XXI. From the Beatitudes and Jesus’ “fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets” rather than abolishing them, Pope Benedict turns to the Lord’s Prayer. Perhaps no words of any figure in history are as well known or often repeated – that is in itself a remarkable fruit of Christ’s presence in the world, even for those who would not share faith in His divinity.
If faith is a relationship with the living God, then conversation – speaking and listening to one another – is inherent to that relationship. This conversation is prayer, which entails both God speaking while we listen, and the assurance that while we speak, God listens. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins by cautioning against false forms of prayer that are focused not on God but on ourselves – to be noticed, to be self-justified, to feel we are somehow better than others who don’t pray as much or as purely. When attempts at prayer arise from pride rather than humility, we are on the wrong path.
Christian prayer is also always personal but never only individual. That is, as persons made in the image of the Triune God, we are necessarily called to relationships with others. Book IV of the Catechism of the Catholic Church presents profound teaching on the joys and challenges of prayer; among its many points, the Catechism notes: “Prayer is Christian insofar as it is communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is His Body. Its dimensions are those of Christ’s love” (n. 2565). Thus a prayer which is merely self-interested, for one’s own needs and sanctification, lacks an essential element.
Jesus implies this already in the first word of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father.” The plural pronoun already teaches us that we are a family in one God, and as such I cannot be content with self-focused holiness; and in another way, that I am never alone in my needs and search for God, for my sisters and brothers are here with and for me.