Taking it Seriously

 A great thing about being a priest is you get to hear ordinary stories that are also awesome. Here’s one.
    The parishioner was having a hard time, understandably so. First a parent had died, and then about a year later, a spouse. The priest was good, was with this parishioner with prayer and (as we say) support. But one day he was exasperated.
    He blurted out: You know, your spouse doesn’t miss you!
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    It’s true: the dead do not miss us. We entrust them to Jesus, and we pray that God is doing for them better things than we can ask or imagine. But that means—if we think about it—they have no longings for us. God satisfies all their longings! We look forward with Christian hope to seeing them again, but in the meantime, it’s not for them as it is for us.
    We may miss them; they do not miss us.
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    The years passed and then it happened that the priest suffered his own loss. And that parishioner wrote to him, with thanks for his faithfulness and encouragement. His words were hard but true, and had been very important to hear.
    And now the parishioner spoke them back to the priest. “You know, your family member that died doesn’t miss you.”
    Ricochet. Hard words of truth. Real good.
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    I was reading the March issue of First Things—I’m always living in the past, you know—where there’s a goodly excerpt of a book about the Copts who were executed a few years ago by Islamic State in Libya, where these young men had gone for work. These 21 men are recognized as saints in the Coptic church; their families do not view the (quite grisly) video with anything but awe. They were martyred: they are in paradise: in the inscrutable mystery of God it happens that the families and community they left behind now know personally some saints who are in heaven.
    That’s how they look at it: We know some saints. They died because they are Christians. They now see God, and we know them.
    It’s as if we were back in the days of the Roman persecution of Christianity. These surviving Christians have a hard word that doesn’t allow for thoughts of revenge or for the breeding of hostility. Just matter of fact: What happened to Jesus has happened to my brother (or my husband, or my son).
    Faith taken as truth is hard. It is also good, the best good of all, the good (indeed the only good) that can carry us through life.
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    Out & About. Sunday, June 30, I am to preach at the traditional services at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas: 7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m. I will preach there again, God willing, on July 14.

 

Give Us This Day


    Everything before this line in the Lord’s Prayer is either an address, an identification, or a wish or desire. To whom are we praying? The Father, who has given us the grace to become his children. How can we pray to him? He is in heaven, that created “place” that he has provided so that he is accessible to us. And our first wish, our strongest desire, is that throughout the universe his Name would be hallowed and his will done.
    But now we ask. Grammatically, it is the imperative voice. Give us. Not even a “please,” not even an indirect “O that thou wouldst give us”: it’s a straightforward command. Give us this day our daily bread.
    If this were the first time you ever heard this prayer, what a shock it would be! You mean that I—we—mere human beings, creatures of this creator Father: we are just supposed to tell him what to do? We are to make demands of God?
    Yes. We are to tell him to do this: Give us this day our daily bread. Jesus has told us to pray with these words, in this way. We are the Father’s children, instructed by Jesus, commanded by Jesus, to make this command of the Father.
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    What are we asking for? Simply, it’s what we need to exist through the day that is at hand. We don’t ask for next week’s bread or for a new job next year, but rather for what we need here and now.
    I have learned that the words “our daily bread” have a resonance of the ultimate future, as if to ask for “our daily bread” is to ask to receive, now, a foretaste of the kingdom for whose coming we have already expressed our longing. In this sense, “our daily bread” may be a suggestion of the Eucharist. I have also heard that “our daily bread” could be taken as “our bread for the morrow,” which would open up the horizon slightly to include the relevant future, the future into which we are called to act.
    This line of the prayer opens us up to the dignity of our moral calling. To ask for our daily bread is to ask that God give us rightly to act this day, so that what we do may be pleasing to him and bear its proper fruit.
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    With this line, the Lord’s Prayer punctures grandiosity. It denies us our vain speculations of what great things we might do in a nebulous future that stretches before us, and it requires us to focus on the day at hand, the future that is before us right now. I may need, today, to plan for next fall’s program. I may need, today, to prepare for the baby who will be born six months from now. But what I need is not to fantasize the future but to do what must be done today.
    It’s very healthy, this focus of Jesus’ prayer. We go from the great cosmic truths about God and great cosmic aspirations for the healing of the world . . . down to the narrow focus of ourselves at this time and this place. Without hesitation, we tell God to give us exactly what we need, exactly where we are, exactly when we need it.
    Of course, we also need God to enlighten our minds so that we know what we need! Give us this day our daily bread—and give us eyes to see what it is!
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    Out & About. This Saturday and Sunday, June 15-16, I am to preach at All Souls’ Church in Oklahoma City: Saturday at 5:30 p.m., Sunday at 8 and 10 a.m.
    Sunday, June 30, I am to preach at the traditional services at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas: 7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m.

 

 

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The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: