Our Holy Father, St. Augustine, on The Lord’s Prayer
by Friar Joseph Augustine, AIHM
Page numbers cited from: Augustine on Prayer by Thomas Hand, OSA, Catholic Book Publishing, 1986
When I was young, I had a favorite older cousin named “Bee-Bee”. She was my mother’s first cousin and my second cousin, but she was like a favorite Aunt. I would always go to her when I really wanted help in securing something from my parents. She would always “clear the way” for me asking for something. She was a pretty good advocate. We all probably have someone like that in our lives.
This is the backdrop in which Jesus gave us the prayer to “Our Father”. The apostles asked him how they should pray, and as a good older brother, he became our advocate to Our Father in heaven, “clearing the way” for Abba to hear us and be sympathetic to our asking. St. Augustine likened it to one seeking a good lawyer to be prepared before they went into court. (p.102)
Augustine reminds us often that the words we use in prayer are less meant for God than they are for us. Augustine says our prayers “may assist us in considering and observing what we ask” so that we can understand our own desires and order them towards God. (p.102)
Augustine also holds the Lord’s Prayer as the standard highest form of Christian prayer as does our Independent Catholic Christian Church in our Statement of Faith. Augustine said, “if we pray rightly and as becomes our needs we can say nothing but what is already contained in this prayer of out Lord.” (p.103) As the old commercial for tomato sauce said, “It’s in there.” The Lord’s Prayer contains everything that is necessary in our life of grace to eternity. Let us look at the one praise and seven petitions of the prayer:
“Our Father who are in heaven.” We give God praise from the start, not because God needs it, but to order our desire towards Yahweh. We need it. We need to remember that our God is in Heaven, not of Earth. He is the fulfillment of our deepest desires that go beyond just the physical. Further, our address as taught by Jesus instills in us affection and confidence in God, our “dad.” There is also a certain social equality indicated here as we all call God “Abba” no matter how rich or poor. (p. 105)
“Hallowed be your name.” Again, God does not need to hear from us that he is holy. That would be like me telling Einstein that he was good at math. Our petition is for our own good that, “by the invocation of His name at Baptism, we may be rendered holy.” (p. 107) We extend this wish to even those who are not of the faith, to the whole human race, that we all may be holy as our father in heaven is holy.
“Your kingdom come.” Well, “the kingdom of God shall come whether you ask for it or not.” So, Augustine says ask “that God will include you in the number of his elect.” (p.109) Also, we pray that the love and knowledge of the City of God may be understood by all as soon as possible and each of us in particular.
“Your will be done on earth as in heaven.” Augustine asks us to remember what we pray in the creed: I believe in God Almighty. If God is almighty why would we pray that His will be done? Of course it will, no pun intended. What we need here is to remember to keep God primary in our lives and the focus of our desires. Our desires need to be ordered not in this world but transformed by heaven. Augustine says it means, “may it be done in me so that I do not resist your will.” (p. 110) The second part of this petition is the greater and more difficult. Not only may God’s will be done IN us, but be done BY us!
“Give us today our daily bread.” Augustine reflects on three meanings here that are all pertinent. First, the daily bread refers to the physical things we need to keep our bodies healthy. Second, this bread is the bread of heaven, the Eucharist, our prayer together as Church with Jesus in our midst. Finally, and most importantly to Augustine, our daily bread is the Word of God, the Law of the Lord which helps order our desires towards Yahweh and shows us the way to everlasting life with the Divine Love. (p. 113)
“Forgive us our debts as we forgive others.” For Augustine, this petition is the keystone to all the others. “When you examine your hearts…for you will not really be praying unless you make that petition.” (p.115) He calls this our covenant or engagement with God for it is the most important and fundamental thing for which we must pray. Especially pray for enemies that by love and God’s Grace they might be converted to friends or at least brothers/sisters in faith.
“Lead us not into temptation.” Augustine here notes that we are sometimes tested by our own wrongful desires that we might see our wrong direction and make amends and metanoia. “God himself does not lead us into temptation but…permits [one] to be so led.” (p.120) This journey helps the soul to trust in God, rely in God, and hope in God. In this petition then we pray that God not let us be tested beyond our strength but give us a way out of it so that we may be able to endure it and grow closer to our true love. (p.121)
“But deliver us from evil.” We pray “not only not to be led into temptation, but also that we may be delivered from evil into which we have already fallen.” (p. 122) We pray for God’s mercy that we might be continually converting and returning to the Lord. And so too, as we desire mercy we must show mercy. As we so desire compassion and help from the Lord, we too must give it to others. Finally, Augustine exhorts us, “If you see your anger making a stand against you, pray to God to make you conquer yourself…not your enemy outside, but your own soul within.” (p. 123)
Finally, Augustine notes that the prayer was given to us in the plural. We not only pray as individuals but as God’s children together, as the Body of Christ, together. We pray for ourselves, our neighbor, our friends, and our enemies. “This prayer is the perfect expression of a Christian’s love. [He] has called into his brotherhood the peoples of the nations, so that the only Son has numberless brethren who say: Our Father in heaven.” (p. 124).