In two of the gospels, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray what we now refer to as the Lord’s Prayer, or the Our Father. St. Luke (11:2-4) gives us a slightly abbreviated version, while St. Matthew (6:9-13) gives us the fuller text, which we pray today. In the section on Christian Prayer, the Catechism of the Catholic Church devotes many pages to dissecting and breaking down the Lord’s Prayer and its importance to our faith and prayer life. Today, we will begin a seven-part series to take a closer look at each of the petitions Jesus gave us, as identified in St. Matthew’s version.
The first three petitions in the Lord’s Prayer illuminate the glory of God. “The first series of petitions carries us toward him, for his own sake: thy name, thy kingdom, thy will! It is characteristic of love to think first of the one whom we love” (CCC #2804). In these first petitions, we do not mention ourselves or our needs and we simply set our loving gaze on He who is most worthy of all of our attention and praise. The second series of four petitions appeals to the mercy of God as we acknowledge our fallen nature and dependence on Him for help. “They go up from us and concern us from this very moment, in our present world: ‘give us…forgive us…lead us not…deliver us…’” (CCC #2805). So, the prayer rightfully begins with the praise of our great God and then humbly turns to our own human needs, which serves as a model of how all of our personal prayer ought to begin and end.
The first petition in the Lord’s Prayer is “Hallowed Be Thy Name.” The Catechism explains that when we say this line, we are not making God’s name holy because we say so (because only God makes holy things holy). Rather, it is a recognition on our part that God’s name is holy (CCC #2807). This line of the prayer is one of adoration, praise, and thanksgiving as we acknowledge God’s holy name in juxtaposition to our own lowly selves. “In making man in his image and likeness, God ‘crowned him with glory and honor,’ but by sinning, man fell ‘short of the glory of God’” (CCC #2809). After casting Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, God began re-revealing His holiness to mankind throughout all of salvation history, “in order to restore man to the image of his Creator” (CCC #2809). So, practically speaking for us today, by calling first and foremost on God’s holy name, we are not only acknowledging His greatness, but we are reorienting our heart to be what we are called to be, which is a reflection of Him.
The Catechism goes on to explain God’s revelation of His holiness in the Old Testament. He created a covenant with Abraham without revealing His name. Then, He later expands with Moses, revealing even more of Himself – “I am who am” (Ex 3:14; CCC #2810). Note how God reveals Himself to us: slowly and over time. From the beginning, we were intended to have perfect knowledge of God, but due to sin, the plan had to change. Our fallen nature cannot handle too much at one time. Therefore, God works within the constructs of our imperfect hearts and minds to slowly unravel divine mysteries over the course of human history. You might even have examples from your own life where God very slowly and methodically revealed something to you over time. The pace of it, while perhaps frustrating in the moment, always proves to be in God’s perfect timing for our own ultimate good.
Continuing with the unfolding of His salvific plan, God eventually reveals Himself under the name of Jesus, the incarnate Word of God and our Savior (CCC #2812). In Jesus, we now have a name of God who is more tangible and relatable to us. Every one of our human experiences can be shared and bound to God in the person of Jesus and we can call upon His holy name in all things. It is also from Jesus’ own words that we learn another name of God, and that is Father. So, Jesus brought us a great many gifts in revealing more of the holy names of God. With each name comes a deeper understanding of who God is in relation to us. He is Savior and He is Father. Both of these names reveal the intense love and compassion He has for His children.
When we are baptized, it is done “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, by virtue of our baptism, our lives should conform to His holy name and all that implies. In the words of Jesus Himself, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). When we say God’s name is holy, we cannot simply leave it at that. In saying His name is holy, we necessarily must acknowledge the call to action required of us as being created in His image and likeness and baptized in His Holy name. In this lens, “Hallowed be thy name” is no mere form of passive adoration, rather it is a call to elevate our wills in order to imitate His holiness in our own thoughts, words, and deeds. The Catechism quotes Tertullian (c. 155-220 AD) saying, “For God’s name is blessed when we live well, but is blasphemed when we live wickedly…When we say ‘hallowed be thy name,’ we ask that it should be hallowed in us, who are in him; but also in others whom God’s grace still awaits, that we may obey the precept that obliges us to pray for everyone, even our enemies” (CCC #2814). Here, Tertullian is highlighting the unity of God’s people under His name and that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are not doing so for ourselves alone, but for the good of all of mankind with the hope of conversion for many hearts to conform to His holy name.
This week, meditate on God’s holy name with a deeper understanding of how God has revealed Himself over time through the development of His name. When you call upon His holy name, do so with love and thanksgiving for who He is. Christian life and active prayer are inseparably bound. Prayerfully consider a small change you can make to become a little more perfect like your heavenly Father and call upon His name to help you take that one step closer to Him.
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