When someone asked St Teresa of Avila the same question that Jesus was asked in this week’s Gospel, she gave the same answer as he did with, but with a difference.
When the disciples asked Jesus ‘Teach us to pray’, he gave them the words we now know as the ‘Lord’s Prayer’, or the ‘Our Father’. Generations of Christians have grown up knowing these words by heart, saying them out loud together, often quickly, and saying them quietly in our own hearts. If we pray the Rosary, we repeat these words many times.
The person who asked St Teresa how to pray already knew the words of the Lord’s Prayer by heart, so they were surprised when her answer was: ‘Say the Our Father – take an hour over it’. She was inviting them to hear those words again, as if for the first time, and to learn how to pray as Jesus prayed.
We have two versions of the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospels. We usually pray the one in Matthew’s Gospel. Luke’s version is simpler and shorter. It’s not important that the words don’t match, because it’s not the words that matter. Jesus, and St Teresa after him, was not teaching words to be learned and repeated. He was describing the nature of his relationship with the Father and showing his disciples how to enter into that relationship.
Naming God as Father defines us as children of God. Praising God’s name acknowledges that we can add nothing to God’s glory. Desiring the coming of God’s kingdom commits us to justice. Wanting God’s will to be done brings our will into line with God’s. Asking for our daily bread admits our dependence on God and focusses us on what is essential. Begging for pardon reminds us of God’s mercy. Seeking freedom from temptation helps us to be truly human. Asking deliverance for evil fills us with hope.
So this, week, try praying the Our Father as if you’ve never heard it before. Use Luke’s version, or pray it without using words at all. Take some time over it. Then you will really be learning the Lord’s own way of praying.