Fr Noel's Homilies

Buzzword - " Father"
How many times have we recited the "The Lord's Prayer"? How often have we considered what a totally complete and universal prayer it is embodying, as it does, the elements of perfect prayer - worship and petition? Today's readings describe the personal nature of our relationship with God that enables us to call Him "Father".

Genesis 18: 20-32: Throughout the Old Testament, the image of God is, largely, that of a stern, unrelenting judge. Today's reading shows another image - that of a God of mercy and forgiveness. Abraham's persistent pleading on behalf of his people reveals a God not only of justice, but also of mercy. One who not only dictates, but who also listens.

Colossians 2:12-24 Paul reassures the Colossians that because of Christ's sacrifice, mercy and forgiveness are available to people who seek reconciliation.

Luke 11:1-13: In response to the Apostles' request "Teach us to pray", Christ presents a classical model of prayer in which worship and petition are interwoven.

Point 1: For the average person, praying is not a simple exercise. To lessen the difficulty, religious teachers have always provided their disciples with simple formulae which they might habitually use.

The only drawback with this system is that, frequently, prayer can become an unthinking exercise in which countless words are repeated with little thought given to how to pray or what to pray for. Genuine prayer involves both speaking and listening. Hence the significance of the word "Father" in the Lord's Prayer. We are immediately given an image of One with whom we can have a conversation; of One with whom our conversation consists in talking over the events of our lives, as we would with a natural father. On this subject of "conversational" prayer, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in his meditation "The Words of Prayer" included in his book "Travel to Sacred Places" wrote -"It would be a tragedy if concern for the proper form were to prevent the conversation with God from taking place at all or were to turn into a draining ordeal an activity that should be a restoration of life and energy. The stumbles, the bad grammar, long pauses and disjointed nature of our speech are not a problem to God..."

Point 2: Which brings us to the "Lord's Prayer" as a perfect model for our conversation with God. It commences with an attitude of worship, with words of reverence, with expressions of concern that people's behaviour on earth would resemble more closely the will of God. It is at this point that particular reference can be made to special cases whose reconciliation is being prayed for - our own spiritual needs, a husband or wife, sons or daughters or friends who have strayed from the path of goodness. And, having carried out the courtesies, as it were, due by creature to Creator, we are encouraged to consider our own daily needs. These, I believe, include opportunities to use our God-given talents in gainful employment so that we may meet our daily responsibilities to provide for our dependants in matters of health and education. Then, there is that all important area of relationships to be discussed. Life cannot be lived in total isolation, and contact with others invariably involves friction. No relationship endures without the need, from time to time, to apologise. To forgive and to be forgiven is basic to every relationship. Looked at from these points of view, life appears as a formidable task; but, with God, everything is possible. For that reason we are reminded, finally, to avail ourselves of the divine help that is available to us, for the asking, as we struggle to persevere.

Conclusion: The model of prayer offered to us in St. Luke's gospel is shorter than that recorded in St. Matthew's - one has five petitions whilst the other has seven. Essentially, however, the two versions follow the same format of worship and petition; of speaking to and listening. Above all, we should bring the art of listening to our prayer. So frequently prayer is nothing but a monologue telling God how to run the world, or presenting a shopping list. Ideally, our prayer should be a conversation - listening and speaking.

Scriptural reference: [Mat 6:7] "When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.