Before all the important moments of his life, Jesus takes time out to be with his father.
Luke gives us a slightly shorter version of Jesus’s response to the question ‘Teach us to pray’, beginning with a simple intimate greeting equivalent to ‘Papa’ or ‘Dad’, and continuing as we know ‘may your name be held holy, your kingdom come; give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us. And do not put us to the test.’ Again the simplicity strikes me – ‘may your kingdom come’ – may we really live out what we believe and share the life you give us with others, bringing your kingdom among us; and may we rely on you each day to nourish us with your life, and forgive us as we forgive each other. For the catechumen, and for each of us in the community, our life in Christ is like a spiral, ever deepening, the more we open to the truth Jesus gives us. And the truth today is staggering – that God is our ‘dad’. In the human family, the dad is traditionally the member of the family responsible for providing for the needs of the body – food, shelter and warmth. He gives identity to his children. SO a son becomes a man and knows himself and his abilities from the way his father relates to him and what he says to and about his son. And in the same way, a daughter gains her identity as a woman through the way her father treats her and communicates with her. The father also provides protection and security. (A mother, and siblings/ friends have different roles in the formation of our person too, which you can align with the Holy Spirit and with Jesus, but I wont go into these here).
Towards the end of the catechumenal journey of conversion (either at the end of the catechumenate period, or during Lent), the Lord’s Prayer, our prayer of the church, as an integral part of our daily prayer and our liturgy – is ritually ‘presented’ or proclaimed for and over the catechumens (or elect) – God is drawing them to himself, like a father who lifts up his child and holds them close (Hosea 11). This is a very moving moment – a moment of recognition of the compassion and love of God calling them to the waters of baptism – as the rite suggests: ‘Give them new birth in your living waters, so that they may be numbered among your adopted children.’ It is a preparation for the moment when they as baptised Christians will for the first time recite this prayer in the liturgical assembly of the faithful. It is a sign of recognition by the community of the progress of the candidates in spiritual maturity – they recognse who they are becoming. It echoes the process of human development in a family too.
In order for the catechumens to be able to publicly receive and pray the ‘Our Father’, it would be vitally important for the community, as represented in the team members and sponsor, to be aware of the need for ritual prayer throughout the catechumenate to help them towards this point – blessings, annointing and minor exorcism – all of which are there for affirmation and healing. None of our family backgrounds are perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Ask a room full of people to put up their hands if they consider they come from a ‘dysfunctional family’ and 95% will do so! For all sorts of reasons, our family members may not have understood or were unable to f’perfectly’ fulfil their roles in our lives – and this can lead to a misunderstanding of the who God is as Loving Father, or who Jesus is, or the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the blessings, annointings and minor exorcisms are to heal the wounds and lies that may have been learned from our experience, enable us to understand and forgive our families/those in close relationship for any inadequacies in their roles, and to open to the truth of the incredible intimacy offered by God, who says call me ‘Abba’ , offering identity, security and protection, as well as giving a joyful purpose for our lives as Christian family reaching out to love, heal and serve in the world.
The invitation to the elect following the Presentation of the Lord’s Prayer has a prophetic ring about it:
‘Although you cannot yet participate fully in the Lord’s eucharist, stay with us as a sign of our hope that all God’s children will eat and drink with the Lord and work with his Spirit to re-create the face of the earth’.