November 6, 2009

Theologian tells men prayer is key to improving their faith lives

Internationally known speaker and author Scott Hahn of Steubenville, Ohio, discusses the meaning of the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer during the fourth annual Indiana Catholic Men’s Conference on Oct. 17 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

Internationally known speaker and author Scott Hahn of Steubenville, Ohio, discusses the meaning of the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer during the fourth annual Indiana Catholic Men’s Conference on Oct. 17 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

By Mary Ann Wyand

It’s a fact of life, well-known theology professor Scott Hahn explained, that we make things more difficult for ourselves when we approach them the wrong way.

“It’s also true for prayer, which is to our spiritual life what breath is to our body,” he said. “Prayer does not come as naturally though as breathing, and that’s why we really need to work [on improving our faith life] because I am convinced that prayer is the key.”

The popular author, internationally known speaker, and longtime theology and Scripture professor at The Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio was one of the presenters for “Lions Breathing Fire—Cast Out Your Nets,” the fourth annual Indiana Catholic Men’s Conference on Oct. 17 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis.

Hahn discussed “Understanding the Our Father” and “The Net that Caught Me: My Reasons to Believe,” his personal faith story as a Presbyterian minister who felt called by God to Catholicism, during the conference attended by 950 men ranging in age from teenagers to retirees.

The Lord’s Prayer, also known as the Our Father by Catholics, is “the most perfect of prayers” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he said. “It’s found in [Scripture] in Matthew, Chapter 6, and it’s also found in Luke, Chapter 11. What I find so interesting is that the disciples approach Jesus and ask him to teach them to pray after they had noticed that he had spent the whole night alone in prayer.”

Jesus called the Apostles to be his followers, Hahn explained, just as he calls us to be his disciples in the world today.

“We can’t become like our Lord until we learn how to pray like our Lord prayed,” he said. “And so the very desire that sprang up within the hearts of the disciples for Jesus to teach them to pray was itself an answer to Jesus’ prayer.”

Catholics know the Our Father by heart because we have prayed it so much, Hahn noted, but we may not have reflected on the meaning of this perfect prayer.

“It’s not [perfect] simply because Jesus is the one who taught it to us, but [also] because of the structure,” he said. “The catechism states that the Lord’s Prayer is the most perfect of prayers for in it we ask not only for all the things that we can rightly desire, but also in the proper sequence that they ought to be desired.”

The Our Father begins with “three petitions that address ‘thy name,’ ‘thy kingdom’ and ‘thy will’ ” of God, he said, “and only then do we see in the last four petitions ‘give us,’ ‘forgive us,’ ‘lead us’ and ‘deliver us.’ That’s the way it ought to be because only when we take our eyes off ourselves and focus on the Lord God do we put things in their proper perspective.”

Jesus teaches us to pray to “Our Father,” he said, rather than “our Creator, our Lord, our lawgiver, our judge or our master” even though those titles are true.

“If God is our father, then we are his family,” Hahn explained, “and we’re calling upon him precisely as ‘Father,’ which is a unique privilege that I think we often tend to take for granted.”

Jesus launched a religious revolution when he taught the world’s people to recognize God as “our Father, who art in heaven,” Hahn said. “When he gave us the gift of his Son, … it was for the purpose of making [us] into his children so that we could call upon God in a way that nobody had ever dared to do through the ages up until Christ’s coming.”

When we pray the Our Father, we are “voicing the love of a family and identifying the source of our life as the family of God,” he said. “So if God is our father, we are his family and he is in heaven, then what does the very first line of this prayer remind us? We are not home yet. That’s what this prayer is intended to remind us of every time we pray it.”

God is not separated from us by light years, but rather by our sins, Hahn said. “Through the gift of the Spirit and the mercy of God, we respond to prayer and we come to recognize that he is closer to us than we are to ourselves, and that he is ready to receive us back as soon as we turn and recognize the face of our Father.”

We are pilgrims in exile on our journey to God, he said, and the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that we need to live a Christian life to prepare our way to heaven.

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” the first petition, tells us that we must revere God as holy, he said, and that we are children of God.

“We become God’s children only through supernatural grace … through the rebirth of baptism … in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” he said. “… That is the one purpose for which we were made. … Everything we do is ordered to the goal of heaven.”

The second petition, “thy kingdom come,” tells us that “God is in charge,” Hahn said, “and this kingdom is his, not ours. We just pray that we’re numbered among the elect. … God’s laws are firmly fixed, not only in the physical order of matter, but in the spiritual order of moral life. … We pray this prayer right after the consecration and right before holy Communion at the climax of the Mass [when] we’re about to receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. And who is Christ? He is the king of kings. He is the Lord of Lords. … The catechism teaches, ‘in the Eucharistic liturgy, the Lord’s Prayer reveals its full meaning and power’ because we’re praying for his kingdom to come … now and forever.”

The third petition, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” refers to the Mass “more perfectly than anywhere else,” he said. “This is where we gather to do God’s will on Earth as it is in heaven. … We pray in order for God to change our will and make it conform to his. God uses our prayers to change everything in our lives, in our world. … We have to trust God.”

The fourth through seventh petitions—“give us this day our daily bread,” “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” “lead us not into temptation” and “deliver us from evil”—are prayers for our own needs that we pray as God’s family and rightly follow our prayers of praise for the Lord, he said. “God is God and we are not, and only when we remember that will our lives really be lived in a proper way. … The God of the universe died on the cross [for us]. If he is willing to die and forgive me, then I have got to be willing to forgive other people. … We can call upon God as our Father to give us what we need, to make up for what we lack, to get us all the way home to heaven.” †

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