There was a time in my life when I did not even know the words of the Our Father. My parents enrolled me in Catholic school when I entered the sixth grade. I had been in public school up to that point so I experienced a bit of culture shock. I was not baptized Catholic at the time, and the extent of my family’s participation in a faith tradition involved attending church on Easter once or twice and praying before dinner. My understanding of God came from what I saw in TV shows and movies. Then I went to Catholic school and everything changed.
I called my teacher Sister…but she was not my sister!
We said prayers called the Hail Mary and the Our Father…but who is Mary and whose father are we praying to here?!
I went home that first week of school and practiced the prayers in the back of my book relentlessly. I particularly wanted to nail down the Our Father because I somehow knew that it was a particularly important one. I’ll never forget, one afternoon I sat in the living room practicing. I recited it so many times that my Dad woke up from a nap on the couch and said, “Hey I think that’s enough for now.” I eventually learned the prayer by heart and was very proud when I was able to recite it without my little cheat sheet.
It was as if my younger self knew how important the prayer would be to me as I got older. Over the years, where I’ve prayed the Our Father and who I’ve prayed with have led to some of the deepest feelings of Grace I’ve ever felt.
At the gates of Fort Benning Georgia with the Ignatian family.
With a delegation at the altar where Saint Oscar Romero stood when he was slain.
In a community center in Chalatenango, El Salvador with host families.
On the streets of Baltimore with its citizens mourning life and crying out for justice and redemption.
In a meal program with men and women experiencing the crippling cycle of poverty but still living with hope.
In the classroom or on retreat with students as they discern God’s call for them.
Jesus knew that building and maintaining a beloved community of faith would be tough and at times dangerous. So, He gave us this prayer that fosters kinship, fashions purpose, and plants hope. As we journey through the season of Lent and the season of life, wherever and with whomever we pray the Our Father, may it break all doubts and despair and remind us who we are and whose we are.
Justin T. White is a theology teacher at Loyola Blakefield in Towson, Maryland.