guardini says in the form of certain wrong approaches with which man tries to approach God.

We begin first with the ancient Greeks.  After studying a lot of philosophy, I have come to the conclusion that God led the Greeks in such a way as to prepare the world for the spread of the Gospel utilizing their culture and language - it was God's purpose, therefore, to allow Alexander of Macedon to conquer the known world, and later for the Romans to adopt much of Hellenistic culture in their hinterlands - after the Romans were Christianized under Constantine, as a matter of fact, the Roman Empire in the East essentially became Greek!  Indeed, my own spiritual mentor, the Greek Orthodox priest and herald of renewal, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou, once remarked that the Greeks too were in a sense a "Chosen people," much like the Jews, in that God used them by equipping them with a philosophy and language best suited for expressing ultimate, metaphysical reality (Eusebius Stephanou, "The Orthodox Church and Israel," published 2014 by St. Symeon Orthodox Renewal Center and accessed 1/2/2015 at stsymeon.org/28-the-orthodox-church-and-israel.html.).  The problem with the Greeks however was the same as with most non-Christian religions - they have a certain amount of the truth (or, in the case of philosophers such as Plato, they ask the right questions) but the truth they have has been corrupted and obscured in many cases.  As Guardini points out on page 18 of his text, there is something in our nature which leads us to seek God, and we are often compelled to ask the right questions, but often it is our human reasoning that gets in the way and corrupts it.  Fortunately for the Greeks, the light of Christianity eventually illumined their people, and thankfully most of the Greek people are Christianized.  And, in a big way, they have Aristotle and Plato to thank for asking those questions, as well as the Apostle St. Paul, who in Acts 17:19-34 used this Greek propensity to witness Christ to them, and many believed there including St. Dionysius the Areopagite (verse 34).   It goes back to Romans 8:28 - "all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose."

The "heavenly father" concept was also something believed as a vestige of truth among pagan nations, although the idea of who or what this was ended up falling into corrupted understanding.  What ancient pagan religions understood as a "heavenly father" was something quite different from what Christ taught, and their faulty understanding came to be manifest in two forms.  The first, which we know as pantheism, saw this "heavenly father" as an all-embracing, all-pervading, powerful "goodness."  Plato's Republic has one of the most vivid examples of this, because Plato spoke of it in Book VII, when he said "...it's useful to search for the beautiful and the good."   Guardini would rightly say that this "Good" Plato talked about had a core, and that would be Zeus, and he notes on page 21 that other cultures have different names for this too.  However, the error made by these pagan religions was one in which they saw this "good" or "heavenly father" as something pervasive and powerful, yet lacking personal interest in the human condition; he describes this attitude as a "cold indifference."  In other words, to cultures like this and the religious systems that define them, the "heavenly father" is to be found in oneself, in a rock, a tree, a dog, etc.   It is also not some dualistic force, as we see many early Indo-Iranian religious systems believing in (deities such as Ahura-Mazda among the ancient Persians, and the Shiva/Krishna deity among Hindus).  This is the first error of those who have not come to know Christ and His teachings.

The second error is one of mere "deism," which is something that became quite popular during the Enlightenment era of American history, as many of the Founding Fathers of the US subscribed to it.  the "deist" version of the "heavenly father" amounts to a deadbeat dad essentially - like a turtle or snake, he lays the egg and his offspring have to fend for themselves.  This has often been also called "Clockwinder Theology" because it asserts that God set the universe in motion and then stepped back to basically let it run itself.  This fallacy is also as heretical as the pantheism of the pagans, and neither is what Christ means.

What Jesus means essentially when He addresses God as "Our Father" is this - it pleases God to make mankind, the crowning glory of His creation, His children.  If we look on page 20 of Guardini's text, we see it there - He with whom Jesus speaks is who God is, His Father.   And, when we see Jesus, we see the Father (John 14:9) because God is as Jesus, in being and in actions. God is then our Father through a gracious decree - starting with Jesus, Psalm 2:7 prophetically tells us that "the Lord has said to Me, 'You are my Son, today I have begotten You..."  And, we call him "Father" because of what Christ said to us - Galatians 4:7 tells us that once we receive Christ in baptism, we "are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, than an heir of God through Christ."  And John 1:12 - "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."  That last phrase is what Guardini is talking about on page 22 when he says "it does not belong in our nature and our being that we can say 'Father' to God; it is by His grace that He has made us so." (Guardini, The Lord's Prayer, p. 22). It is therefore imperative that we understand that the mystery of the Fatherhood of God is not to be confused with human reasoning, because we do not become children of God via integration with the natural world, but it is by our faith in God's grace, as personified in Christ.  Therefore, it is important to also remember that faith is not only a blessed certainty, but it is something we learn through practice - confessing God as "our Father" rather than "my Father," for instance, in our petitions.  We learn, therefore, from the attitude of Christ to speak to God as "Father." and by praying the "gateway" - Thy will be done - with this, we learn to conform the attitude of our heart to the teaching of Christ, and growth results.  Our faith is a living faith, and must be practiced on a daily basis to keep it vibrant - the Apostle St. James said it when he wrote that "faith without works is dead," (James 2:20) and it produces fruit (see Galatians 5:22-23).  Therefore, it is not possible to call the non-Christian our "brother," because they are not of the same Father we are until they are reborn through the confession of faith in Jesus Christ and the waters of baptism.

Note too that we pray "Our Father," and not "my Father."  If we put too much stock in the "sovereign individual," as contemporary society (even some forms of Christianity - noting the "positive/affirmation theology" of people like the late Robert Schuller and the current superstar of the megachurch world, Joel Osteen) and this over-emphasis on the importance of one's uniqueness can lead to a type of paganism which makes the self an idol.  Once we decide to follow Christ, the "sovereign individual" ceases to exist - that is the "old man" it speaks of in Scripture being put to death in the waters of baptism (Colossians 3:9).  The only real "sovereign individual" is God Himself.  Now, does that mean we deny our individual identity?  Not at all - the dignity of the human person is something that is inherent to Christianity more than it is in any other religion, but that dignity is realized and perfected in Christ alone, who becomes the Lord of our lives.  Also, it doesn't mean that we cannot have a personal faith either, but rather that we as persons are part of a greater plan of God's kingdom as a community, and as a community we are not just part of some random crowd that Jesus sweepingly called "His children" - we become His children through sacramental grace, and that can only be dispensed through the office of His Holy Church.  That also doesn't mean that God looks upon us en masse either - He created us as individuals, is concerned about us as individuals, and addresses us as individuals.  And, we approach Him as our unique selves, the way He created us, but also in sincerity and humility.  But, at the same time, we are a communion of brethren, and have an integral part as individuals in that communion (Romans 12:4-5).  That being said, the "Christian plural," as understood in this context is not us as part and parcel of an indiscriminate multitude, but rather it is a balance of unity and differentiation, fellowship and individual dignity, and both the close association with others in the Body as well as the privacy of reserve in personal relationship with Christ.  So, while God is indeed my Father, it is not up to me to arrogantly address Him in the singular, but rather understanding that I am part of a Body, and as part of that Body I address God as "Our Father!"  May God, Our Father, bless each and every one  of you this Paschal season.