The Lord’s prayer should be prayed daily. It shouldn’t be recited without thinking about the words or their meaning, and its meaning is not something deep and hidden. If we adopt not just the words of the prayer but the attitudes it expresses, we give our Father the space He needs in our hearts to sanctify us. Central to this prayer is devotion to the Eucharist, that daily super-substantial bread that nourishes our spiritual life. By desiring to receive that bread daily, we daily desiring communion with Christ. We cannot be in communion with Christ if our lives are full of wickedness and sin, so the daily reception of communion is a safeguard for our conscience against sin. We should expect that as long as we are alive and praying this prayer, the sins we ask to be forgiven from are real. We will stop sinning when we die – and our neighbors will stop sinning against us when they die. In this life, communion with Christ, asking for and giving forgiveness, and praying for help against evil and temptation are the essential components of daily life and growth in holiness.
Nonbelievers think that they can more easily obtain from the Lord what they require by using many words, but the Lord does not expect this from us. Rather, he wants us to send up our prayers not with wordy speech but with faith that comes from the heart. By doing so we command the merits of justice to him. He surely knows better all the things of which we have need and before we speak is aware of everything that we are going to request.1
We have an example of just how great a distance there is between the wordy and the humble and simple prayer in the story of the Pharisee and the publican. The prayer of the Pharisee vaunting himself in his abundance of words was rejected. The humble and contrite publican, on the other hand, asking forgiveness for his sins, came away more justified than the self-boasting Pharisee. In this we find fulfilled what was written: “The prayer of the humble penetrates the clouds,” reaching God who is ready to hear the request of the one who prays.2
[…] if you always seek from him carnal and earthly things, you are setting yourself a difficult or impossible task. How would those things benefit you who don’t have them, which everywhere he admonishes you to scorn if you did have them?3
Christ himself, dearest beloved, is the kingdom of God, whom we day by day desire to come, whose advent we crave to be quickly manifested to us. For since he is himself the resurrection, since in him we rise again, so also the kingdom of God may be understood to be himself, since in him we shall reign.4
Understand, God is naturally a king, but he does not reign in all. Not all people are his kingdom because not all do his will. Among evil people God does not reign, but the devil—it is his will they do.5
And as we say “our Father,” because he is the father of those who understand and believe, so too we say “our bread,” because Christ is the bread of us who touch his body.6
What is daily bread? Just enough for one day. Here Jesus is speaking to people who have natural needs of the flesh, who are subject to the necessities of nature. He does not pretend that we are angels. He condescends to the infirmity of our nature in giving us his commands. The severity of nature does not permit you to go without food. So for the maturing of your life, he says, I require necessary food, not a complete freedom from natural necessities. But note how even in things that are bodily, spiritual correlations abound. For it is not for riches or frills that we pray. It is not for wastefulness or extravagant clothing that we pray, but only for bread. And only for bread on a daily basis, so as not to “worry about tomorrow.”7
How necessary, providential and expedient it is for us to be reminded that we are sinners and must ask pardon for our sins. And while we ask for God’s forgiveness, our minds retain an awareness of those sins! Lest anyone become complacent and suffer the fate of flattering himself, he is instructed and reminded that he sins daily, while he is ordered to ask pardon for his sins.8
This prayer for forgiveness belongs to believers. For the uninitiated could not call God Father. We discover forgiveness within the nurturing pedagogy of the church. If then the prayer belongs to believers and they pray, entreating that sins may be forgiven them, it is clear that even after baptism the profit of repentance is not taken away. If he had not meant to signify this, why would he have instructed us to pray for forgiveness?9
Jesus here calls the devil “the wicked one,” commanding us to wage against him a war that knows no truce. Yet he is not evil by nature, for evil is not something derived from any nature as created but is what has been added to nature by choice. The devil is the prototypically evil one, because of the excess of his evil choices and because he who in no respect was injured by us wages against us an implacable war. Thus we do not pray “deliver us from the wicked ones” in the plural but “from the wicked one.”10
We must consider and carefully set forth the respective and distinctive notes of those seven petitions. While our present life is passing away like time, our hope is fixed on the life eternal, and while we cannot reach the eternal without first passing through the present life, eternal things are first in importance. In addition, the fulfillment of the first three petitions has its beginning in the life that begins and ends in this world. For the hallowing of God’s name began with the advent of the Lord’s humility; and the coming of his kingdom—the coming in which he will appear in brightness—will be made manifest not after the end of the world but at the ending of the world; and the perfect fulfilling of God’s will on earth as in heaven—whether you take the words heaven and earth to mean the righteous and the sinful, or the spirit and the flesh, or the Lord and the church, or all of these together—will be fully achieved through the full attainment of our blessedness, and therefore at the ending of the world. But all three will continue for all eternity; for the hallowing of God’s name will continue forever, and of his kingdom there is no end, and there is the promise of everlasting life for our blessedness. Therefore these three things will continue, completely fulfilled, in the life that is promised to us.
