Father Francis Martin, Scripture scholar and preacher, has been a great inspiration over the years. I’ve heard him at Catholic Press conventions and at the Priests, Deacons and Seminarians retreat at Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH.
We’ve shared breakfast many times during these retreats.
As often as I’ve heard him and chatted with him, one important bit of advice remains foremost in my mind.
He was speaking about prayer and the difficulty to concentrate on prayers that we have prayed over and over again (for example, the Rosary and the Breviary).
His advice was, “Pray it slowly, out loud, and think about the words you are saying.”
That advice came in mighty handy recently when I realized I could pray the Hail Mary with attention, but not the Our Father.
Well, in the Hail Mary, it is so easy to become present to the mystery. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you”—right from Scripture, the angel Gabriel addressing our Blessed Mother. And then, “Blessed are you among women”—again, right from familiar Scripture, as Elizabeth greets Mary at the visitation.
But for me, trying to pray the Our Father was difficult. The Father is pure spirit. How can I touch, come to know intimately that pure spirit who is the Father?
One day, I recalled what another priest, the late Father Roger Moag, told me. He was my spiritual director back in Louisiana. I had complained about not being able to draw near to the Father.
He said, “Don’t worry about it. Just concentrate on Jesus and you will come to know the Father.”
It’s Taken a Bit of Time
Well, it’s taken many years to bring those two priestly suggestions together, along with that wonderful request of the Apostles: “Lord, teach us to pray.”
That’s when Christ Jesus gave us this magnificent prayer.
So, one day not too long ago, I said to Jesus, “Lord, teach me to pray. Pray with me your prayer to the Father.”
So, putting myself in the presence of Jesus, and letting his grace guide me, I prayed the Lord’s Prayer—slowly, savoring each word and phrase, asking the Father to help me bridge the gap of my doubts or unbelief or whatever was my hang-up.
And, as Scripture says, “it came to pass” that I was able to enter more deeply into this perfect prayer given us by Christ, the Son of God, who is God, co-equal with the Father and the Spirit.
Here are some of the “pearls” of grace I’ve received by praying the Lord’s Prayer, slowly and deliberately:
Our Father who art in heaven: God is everywhere, so heaven is everywhere. I need only to let the Father into my heart and I have heaven in me. I am one with God, with all my loved ones here and hereafter. I am his adopted child. With Jesus and in Jesus, I am one with the Father, one with our God.
Thy will be done: What indeed does this mean? What is God’s essential will for you and for me? Think back. Think of how God created man and woman—pure, undefiled and able to know him and love him. That is God’s will for us now. That’s why he sent Jesus into the world, to close the chasm between himself and us, that terrible chasm created by the sin of our first parents.
And lead us not into temptation: Surely God does not lead us into temptation. It happens and he permits it. He permits it because he wants us to love him freely, to choose him over self, to embrace him and his truth willingly.
It has been said that every occasion of sin is an occasion of grace. You may want to take the advice of Bert Ghezzi, my dear friend: When you are between a rock and a hard place, prayer fervently:
“O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me.”
Or, maybe something as simple as this:
Jesus, save me!