Our relationships with other people, with God, with our environment, and with the events of our life (history) shape and change us over time. I remember when I was on vacation in New York City on September 11, 2001 and I was left with the feeling that I needed to do something more. And again, I had that persistent pull in my conscience on August 15, 2007 living through the massive earthquake that centered on a town about 3 hours south of Lima: 600 dead, 1,300 injured, 48,000 houses destroyed and 450,000 homeless people, mostly south of Lima. But it was the plea a few months later that came from a very young firefighter postulant and member of my parish who begged me to go to the fire station because, according to him, the firefighters did not know how to pray and got on the fire trucks every day, into danger, without praying. He asked me to teach them how to pray. So, less than 10 months after the earthquake, I became a fire chaplain. My relationship with my environment, with God, the events of my life and especially with people led me to a great change. My apprentice friend wanted me to teach them how to pray, but it was there that I really learned what prayer is. I think I didn’t really know what prayer was until I became a fire chaplain.
Today the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. The Father is a short prayer that we are used to reciting daily. It is a revolutionary prayer that should lead us into a new relationship with God, the times we live in and all those around us. It is a prayer that helps us enter into a personal and family relationship with God the Father. It calls us to share the relationship of trust, love, and forgiveness with everyone else. It is a prayer of openness to God the Father, to those around us, and to the times of our lives. It is not a prayer of closing in on oneself. It is a prayer to become one with the will of the Father and build the Kingdom of God.
In prayer we tend to cross our hands, close our eyes, and close in on ourselves. I remember the Sisters of Charity teaching us in catechesis classes for children to fold their hands and bow our heads. Of course, there are times for that. But in the prayer of Christ, the Father calls us to praise God with openness, hands and arms raised, open to the world, open to others and open to our time, but above all open to the Father. Praising God and proclaiming our faith and experience in our Father.
Look at the oldest images of Christian prayer found in art form in the catacombs of Priscilla (Rome). The images on the walls date from the 200s. People have open and raised arms. This is the oldest tradition of our Church: true prayer leads to action, to change, to living in communion with the Father and those around us.
Image: “Catacomb of Pricilla” insidethevaticanpilgrimages.com/st_priscilla_of_rome/ (public domain).