THE DEEPLY PROFOUND MEANING OF “OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN”

(The Lord’s Prayer by James Tissot, Public Domain, U.S.A.)     

                        “[T]he Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21)

God in near – “nearer to us than we are to ourselves.” Perhaps we might even say that God is too close for comfort. But when we pray the first line of the Our Father (“Our Father who art in Heaven”), we are reminding ourselves (in a truly poignant moment of adoration)  that God dwells within our souls. This is a point of great significance. It helps to bring alive the Our Father prayer.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states in paragraph 2794 that “Our Father who art in heaven is rightly understood to mean that God is in the hearts of the just, as in his holy temple.” Again, these are truly profound words; they help to awaken in our hearts a poignant realization that through sanctifying grace God indwells our souls. Here is the full and very striking text of CCC 2749:

“Who Art in Heaven” This biblical expression does not mean a place (“space”), but a way of being: it does not mean that God is distant, but majestic. Our Father is not “elsewhere”: he transcends every- thing we can conceive of his holiness. It is precisely because he is thrice-holy that he is so close to the humble and contrite heart.

“Our Father who art in Heaven” is rightly understood to mean that God is in the hearts of the just, as in his holy temple. At the same time, it means that those who pray should desire the one they invoke to dwell in them” (quoting Saint Augustine) 

“Heaven could also be those who bear the image of the  heavenly world , and in whom God dwells and tarries” (quoting Saint Cyril of Jerusalem).

My dear friend, we begin the practice of contemplative prayer (active contemplation) precisely when we begin to “lovingly contemplate” the presence of God within us. It is the deep recollection of God’s interior presence which helps greatly to mold saints! What a striking invitation the Our Father prayer gives us to spend some time in silence deeply recollecting the interior presence of God. Vocal prayer is tremendously important; and so too is meditative prayer, especially on the mysteries of our Lord’s life, but contemplative prayer (which seeks interior union with God) is the pathway of great holiness.

The CCC has an entire section on contemplative prayer, beginning at 2709 through 2719. But as a practical matter, you can begin a simple form of contemplative prayer merely by recollecting the interior presence of God within your soul whenever you say, “Our Father Who Art in Heaven.” In fact, I remember Father Garrigou-LaGrange recommending that we sometimes pray the “Our Father” very slowly.

The “method” employed here can be quite quick and simple: in a moment, in a flash, you gaze inwardly at God’s presence within you as you say, “Our Father who Art in Heaven.” This isn’t hard, but rest assured it is very beneficial! I do hope that this note “ups” your appreciation of the first line of the Our Father, and thus your personal love of God. Saint Paul and Saint John were no doubt great contemplatives, and so too Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross, but the Virgin Mary was the greatest of all contemplatives (a point made by Father Garrigou-LaGrange). Mary’s awareness of God’s presence within her compels her to acknowledge: – “My soul doth magnify the Lord” (Luke 1:46).

The “Our Father” prayer means that God the Father is very close to you. Very close!

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Book recommendation:  Christian Contemplation and Perfection by Father Garrigou-LaGrange (TAN). If you have the time to read over Romans 8, one of the most important chapters in the Bible, you can see how many times Saint Paul refers to the interior presence of the Holy Spirit.

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