"Our Father, Who Art in Heaven..."

As a cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger was already one of the most prolific theologians the Church had ever known. Now, as Pope Benedict XVI, he is even more recognized – and more influential – than ever before. Most of you have probably heard of the new book authored by the Holy Father, entitled Jesus of Nazareth; it is a unique look at Jesus from the “historical perspective,” taking into account all the cultural and human influences that shaped the earthly ministry of the Son of God. My next few posts will be aimed at discussing the main thrust of this book, which seems to be an analysis of Christ’s instruction to His disciples on how to pray: the Our Father.

Pope Benedict divides the Lord’s Prayer into seven sections, or petitions, each of which is given its own discussion in Jesus of Nazareth. The first petition – and the topic of this post – is the most fundamental portion of the prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven.”

The most striking fact of this entire prayer comes right here at the beginning: we are permitted to call God our “Father”; God, who is all powerful desires to be addressed as Father, and nothing less. The name ‘Father,’ though, is only meaningful if we understand what it means to be a child – sons and daughters of God. Who better to teach us this than the Son of God, Jesus Christ. “The love that endures ‘to the end’ (Jn 13:1), which the Lord fulfilled on the Cross in praying for his enemies, shows us the essence of the Father. He is this love. Because Jesus brings it to completion, he is entirely ‘Son,’ and he invites us to become ‘sons’ according to this criterion.” (Jesus of Nazareth, p. 136) In other words, only by following the example of Jesus’ Sonship, which is laid out in the Gospels, can we truly be prepared to say “Our Father” with the deep love that we ought to have.

The two-fold dimension of God’s fatherhood is another focus of the Holy Father’s work. “First of all, God is our Father in the sense that he is our Creator. We belong to him because he has created us.” The second sense of God’s fatherhood is that there “is a unique sense in which Christ is the ‘image of God’ (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). The Fathers of the Church therefore say that when God created man ‘in his image,’ he looked toward the Christ who was to come, and created man according to the image of the ‘new Adam,’ the man who is the criterion of the human. Above all, though, Jesus is ‘the Son’ in the strict sense – he is of one substance with the Father. He wants to draw all of us into his humanity and so into his Sonship, into his total belonging to God.” (Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 137-8)

All of this might be a little much for some, especially if they haven’t had much exposure to theological/philosophical language. But, the real core of Benedict’s discussion can be summed up pretty concisely in a few words: God is our Father because Jesus is our brother, and by looking to Christ as a model for our lives we can come to live as the true sons and daughters of God that we were created to be.