By George Valadie
It was a Sunday morning not all that long ago, though I can’t recall which one.
I remember it because of the Gospel that day, you know the one where Our Lord taught his apostles how to pray using the words that we now know as the Lord’s Prayer.
With all due respect to our pastor, I have no memory of his follow-up homily that day. I’m sure it was great, appropriate, and probably inspired.
I just never heard it.
For whatever reason, my brain went for a walk as soon as Jesus had dismissed his class of apostles.
Immediately it led me to dwell on the untold number of times in my life that I have offered that very prayer without actually giving it any serious thought or consideration. Every Mass for sure, every rosary, and I don’t even know how many times I’ve used those same words to ask — sometimes beg — for whatever had become my need of the day.
Most of the time, I form the words, shape them, sometimes utter them aloud, but a lot of times I do so without any real deliberation. They just roll on out.
I do it from rote, as they used to say. Have you ever prayed that way?
As the Mass moved forward that day, I began thinking about how so many of the prayers we say, even most of those at Mass, aren’t really being prayed. Reciting them isn’t the same as praying them. At least not for me.
When we arrived at the Our Father portion of that Mass, I had already decided to actually “pray it” with a true awareness of what each word meant and why we say them. Why He chose them.
But of course the congregation blew through it much faster than what I needed. And we had the whole thing wrapped up before I had considered much of anything.
As I’ve thought about that day, it’s occurred to me that though we all use the same words, we pray different prayers.
How they originate in my heart could be, and likely are, vastly different from any meanings they hold for you. Much less someone in another land, or from another time.
But I will say — taking your time and pondering each phrase, it does indeed make a difference.
Not that you care, but my prayer to the Father ended up something like this:
“Our Father, dad of us all, pop of the white race and the black, brown, and the yellow, and any other colors we may happen to link together, father of the rich and the poor, the left and the right, father of those who believe in you and those who don’t, father of the sinners and those who try not to, father of the truly good among us and even those who believe they’re better just because they try.
“… who lives in heaven, the place we hope to be, that place, that state of mind, that existence where we’ll catch up with relatives and friends — I’m hoping old dogs, too — and you. That place we hope to get some answers. And though we’re not sure what or where it is, it sounds so much better than what we’ve been hearing about hell.
“… blessed and holy is your name, in spite of all our submitted evidence to the contrary. Because, after all, there are more than a few times I’ve used your name or title to make an unholy point. Sorry about that!
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, here on this planet and long before we get to yours. In fact, the sooner the better. Though I have to admit, this part always gives me trouble. Sure, I’d love for the world to be a mirror image of the joy of heaven — that part’s easy. And given the news, tomorrow wouldn’t be soon enough.
“But trying to accept your will — when it so often seems to go against mine — that’s no easy task. Most of the time, I try to convince myself that it’s not really your will. And I could convince you of that, if you’d just listen to me.
“So, I guess I could use some help knowing which is your will and which is mine.
“Give us today our daily share of food. OK, so who is ‘us’ exactly? Am I praying for me, for my family and friends, or is this one of those times when ‘us’ is all mankind?
“And how much is our daily share? Does that mean we should share our extra with those who have none?
“And this is what scares me most — have you been giving me more than my share all along expecting I would be your answer when the needy pray for their daily share?
“And forgive us our sins as we forgive others … That suggests a lot about how events might go for us when we get to the end. Are you really going to do as we have done? Oh my God!
“And lead us … You don’t even know! We seem to have a hole in this area lately; we sure do need to be led.
“… not into temptation … that would just be cruel because we’re weak more than we’re strong.
“ … but deliver us. From evil, from ourselves, from our weaknesses, from our blindness, from Satan.
“And come to think of it, we’ve even figured out how to let the good things become too important in our lives. We’ve allowed stuff that is neither bad nor evil by itself to become our idol gods. Do I want you to deliver me from those things so I won’t be tempted? Or do I need you to?
“Amen. I’ve got to run. I’m through talking now, but please don’t hang up. Could you please follow me around today and keep tabs on my life? Could you answer when I don’t have sense enough to ask? Please don’t ever say ‘Amen’ to me.”
So what does your version sound like?
Dear God — Sometimes, in our hasty lives, we just spit out the words. Please don’t mistake speed for intent. Amen.
George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.