Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I recently heard you say that the Our Father is a dangerous prayer. Whatever can you mean by this? If it is so dangerous why ever would we say it right before receiving Holy Communion?
Dan J. Russ
You’d better believe it’s dangerous, and that’s why we say it right before Holy Communion. It‘s kind of a disclaimer on Heaven’s part. Remember what the Holy Eucharist is. It’s a covenant. A covenant is a relationship that last for a whole lifetime, like marriage. A contract lasts only until the business is done and the money changes hands. Marriage is a covenant. I give you myself that you might give me yourself. In Holy Communion we enter into an unbreakable relationship with Christ and His Bride the Church!
We are in effect saying that as Christ lays His very life on the altar for me, just so, I will live for Him today and die for Him and for His Bride, the Church, if necessary. The Eucharist is serious business, as solemn as a wedding. Remember that the very word “sacrament” is a Latin word that originally meant “oath to the death!” Before we take the Holy Eucharist we examine ourselves by looking at the conditions of the covenant. That’s what the Our Father is. It’s right before Communion so that we know what we are getting into. So let’s look at it.
The first word of the Our Father is not “our.” It’s “Father” as the prayer is written in Greek or Hebrew. Everybody wants a mother. Traditionally it’s a father’s job to love, teach and correct. This involves much affection and occasional trips out to the woodshed (This is an American euphemism for a good and thorough spanking!) Everybody wants a mother. Fathers are traditionally less popular. We in the Church are asking for a Father. Not a mother. I know there are lot of simpering, politically correct, namby-pamby feminists, in tough with the inner woman types who say “Our Mother “or “our Father/Mother” as if the Almighty were some kind of hermaphrodite. Ignore these people, even if they are on the parish liturgy committee. They say ridiculous things like, “I could never identify with a god who is called father.” You’re not supposed to identify with Him. You’re supposed to obey Him! I’ve heard some of these loons say things like, “Jesus, being a man of His times, could not conceive of God as Mother.”
Do these people ever read books? There were temples with priestesses and mother goddesses in Tiberias not 20 miles down the road from Nazareth where Jesus grew up and not five miles down the road from Capernaum where he spent His days off. If Jesus had experienced God as mother he would have said so.
“Well,” the addle-pated progressive might say, “Jesus would never have called God mother because He didn’t want to upset anyone.”
Why certainly, let’s do away with temple worship, circumcision and the dietary laws, but don’t upset anyone by calling God mother. Remember, they didn’t crucify Jesus for political correctness.
Jesus called God Father, because in His full and perfect humanity, He experienced God as Father. Nobody ever says, “Are you sure she’s your mother?” She was there. You popped out of her as surely as the doctor swatted your little tuchus to get you to breathe. She was there or you wouldn’t be here! Motherhood is necessary. Worse still if you were raised in the way most homo sapiens have been raised these many years, you hung off her like an appendage. She was a food source and a place to rest your head. Between pregnancy and breast feeding you were glued to her like gum on a shoe for two or three years. Motherhood is not optional. It is always the necessary relationship, at least so far.
Fatherhood? Fatherhood is optional in the most literal sense of the word. OPTional comes from the Latin word “OPTtare” which means “to choose”. So does the word adOPT. Fatherhood is always a choice. Mom doesn’t get much choice. Dads walk out all the time. The Greeks, Romans, and ancient Israelites knew this.
When a child was born in ancient Rome, it was placed on the floor in front of its supposed father. If the father picked it up, even if everyone knew that the child was a travelling salesman’s offspring, the child was legally made the son of the supposed father by his act of picking the child up off the floor. If the supposed father turned and walked away, the child was not recognized as his and he was not legally responsible for the child even if it was clear by the crossed eyes, crooked nose and foul odor that the kid was that fellow’s genetic offspring. The child would then, quite literally, be thrown out to be picked over by the slave dealers or eaten by the stray dogs that populated ancient cities, no matter how much the mother wept and wailed. Fatherhood is always adoptive.
It is always a choice, even in this modern world. A father is not the fellow who contributes a few genes and chromosomes to an infant in the womb. He is the man who raises you; teaches you; loves you; and yes, occasionally reasons with the area of your anatomy not capable of facial expression. Fatherhood is always a choice. That is why God is described as father. He chooses you. Thus, Jesus called God Father because he experienced God as Father.
He had a perfectly good mother. Her name was and is Mary, and I claim Her as my mother too! The reality of the feminine in the Holy Trinity is wrapped up in the mystery of the Church. The Church is traditionally portrayed as a woman, a bride and a mother. Mary is, in certain sense, the icon of the Church. Once, the Church had only one member — that member was Our Blessed Mother, Mary. She was the first to receive Christ as her Lord. She stood faithful to Him at the cross. She was filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. She is the first and best of Christians. She is the icon of the Church.
Trust me, Jesus didn’t have two mommies. He didn’t need two mommies. A father is not just the one who engenders us. He is the one who shapes and disciplines us, at least traditionally, until this enlightened age in which one’s father is someone who gets visitation every other week, pays child support and runs off with a woman half your mother’s age. Traditional fathers are the ones who are there even when you wish they weren’t. That’s the first dangerous thing you are asking for: a pesky Father who has rules and expectations along with His strong, protecting embrace.
The next unfortunate word in the Our Father is “our”. It is really nice to be an only child. Trust me I know. I was an only child and my six brothers and sisters resented me for it. I was the last of seven and was spoiled rotten by parents who had given up the fight. It was great. When we say “our”, we are asking for brothers and sisters. We are saying that we don’t want to be only children. We are agreeing to put up with, Heaven forefend, other people. And worse still, other church members.
People are always talking about having a personal relationship with the Lord. That’s great! We Catholics have a very personal relationship with the Lord, just not a private one. To say “our” means I promise to go to church, not just to a perfect church, but a church where sometimes the people are irritating, the music is bad and the sermons are worse. It’s not “My Father.” It’s “Our Father.” Besides, if you find a perfect church it will cease to perfect the minute you join it!
Next week: We’ve just finished two words and it gets much worse!