Exchanging Glances With God

From a catechesis on the “Lord’s Prayer”
by Pope Francis, b. 1936

Jesus said: when you pray, enter into the silence of your room, withdraw from the world, and address God, calling him “Father”! Jesus wants his disciples not to be like the hypocrites who pray standing up in the squares to be admired by the people (cf. Mt 6: 5). Jesus does not want hypocrisy. True prayer is that which is carried out in the secrecy of the conscience, of the heart: inscrutable, visible only to God. It shuns falsehood: with God, it is impossible to pretend. It is impossible, before God there is no trick that has power, God knows us in this way, naked in the conscience, and we cannot pretend. At the root of dialogue with God, there is a silent dialogue, like the exchange of glances between two people who love each other: man and God exchange glances, and this is prayer. Looking at God and letting oneself be looked at by God: this is prayer. Look at God and let yourself be looked at by him: it is a prayer, a beautiful prayer.

And yet, although the prayer of the disciple is entirely confidential, it never falls into self-centredness. In the secrecy of the conscience, the Christian does not leave the world outside the door of his room but brings into his heart people, situations, problems, many things.

There is a surprising absence in the text of the Lord’s Prayer. A word is missing. A word that in our times, but perhaps always, we all hold in great consideration. The word “I” is missing. Jesus teaches us to pray with the word “you” on our lips, first and foremost, because Christian prayer is dialogue: “hallowed be your name”, “your kingdom come, your will be done”. Not my name, my kingdom, my will. And then it passes to “we”. All the second part of the Lord’s Prayer is in the first person plural: “give us this day our daily bread”, “forgive us our trespasses”, “lead us not into temptation”, “deliver us from evil”. Even man’s most elementary requests, such as having food to dispel hunger, are all in the plural. In Christian prayer, no-one asks for bread for himself: we implore for all, for all the poor of the world. We must not forget this, the word “I” is missing. One prays with “you” and with “we”.

Why? Because there is no space for individualism in dialogue with God. There is no ostentation of one’s own problems as if we were the only ones to suffer in the world. There is no prayer raised to God that is not the prayer of a community of brothers and sisters. We are in a community, we are brothers and sisters, we are a people who pray, “we”.

In prayer, a Christian bears all the difficulties of the people who live next to him: when evening falls, he tells God of the sufferings he has encountered in that day; he places before him many faces, friends and also the hostile; he does not drive them away like dangerous distractions. If one does not realise that there are so many people around him that are suffering, if he does not pity the tears of the poor, if he is addicted to everything, then it means that his heart is wilted. No, worse: it is made of stone. In this case, it is good to beg the Lord to touch us with his Spirit and to soften our heart:

“Touch my heart, O Lord”. It is a beautiful prayer: “Lord, soften my heart so that I can understand and take charge of all the problems, all the pains of others.”

Christ did not pass unharmed by the miseries of the world: whenever he perceived loneliness, a pain of the body or the spirit, he felt a strong sense of compassion, like a mother’s womb. This “feeling compassion” is one of the key verbs of the Gospel: it is what drives the good Samaritan to approach the wounded man on the roadside, unlike others who have a hardened heart.

We can ask ourselves: when I pray, do I open myself up to the cry of so many people, near and far or do I think of prayer as a form of anaesthesia, so as to be calmer? If the former, I would be the victim of a terrible error. Certainly, mine would no longer be a Christian prayer. Because that “we”, that Jesus taught us, prevents me from being in peace by myself, and it makes me feel responsible for my brothers and sisters.

Brothers and sisters, saints and sinners, we are all beloved brothers of the same Father. And, in the eventide of our life, we will be judged on love, on how we have loved. Not a love that is merely sentimental, but also compassionate and concrete, following the Gospel rule, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25: 40).

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