He was in a certain spot praying. When he stopped, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them: “Whenever you pray, say, “Father, may your name be holy! May your kingdom come! Give to us every day the bread we need! Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who owes us! Do not lead us into testing!”
Luke 11: 1-4
In Luke’s gospel, the most significant moments of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teaching all occur in the context of prayer. As the scripture scholar Luke Timothy Johnson writes: “The prayer Jesus teaches his disciples authenticates his prophetic mission, for it shows that what he proclaims and performs in his ministry expresses the deepest reality of his own relationship to God.” (The Gospel of Luke, p. 179). What constitutes “authority” in scripture is not our socially or hierarchically constituted status but rather the correspondence between our word, deed, and teaching and our actual relationship to God. St. Francis prayed not that he be a servant of peace in an abstract or self-defined sense, but rather that he be an instrument of the Lord’s peace. As Paul writes in today’s passage from Galatians: “I went up in accord with a revelation . . . .” (Gal. 2: 2)
The Fundamental Principles of the Xaverian Brothers summon us to constantly keep in mind that:
You were created by the God of love in God’s image and likeness,
to be a unique expression of that love. It is through you
that God desires to manifest God’s love
to the peoples of the world in these times,
and to offer them the freedom of the children of God.
Jesus’ teaching on prayer calls his disciples, in the first place, to the same active memory and realization: “Father, may your name be holy! May your kingdom come!” Matthew’s gospel follows this with the phrase, “May your will be done!” Luke seems to realize that when we live in the desire that God’s kingdom come, then we cannot but do God’s will. In prayer we remember who we really are and so are able to be an instrument, a manifestation of God’s love, rather than asserting and imposing our own will.
There is nothing in Jesus’ teaching on prayer to suggest that it is a “spiritual activity” of ours by which our cultural, self-constituted, and religious identity is built up or strengthened. It is rather a living in and from truth of who we are (“created by the God of love”) and of what we are called to be and do in the world (“to manifest God’s love to the peoples of the world in these times, and to offer them the freedom of the children of God.”) For the Jesus of Luke’s gospel, every action expresses the reality of his relationship to God as he experiences it in prayer. As he says in John’s gospel: “The Son of Man does only what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19)
The moments at which the truth of authentic prayer becomes most real to us are usually those extraordinary experiences when the mystery of life overwhelms us. In ordinary experience, we do a disturbingly adequate job of living out our illusions of management and control. We even create a kind of spiritual life and life of “prayer” that strengthen our own prideful and autarchic sense of self identity. But the ordinary of which Ryken spoke is one of a very different kind. It is living the ordinary daily events of our lives in the light of the Mystery. It is living and moving and being in the spirit of the prayer that Jesus teaches: At this moment, in all I comprehend and don’t comprehend, “May your name be holy; may your kingdom come.” In this humility and openness to God’s love, we may be, in the present moment, become by grace “a unique expression of that love.”
The poet Christian Wiman describes his experience of realizing the overwhelming mystery of human experience in the intense pain he felt in the weeks after his cancer diagnosis:
Despite all that I have gone through, and despite all that I now face, I am still struck by the singular nature of the pain in the weeks after my diagnosis. It was not simply the fact itself searing through all the circumstances of my life, nor was it, as many people might suspect, the full impact of meaninglessness, the arbitrary nature of our existence, the utter illusion of God. No, it was an excess of meaning for which I had no context. It was the world burning to be itself beyond my ruined eyes. It was God straining through matter to make me see, and to grant me the grace of simple praise.
My Bright Abyss, p. 156