Prayer, like the liturgy, should be lived out.
If there is one prayer we should especially endeavor to live out it should be the Our Father — the prayer that St. Augustine held up at the model for all others. Jesus gave us the Our Father when asked to teach us how to pray, and, in His Passion, He showed us how to live it out.
In retracing the steps of Jesus’ Passion, many of the defining moments recall the words of the Our Father. Christ’s words in the Garden of Gethsemane recall the Third Petition of the Our Father. Before Pilate, he described the non-worldly nature of the kingdom of God. On the cross, he asked for forgiveness for those crucifying Him. And His death certainly delivered all of us from evil.
If we take a closer look at the Passion, we see that Jesus is offering us a particular interpretation of how to live out the Our Father. Here are the key lessons He gives us:
Jesus’ starting point corresponds to the First Petition of the Our Father: Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus lives this out in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He prays, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to You. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what You will.”
There are four elements to this prayer. First, he recognizes His Father in heaven and addresses him inter-personally as Abba — the only time Jesus uses this word in the gospels. After calling attention to the Father personally, Jesus then emphasizes His power: all things are possible, or, we could also translate it as all things are within Your power.
Jesus, then, is reminding us of a twofold movement to the first line of the Our Father. On the one hand, we draw near to God in the filial familiarity to Our Father. On the other hand, we ‘step back,’ so to speak, in admiration of His awesome power and providential oversight over our lives. He is in heaven, His name — His identity, His entire being — is hallowed, which means that He is holy, pure, and set apart. We must encounter God personally without ever losing sight of His holy otherness, His infinite majesty.
Thy Will Be Done
We then move to the Third Petition of the Our Father in the second half of Jesus’ prayer: “Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what You will.” Again, there is a twofold movement. In the first part, Jesus prays the most natural thing possible: to be spared the impending doom that will befall Him. The second part is the most unnatural thing imaginable: not His will but the will of His Father should be done — even if that means enduring the torturous death that will soon ensue.
In this radical surrender of the self, Jesus is setting a high standard for all of us when we pray the Third Petition of the Our Father. We should all strive — through God’s grace — for such a complete surrender of the will. If Jesus could trust the Father in dealing with His death we should at least trust the Father in deciding what happens with our lives.
Take Away This Cup
In His self-surrender, Jesus completely empties Himself. Such emptying is necessary before one can be filled. In Jesus we see this dynamic throughout the Passion: He empties Himself to the point of death that He might manifest the power of God all the more. His death leads to the greatest display of divine power in all of human history — which wasn’t a fire consuming a mountaintop, a parting of a sea, or the halting of the sun and the moon in the sky, as amazing as all these miracles certainly were. But no, it was none of these things — instead it was the resurrection to life of someone from the dead.
The image that Jesus links to His self-emptying is an intriguing one: it is the drinking of a cup, something that involves a filling of oneself. If we understand the cup in Eucharistic terms, this offers us a new way of approaching Holy Communion. How many of us remember that in order to be filled with Christ we must first be emptied?
The attitude with which Jesus approaches this cup is also instructive. Receiving the Eucharist should certainly be an occasion for peace and joy, but perhaps we would do well to nurture a degree of holy fear, remembering that we are drinking from the same cup that Christ did when He achieved the redemption of all men by dying.
My Kingdom Is Not of This World
Jesus’ questioning by Pilate—recounted at length in John 18—is a pause before the agony of the Passion sets in. It is one of the few moments of the Passion where Jesus elaborates at length on a point—in contrast to the abbreviated words He utters on the cross. When questioned by Pilate, Jesus explains the nature of His kingdom this way: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now my kingdom is not from here” (Douay Rheims, edited; all other excerpts from the NAB, Revised Edition).
Notice how it is My kingdom, whereas in the Our Father it is Thy kingdom. In His self-emptying, Jesus Has reaffirmed His identity with the Father — three persons in all, including the Holy Spirit, but one God. “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:10).
In praying the Our Father—in which we unite our words to Christ’s—we ought to become united to the Word. “Abide in me, and I in you,” Jesus says in (John 15:4, Douay Rheims). We ought to abide so deeply in Christ that we are drawn to the Trinitarian communion He enjoys with the Father. “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love,” Jesus said (John 15:10).
Moreover, on the cross Christ was acting in the role of a king. He was exercising His lordship over all creation by redeeming it. In praying that His kingdom come, we ought to ask ourselves what we are doing to bring it about? How can we imitate Christ to make the kingdom present? Are we ready for the kingdom? Are we ready for the cross?
The Our Father leads to forgiveness and deliverance. And this is exactly the first thing Jesus does on the cross: ask His Father to forgive those who were taking His life. (See this timeline of the seven last words.) Such forgiveness—certainly the last thing any normal mortal would think about in that situation—is only comprehensible from the perspective of Gethsemane. Only in radical self-giving and submission to the providence of the Father can we imitate Christ in forgiving those who persecute us.
Today You Will Be With Me in Paradise
Christ’s Passion ends in our deliverance from evil — the seventh and last petition of the Our Father. But there are two sides to this. We are delivered from evil. We are also delivered for something. What might that be? The beginning of the Our Father looks ahead to the end: it’s heaven, where the Father is.
Christ also previews this on the cross, promising paradise to the Good Thief crucified next to Him. In the Passion then, Christ sort of elaborates on the end of the Our Father, reminding us for what it is we are redeemed — which is not simply being in paradise, but being with the one who is paradise personified, Christ.