The Master of peace and unity would not have each of us pray singly and severally, since when we pray we are not to pray only for ourselves. For we neither say: “My Father, who art in heaven” nor “Give me this day my bread”; nor does each of one of individually pray for our own debt to be forgiven, nor do we ask that we alone should not be led into temptation, nor that we only should be delivered from evil.
Our prayer is general and for all; and when we pray, we pray not for one person but for us all, because we are all one. God, the Master of peace and concord, so willed that one should pray for all, even as he himself bore us all. St. Cyprian, Treatise on the Lord’s Prayer.
I found this commentary on the Lord’s Prayer in a wonderful book, Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church. St. Cyprian lived in the third century in and around Carthage, in northern Africa. He lived during a time of great trials for the Church, a time of plague, famine, schism and persecution. He died for the faith in 258 A.D.
I recently wrote about the nature of evil, which always works to separate us: from God, from our brothers and sisters and from our true selves. Unlike sin, which separates, prayer works to unify. Cyprian rightly reminds us that God has woven our lives together. Jesus called upon us to recognize that bond in the Lord’s Prayer. If we take a look at the very first two words of the prayer (“Our Father”) we recognize our common origin. We aren’t like a family; we are a family.
When I was a boy at Burnet Elementary School, one of my classmates accosted me on the playground and asked me if I had accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. This question took place in a fairly big crowd of kids, and that event may be my first memory of genuine peer pressure. I answered, “Well, yes, and no….I think He came to save the whole world.”
I’m not sure how well I understood the theology behind what I said. (I’m pretty sure it was not a popular answer.) On the other hand, I think this statement recognized an important concept: I cannot really separate God’s love for me from my love for His children. The Lord’s Prayer, and St. Cyprian, call us into that recognition. I cannot pray for my daily bread alone; my brother’s bread must be just as important.
This notion underlies a good deal of Christian theology. All were made in the image of God. The forgiveness of us all must be my concern and my prayer. One of my favorite writers on prayer, Rabbi Heschel, noted: “The purpose of prayer is not the same as the purpose of speech. The purpose of speech is to inform; the purpose of prayer is to partake.”
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we partake in the hopes and the troubles and the gratitude of our brothers and sisters. We also share in God’s hopes and concerns for all His children. We thus knit our lives together with God’s dreams for the kingdom: the kingdom which has not yet come and the kingdom which is already here and present. During this holy season, let’s pray for each other and for God’s presence to fall down upon all our lives like a steady rain.
God watch over thee and me,
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2012 James R. Dennis