THE OUR FATHER #1 - December 15, 1963
"This people honors Me with their lips but their hearts are far from Me." Isaias
We have begun a series of sermons on this Base, which means that the same sermon topic will be given at each Mass on a particular Sunday.
St. Augustine in one of his writings tells us that when our Lord hung dying on the cross He recited the 2lst Psalm of David, which begins with the words: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" This means that He knew this long Psalm by heart and had memorized it as a boy. Again, when the Apostles said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray," He taught them the Our Father. Obviously, our Lord approved the practice of reciting prayers that were learned by heart.
WE ARE USED TO PRAYING ACCORDING TO FORMULAS. As children, we learned the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Apostles Creed, the Acts of Faith, Hope, Love and Contrition, and other prayers. Our Lord, by His example, showed that He certainly approved of vocal prayers. All we need do is think carefully about the beautiful thoughts contained in these prayers. We must be on our guard, however, so that we do not fall into the bad habit of saying them like a machine. This is the great problem with such prayers: we rattle them off and say them too fast. How much better is it to say a smaller number of prayers and say them slowly, thoughtfully, and reverently.
ONE THING THAT YOU WILL DISCOVER, if you have not already done so, is that, when catastrophe strikes, you have a good chance of coming up with a prayer if you have learned your prayers by heart. And this is important. Let us suppose that you are in an auto wreck; you are seriously injured, and most likely will die before a priest arrives to absolve you. If you have a serious sin on your soul, by saying an act of perfect contrition, you regain God's grace and die His friend.
THEN, TOO, YOU WILL FIND in time of crisis that it is easy to say vocal prayers with attention and devotion.
It is comforting to know that Our Lord has stamped His approval on prayer formulas because we offer so many of such prayers. Throughout our lives, we continue to add to our list of vocal prayers. Let us always say them as the Church urges us to say them with dignity, attention and devotion.
WHENEVER WE CAN LEARN SOMETHING from others we should take advantage of the opportunity. And here, in this matter of prayer, we can definitely learn something from our Protestant brothers. They do not use as many memorized prayers or prayer formulas as we do but, rather, pray to God in their own words. This kind of prayer is more personal; it engages the mind and heart better. Therefore, it is a higher kind of prayer and one that is more conducive to growth in love and in closeness to God.
It is possible to "get out of a rut" in one's prayers and achieve spontaneity by making a little more effort in one's regular prayers. Instead of the usual formula at morning and evening prayers, one might try praying in one's own words at those times. Instead of the well-worn words of the usual grace before and after meals, a few improvised words might be tried. One of the children might be asked to improvise grace before or after meals once in a while or to put into words the prayer a family might say together as an evening prayer.
MAYBE YOU CAN'T SAY ANYTHING. Having God's grace, you are God's friend and friends do not have to say anything in each other's presence. You are simply happy to be together. St. John Vianney tells of a farmer who used to drop in to the parish Church every day on his way home from work. The Pastor observed him. He never saw his lips move; he just kept his eyes glued on the tabernacle. One day, the Cure asked him how he conversed with God. He replied: "I don't say anything. I just look at the Good God, and He looks at me." WHAT A WONDERFUL LESSON FOR ALL OF US!