The “Our Father”: Giving Shape to our Desires
If you are being totally honest, what is your heart’s desire? How is this expressed in your prayer?
Fact is, even with the best will in the world, our desires are often not entirely oriented to God: other things draw us, attract us, entice us. We are easily fooled into desiring other things to the expense of God. As such, it takes a determined effort to set our heart consistently on the things of heaven.
Jesus gets this. He knows the effect sin has on us. So, when the disciples ask Him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11:1) He responds with a vocal prayer that has been handed down through all the centuries since: the ‘Our Father’. The Catechism speaks a line of great beauty into this: through this prayer ‘the Lord gives new form to our desires.’ Why? Because our desires are often skewed and need to be continually re-oriented back to God, who alone is our greatest good. Essentially, as St. Thomas Aquinas explains, the ‘Our Father’ teaches us the proper sequence of prayer – or, in other words, the order in which we should pray (CCC #2764).
For instance, note that it is several lines into the “Our Father” before we ask God to address our needs, to ‘give us our daily bread’. Jesus is telling us that before we rush in with all the things we want God to do for us or for others, we should take the time to simply adore Him, to delight in Him as our supreme good, and to acknowledge that His will is superior to ours. It isn’t wrong to pray for our needs or the needs of others – God, as our Heavenly Father, desires so much to give us wonderful things – yet this prayer teaches us that the ultimate aim of prayer is to seek God, to draw close to Him, to grow in intimacy with Him, to delight in Him as He delights in us: “Our Father, who art in heaven/Hallowed be thy name/Thy kingdom come/Thy will be done/on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Gradually, if we earnestly seek it, our mind and heart will align with God’s over the course of our pilgrimage towards heaven. We will want only what He wants, even if it costs us. One of the beautiful lines the Catechism records about Jesus is the ‘loving adherence of his human heart to the mystery of the will of the Father’ (CCC #2603). This will be our heart too, if we remain close to Him: it will be always ready to lovingly embrace the will of the Father. This is what it means to be holy, to be fully alive.
So, seek to pray the ‘Our Father’ from the depths of your heart – and believe that as you say those first few lines especially, that God will re-orient your desires back to Him and draw you heavenwards once more.
Our Father, Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy Will be done,
on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.