Deliverance from the Test

Father, hallowed be your name,
your Kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us,
and do not subject us to the final test.
(Luke 11:2-4)

The Lord gave us our main prayer. The prayer that expresses our faith perfectly, expresses our religion perfectly, and which asks for precisely what we need—everything that we truly do need, and nothing that we don’t.

We need daily bread, we need forgiveness for our offenses, and we need deliverance.

Now, the Lord rarely allows demons to possess people, so it’s not that kind of deliverance necessarily. The way St. Luke put down the prayer helps us to understand the final petition, I think. Let’s look at it like this:

What lies before us is a way, a path. We cannot stand still, here in the middle of the forest, and we cannot go back the way we came. Life is a path which winds through the marvelous realm of God, the domain He has established with His infinite creativity. The pathway of humble, dutiful love leads to peace and happiness.

Saint LukeGod made free creatures who make our way through the realm by exercising our capacity to choose good and avoid evil. Some free creatures have not chosen the right path, including purely spiritual creatures much more powerful than ourselves. So there is an awful lot of evil in the forest. And the evil, though it can appear to us haphazard and chaotic, actually operates under the tutelage of an ingenious captain.

Our First Parents faced a test of choosing humble, dutiful love over shiny, appetizing pleasure. The Devil made evil look very, very good to them. They did not persevere, our original parents; they did not endure; they did not hold fast to the invisible Creator. Rather, they took; they grabbed; they consumed: They consumed a poison that looked like utter, complete, and total deliciousness.

We pray, then, that God will spare us such a difficult test. We do not want to face Satan alone. We pray that the Lord will keep us close to the bosom of His Church—so that our friends, though they may not be exactly perfect, will not be great tempters or temptresses. We pray that the Lord will fill our lives with simple and wholesome pleasures—pleasures which we will be able to renounce if and when we ever have to, because of our duties.

In other words, we pray like schoolchildren that the teacher will give us tests that are not too hard. That way, we will succeed, in spite of our highly limited competence in fighting off the devil.

Onomatopœia: Battalogein

In praying, do not babble like the pagans. (Matthew 6:7)

Do not prattle. Do not prate. Do not babble. Do not vainly repeat. The heavenly Father has infinite patience. But don’t press your luck.

Rosary PrayersThe Greek word in the gospel here—which, apparently, arose from a Hebrew word for vanity—sounds just like what it means. When you pray, do not battalogesete. Logos, of course, means…word. Do not batta the Lord with words. “Babble” seems like the perfect English equivalent, since it has the same onomatopoeia to it.

Do not battalogesete the Lord. Because He knows what we need before we ask Him. He knows what we need much better than we do.

So: Before I ask Him to conform His will to mine, let me pray for the grace humbly to conform my will to His. Before I tell Him what I imagine the earth ought to be like, let me pray that it be more like His unimaginably wonderful heaven.

Before I tell Him what’s supposed to happen tomorrow, let me beg Him for what I need today. Before I tell Him how to change somebody else, let me pray for the grace to change myself for the better.

Now, people accuse us of violating the divine precept against battalogesete-ing the Lord by reciting the Holy Rosary. I, for one, can hardly imagine a more baseless, even ironic, charge.

Our Fathers, punctuated by begging our Lady ten times to pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our deaths. Does not sound vain to me. Sounds pretty close to exactly what we should say.

So let’s let the experts and geniuses try to come up with some better way to pray. In the meantime, let’s keep praying daily for our bread and begging for mercy and Our Lady’s help as many times a day as we can manage.

Our Father Faith and Morals

The Lord Jesus teaches and guides our prayer. Who would ever want to pray in any other way than in the way of Christ?

Having Jesus Christ for a spiritual father, in fact, actually guides us in every aspect of faith and morals.

Let’s start here: I want to pray as this man taught, saying the prayer He taught His followers to say.

El Greco Christ blessing croppedTherefore, I must believe everything that a person needs to believe in order to say the Our Father sincerely.

Namely: That God loves the whole human race with a Father’s love. That He wills a heavenly kingdom. That He provides in every way. That He forgives, and shows me how to forgive and start fresh. That He has the power to free me from everything evil.

I want to pray the prayer taught by Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore, I must live as someone who cay say this prayer sincerely.

Namely: That I want, above all, to do God’s will. I want to obey Him. I want to bless and glorify His holiness and beauty forever. I want to receive His gifts with love. I acknowledge that I am not sinless, that He alone is good. I have no hope but His loving mercy. I deserve death, but He lovingly gives me life everlasting instead. Because I am a sinner who relies totally on God’s forgiveness, I quickly forget about it when other people wrong me. All I want is that we all be together in heaven when everything is said and done. And we will get there together by co-operating with the great plan of the Father.

This is how you are to pray…

Thank you, Lord. The one thing I want in life is to pray as you teach. If anyone ever knew what they were talking about, it is You. I may be a miserable fool, but I know this much: one thing worth doing is to say the Our Father sincerely.

By teaching us this prayer, Lord, and by guiding us every time we say it, You have given us everything.

Small Jonah, Big God

Today at Mass we read the conclusion of the prophet Jonah’s adventure. The Lord had ordered him to go to Nineveh, to call the huge city to repentance.

But like his Hebrew brethren, Jonah hated the Ninevites, because they were godless pagans. So Jonah did not go east as commanded, but booked passage on a boat heading in the opposite direction.

God, however, holds the cards. A storm arose. The other men on the boat feared for their lives. They discovered that Jonah was to blame. Begging the Lord’s mercy, the sailors cast Jonah overboard in order to save the ship. A whale swallowed him, and then spat him back up on dry land.

Jonah begrudgingly went to Nineveh and preached repentance. The prophet had been angry about the whole business from the beginning, but what happened next made him even angrier than he was before: The people of Nineveh promptly repented and begged God for mercy. Even the cows were dressed in sackcloth to show the Lord that the whole city, from the king on down—everyone was sorry for their sins.

So God spared the Ninevites, and did not carry out his wrathful punishment.

This really burned Jonah to the quick.

So: Jonah, even though he was a consecrated prophet of God, carried on like an unreasonable, petulant, demanding child from beginning to end. Somehow the Lord managed to turn his mission into an enormous success anyway.

Often, when the disciples would ask the Lord Jesus a question, He would not give an immediate, straightforward answer. This was because many of the disciples’ questions proceeded from their obtuse incomprehension of basic facts.

But when they said, “Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus was pleased. They were acknowledging that they did not know about the most important thing. What could be more important than prayer? And yet, left to our own devices, we will make a mess of it.

Lord, teach us to pray. Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Forgive us our petulant, unreasonable, self-indulgent sins. Spare us from the really difficult trials, because we are too weak to handle them. We can barely handle easy trials.

We trust that you know how to make the big things work out. Please just keep us fed, and we will do our best with the little things.