Curiously, during this past school year I got the same question from more than a few kids. It was about something we priests say in the context of the Mass, and I have to say, the question is a good one, worthy of good answer. Paraphrasing, the question went like this: “Father, why do you say at Mass that we ‘dare’ to say the Our Father?”
|Father Richard Kunst
Observant kids! About 10 or 12 years ago, when the new and more accurate translation of the Mass was introduced to the English speaking world, the priest’s introduction to the Lord’s Prayer changed from the priest’s own discretion to an expected formula, which by now we are all familiar with: “At the Savior’s command, and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say.”
So why do we “dare” say it? When we were kids, we probably all played truth or dare at some point. A dare was meant to be a scary thing, or at least a flexing of some courage, so why does it take courage to pray the Lord’s Prayer? The first thing to note is that we need to pay attention when we are saying familiar, memorized prayers. There is a vast difference between saying prayers and praying. And DARE I say that many of us do not pay much attention to the words we are actually praying? Because truth be told, the Our Father is a bit radical, and it takes courage to meaningfully pray it.
Though there may be many reasons we dare to say this prayer, there are three that I will touch on. First, it’s how we start the prayer, referring to God as our Father. Or, if we were to be more true to the original language, we are actually referring to God in the less formal way as our dad. Start the prayer that way some time, and you will see how different it feels: “Our Dad, who is in heaven ….” Though the Old Testament is much longer than the New Testament, there are only 11 times in which God is referred to as a father, and in some of those 11 times he is compared to a father, not actually called a father. So when Jesus revealed God as our heavenly dad, it was a radical departure from the norm. When we enter into an intimate relationship with anyone, it can become risky for us, but to enter into such an intimate relationship with God brings it to a whole new level. It takes guts; it takes courage.
A second point in which we dare to say the Lord’s Prayer is when we say, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are asking God to be in control on earth as he is in heaven, and that is not easy. God gives us free will to choose whatever we want, and he respects that free will, but when we pray that important line, we are giving God control of everything, or at least asking him to exercise his will over everything. In the Old Testament, when the Hebrew people were asking to have a king like all the nations surrounding them, the prophets said that God himself was their king, but the Hebrew people rejected that concept, so God anointed Saul as their king, and from that point forward the people slowly wandered farther and farther from God.
To surrender our will to the divine will of God is no easy task, and when we do that we are certain to experience suffering and even rejection, but in the end it will be the source of the greatest joy. Still, it takes guts and true discipline to ask God to have his will done on earth just as it is done in heaven.
Finally, and I have written about this in past columns, the third reason we “dare” to say the Lord’s Prayer is when we pray “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Though God’s love is inescapable and without condition, his mercy and forgiveness certainly have conditions. The most difficult condition for us to receive his forgiveness is that we must forgive others who have sinned against us. In essence when we speak these words towards the end of the prayer we are asking God to forgive us only to the degree that we first are willing to forgive.
That is actually a pretty clear theme throughout the New Testament, but for Jesus to put it into the one prayer he taught his disciples turns it up a notch. Think of all the times we have been hurt by people, especially if the hurt was bad. Have we held a grudge? What if the person does not ask to be forgiven? What if we think they don’t deserve our forgiveness? It doesn’t matter. God bestows mercy and forgiveness in reckless abandon, and so should we: seven times seventy, Jesus once told Peter, meaning without limit. This is, in fact, extremely difficult, but it is necessary.
So next time you pray to your heavenly Dad in the Our Father, pay close attention to the words rather than just mindlessly saying them. It takes guts to say and ask what is contained in this most famous of prayers, but at the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare say it!
Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. James and St. Elizabeth in Duluth. Reach him at [email protected].