It seems to me that our remaining four petitions pertain to the needs of this temporal life. The first of them is “give us this day our daily bread”; the mere fact that it is called a “daily” bread shows that it pertains to the present time, the time which the Lord has called “today.” This is equally clear, no matter what significance one may attach to the expression “daily bread”; that is to say, whether we take it as signifying spiritual bread or the bread that is visible either in the sacrament or in our earthly food. Of course, this opinion does not imply that spiritual food is not everlasting. What the Scriptures call daily food is offered to the soul in the sound of human speech or in some kind of sign that is confined to time. There will be none of these things when everyone will be “taught of God” and will be imbibing the ineffable light of truth through mind alone but not imparting it through any bodily actions. Perhaps that is the very reason why this nourishment is called food rather than drink. For just as food must be broken up and chewed before it can become nourishment for the body, so also is the soul nourished by the Scriptures when it has uncovered and digested their inner meaning. But whatever is taken in the form of drink is not changed as it flows into the body. Therefore truth is called food as long as it is referred to as daily bread; when there will be no need of breaking it, so to speak, and chewing it, then it will be in the form of drink. This will be the case when there will be no need of discussing and discoursing, when nothing will be needed but a drink of pure and crystal truth.
In this life we are both receiving and granting forgiveness of sins, and this is the second of those four petitions. But in eternity there will be no forgiving of sins, because there will be no sins to be forgiven. Temptations make this life troublesome, but there will be no temptations after the fulfillment of the promise, “You will hide them in the secret of your presence.” Of course, the evil from which we wish to be delivered is an evil that is present with us in this life, and it is during this life that we wish to be delivered from it. For through God’s justice we have by our own faults made this life mortal, and through the mercy of God we are being delivered from that mortality.11
And certainly we should not heedlessly neglect to call attention to the fact that of all the pronouncements in which the Lord has ordered us to pray, he has deliberately attached a very special commendation to the pronouncement that deals with the forgiving of sins. In this pronouncement he wished us to be merciful because that is the only prescribed means of avoiding miseries. Indeed, in no other petition do we pray in such a manner as to make a kind of covenant with the Lord, for we say, “Forgive us as we also forgive.” If we default in this covenant, the whole petition is fruitless, for he says, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”12
- TRACTATE ON MATTHEW 27.2.1–2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 129). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- TRACTATE ON MATTHEW 27.2.3. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 129). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 14. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 132). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- TREATISES, ON THE LORD’S PRAYER 13. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 133). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 14. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 134). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- TREATISES, ON THE LORDS PRAYER 18. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 135). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 19.5. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (pp. 135–136). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- TREATISES, ON THE LORDS PRAYER 22-23. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 136). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 19.5. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 136). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 19.6. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 137). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON ON THE MOUNT 2.10.36–37. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 138). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON ON THE MOUNT 2.11.39. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 139). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.