Understanding the Our FatherIn honor of fathers everywhere I’d like to offer something beautiful and profound to you. So I’m going to post something from Scott Hahn’s book, Understanding the Our Father. [1] It’s more beautiful and profound than anything I can write and I really want to share it with you. Happy Father’s Day! May your day be richly blessed, and the rest of your days also! :)

The “Our” of Power

This is why Tradition tells us we must go beyond our earthly experiences and memories of fatherhood when we pray, “Our Father.” For though He is a provider, begetter, and protector, God is more unlike than like any human father, patriarch, or paternal figure. The Catechism puts it this way: “God our Father transcends the categories of the created world. To impose our own ideas in this area ‘upon him’ would be to fabricate idols to adore or pull down. To pray to the Father is to enter into his mystery as he is and as the Son has revealed him to us” (no. 2779).

How has Jesus, God the Son, revealed the Father to us? As “[o]ur Father who art in heaven” (Mt. 6:9). By adding that prepositional phrase “in heaven,” Jesus emphasizes the difference in God’s fatherhood. The Father to Whom we pray is not an earthly father. He is “above” us; He is the One we profess in the creed as “Father Almighty”—that is, all powerful. Though we are weak, limited, and prone to mistakes, nothing is impossible for God (cf. Lk. 1:37).

God’s power, then, sets His fatherhood apart from any fatherhood we have known or imagined. His “fatherhood and power shed light on one another” (Catechism, no. 270). Unlike earthly fathers, He always has the best intentions for His children, and He always has the ability to carry them out. Jesus wanted us to know this, so that we could always approach our heavenly Father with childlike trust and confidence: “[W]hatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Mt. 21:22).

The Catechism teaches that “God reveals his fatherly omnipotence by the way he takes care of our needs” (no. 270). We know God as Father because, over a lifetime of prayer, we experience His care for us. We come to see for ourselves that He is mighty, and that He will deny us nothing that is good for us. [2]

From Heir to Paternity

Earthly fatherhood sometimes reflects these characteristics, as do those offices that assume fatherly roles in society: the priesthood, for example, and the government. Yet earthly fathers can perfect their fatherhood only by purifying themselves of earthly motives—such as greed, envy, pride, and the desire to control. They can become true fathers only by conforming themselves to the image of their heavenly Father, and that Image is His firstborn Son, Jesus Christ.

In governing, in parenting, or in priesthood, we come to exercise a more perfect fatherly role as we “grow up” in the Family of God: “[W]e are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16–17). This process is a divine corrective to the world’s distorted notions of patriarchy and hierarchy.

An ancient Christian writer, Dionysius the Areopagite, described hierarchy as something that originates in heaven, where divine light passes through the angels and the saints as if all were transparent.2 God’s gifts, then, are passed from one person to the next, undiluted. Those who are closest to God—and so higher in the hierarchy—serve those who are lower. At each stage, they give as God gives, keeping nothing to themselves.

Notice, here, how spiritual goods differ from material goods. If I have sole ownership of something—say, a sport coat or a tie—someone else can’t own it and use it at the same time. The higher goods, however, are spiritual; and spiritual goods—such as faith, hope, love, liturgy, the merits of the saints—can be shared and owned completely by all. That’s how the hierarchy works with the angels and saints in heaven.

For this sharing to take place “on earth as it is in heaven” requires the perfection of earthly fatherhood, which can take place only if we earnestly pray, “Our Father who art in heaven.” God is the primordial Father, “of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named” (Eph. 3:15, Douay Rheims Version). He is the eternal model by which all human fathers must be measured. [3]

A Father Who Keeps His PromisesNotes

[1] Get a copy of Understanding the Our Father at Amazon (Kindle or print) or for Verbum. Also excellent is Hahn’s A Father Who Keeps His Promises. Get it at Amazon (Kindle or print) or for Verbum. (I’ll add the Verbum links later, their site is down right now. Oy.)
[2] Hahn, S. (2002). Understanding “Our Father”: Biblical Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer, pp. 14–15. Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing.
[3] Ibid., pp. 15–16.

Only Five Precepts of the Church(A post for the Year of Faith.) There are only five precepts of the Church and every Catholic should know them. Let’s take a look at them as found in the Catechism, second edition, Part 3, Section 1, Chapter 3, Article 3, starting with paragraph 2042, without the commentary, just the precepts. And notice that the subtitle of Article 3 is: The Church, Mother and Teacher. The Church is your Mother. She has something to say to you. Listen up!

  • You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor.
  • You shall confess your sins at least once a year.
  • You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.
  • You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.
  • You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.

There. Now that wasn’t so bad, was it? Only five precepts and they’re brief, too. Blessedly. (Heh. A little Church humor. Very little. Ahem.)

Now why do you suppose the Church wants you to attend Mass on Sundays or to confess and receive the Eucharist at least once a year? Because, like any good mother, she just wants you to drop in once in a while so she can see your face before she forgets what you look like? Well, maybe. But mostly to keep you spiritually alive! Read these words in paragraph 2041 right before the list of precepts.

“The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor…”

You see, to keep alive spiritually you must attend Mass every Sunday, confess and receive the Eucharist at least once a year. (Notice that you can attend Mass without receiving. This is important. If you’re not in a state of grace, you should not even think about presenting yourself for Communion. But you still must attend Mass!) You must also observe the days of fasting and abstaining, and help provide for the needs of the Church. This is the bare minimum for your interior, spiritual self to stay alive. If you are not meeting this bare minimum in your life, you may be in danger of dying spiritually. And if all you do is the bare minimum, then you’ll be barely alive spiritually, too.

When someone says, “Oh, I’m not religious at all but I’m very spiritual,” I have to say, “Oh, really?” Because I know that person is probably not spiritual at all. Most of the people who say things like that to me only concern themselves with things of the world and the body and the body’s appetites. They don’t go to church, don’t see why they should; don’t mortify their appetites, again, they don’t see why they should; they don’t practice self-control; they don’t confess their sins and they don’t receive the Eucharist. And, of course, they don’t give anything to their church because they don’t even have a church. Because…they’re “spiritual, not religious!”

Oy ve! Tell me how they can be spiritual! What do they even mean when they say it? Do they mean they believe in spirits? What kind of spirits? Spirits of good or spirits of evil? Do they mean that they practice spiritualism? Play with Ouija boards? (And why does that word end in an “a” instead of an “i” or an “ie” or “ee” or something? I never hear anyone pronounce it “Wee-ja”, it’s always “Wee-jee” board.)

Oh, they’re very spiritual. So spiritual that they will go to almost any lengths to avoid suffering. Mortification? Why, they’re mortified at the thought of it! And not in a good way!

He is the Vine, we are the branchesChrist said that He is the Vine and we are the branches. If we cut ourselves off from the Vine, we will shrivel and dry up. If we cut ourselves off from the Eucharist, we have no life in us. If we turn away from the ordinary means of grace in the sacraments, how do we expect to receive grace? If we don’t mortify our appetites, how do we expect to preserve or increase in grace? If we don’t confess our sins after sinning, how do we expect to get back into a state of grace so we can continue to grow and have a real and not imaginary spiritual life?

And that, I think, is all too often the problem: People imagine that they are spiritual and that they have a spiritual life when they don’t know the first thing about spirituality at all.

So stop imagining that you’re a very spiritual person and go to confession and get into a state of grace and get to Mass and and control your appetites and stay in the Vine and really be spiritual! Because your Momma says so. Momma Church, that is!

The full text of paragraphs on the precepts can be found online, paragraphs 2041 – 2043.

Vine passage from Gospel of John 15:5:

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”