The Perfect Prayer

A good friend of mine loves to tell the story of the first time that he visited the Grand Canyon. He took the mule ride down into the canyon to stay overnight at the Phantom Ranch. He had heard how amazing the sunset was when you got down to the bottom. He bought a bunch of disposable cameras so that he could catch the perfect moment.

You remember those disposable cameras? There was a roll of film in the cardboard camera thing, and you had a set number of pictures that you could shoot and then mail it in and get real pictures. No telling how many he purchased, but he put them all in his daypack and headed off. As he rode along, he would pull out one camera after another to take picture after picture. As the got to the bottom he started to look for his last camera and found that he had used them all up. All that he had was one shot left and he was going to make it count.

He held that camera up and waited. The sky was beautiful, and he waited. The clouds were vibrant colors of red and he waited. Everything was almost perfect, and he waited. He knew that he had one last shot and he wanted the sunset to be perfect, and he waited. As you can imagine, he waited too long. He got a great shot of the sunrise, but it was not exactly perfect.

How many times in our lives do we experience perfection? I am not saying that it does not exist, and am not suggesting that we have not experienced it, but how often does that happen?

When I was reading today’s Gospel, I remember a Sunday school teacher telling me that, “There are many moving prayers that we can say, but when it comes to one prayer that takes the main aspects of our faith and summarizes them in several short lines, the Our Father is the perfect prayer.” As it turns out, she was just quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, who said, “The Lord’s Prayer is the most perfect of prayers … This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them”.

The perfect prayer. And it occurs twice in the bible, first in Matthew 6:5-15 and then again in Luke 11:1-13. Today’s version is the longer and more familiar Matthew one. It begins by professing the core religious belief that “God is our heavenly Father”, and notice that word “our”, not “my”, not “your” but “our” father. This should remind us of all of our brothers and sister around us and how we are expected to treat them.

As we go through the rest of the Our Father we express seven petitions or requests. The first three petitions are Thy Name, Thy Kingdom and Thy Will. These three are interesting because we are not actually asking that these three become Holy but we are asking that we recognize that they are Holy and that we are capable of acting accordingly. If we truly have the wisdom and strength to know that these three are holy think of how that would affect our lives. Thy name is holy, thy kingdom is holy, thy will is holy …

The next two petitions are very different. They are “give us”, and “forgive us”. They speak of our trust in God and His infinite mercy. And the final two ask God for protection, from our own imperfections and from evil. Not the abstract evil but the actual person of Satan, the angel who opposes God.

Earlier I mentioned that there are two versions in the bible. The second is less well know but there is a verse that comes directly that is almost as well known as the Lords Prayer itself.

In Luke 11:9-13 we are reminded, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

MT 6:7-15

Jesus said to his disciples:
“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This is how you are to pray:

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

“If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

March 8, 2022

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