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omniscient God has no peed of our narrations, the Word itself has also declared it: “When you pray, speak not much, as the heathens (who, on account of the number of their deities, ascribed to them only limited powers); for
your Father knoweth what is needful for you before you ask Him.” (Matt. vi. 7, 8.) Why, then, does he command us to pray, to seek, and to knock? Only, as St. Augustine teaches, that the desire of our mind, our spiritual life, which is a loving conversion to God, may be exercised and increased, and that we, by this exercise, may become more capable of those rich gifts which His benevolent infinite love has prepared for us.
Many are the forms and degrees of poverty upon this earth, but none perhaps was ever more extraordinary than that of a simple peasant in an Austrian Alpine region. This man having abandoned house and home, wandered amongst the mountains without shoes, almost without covering, and without care for himself. An ecclesiastic, who was engaged in giving catechetical instructions in these remote valleys, and whom this poor man accompanied on his journeyings, wished to make him a small present. This the indigent man declined. The priest doubled the gift, and endeavoured to compel him to accept it. • Take this little,' he said, “that you may procure for yourself what is necessary to cover you.' The simple man steadfastly refused, and gave as his reason, 'I can receive nothing, for I have no pocket!! Was not this man poorer than poverty itself? To be deprived of every thing, and to be able to receive nothing, as he was deprived of the capability of receiving, whether this latter want be in the ordinary signification--the want of a purse or pocket, or in the more abstract sense — capacity, is not this poverty complete ?
1 This happened to the author of this work in the year 1825.
But that which this honest peasant declared in his simplicity is not of so rare occurrence as it might, at first sight, seem. "Great, exceedingly great,' says St. Au stine, “is that which God would give us; but our heart is too narrow, too small for His gift.' The fulness of the goodness of God never fails; but the readiness, the capability of receiving it are often wanting. And if the inspired singer of the Psalms confess before the Lord, “ I have run in the way of Thy commandments, because Thou hast enlarged my heart,” the tepid and the negligent man must say, 'I have gone back in the way of Thy commandments, because my heart is narrowed, and hath no space for Thy graces.' The interior of his spirit is neglected ; and the greater is his poverty, the more difficult is the remedy. The assistance of Him from whom every good gift cometh is ever ready; but the son of earth, who shuns the light and prayer, has no will to receive it, and either courteously or uncourteously declines it, in however kindly terms it may be proffered. How, then, can he think of imploring the invisible Giver for invisible gifts ? And, in truth, as these spiritual gifts must be unknown, and consequently of no worth to man estranged from God, prayer for him can be no easy task; and as a sick man (to use the words of Origen) does not ask for things that are conducive to his health, but for those to which a diseased desire inclines him, so we, in the constantly occurring infirmities of this life, frequently pray for things that are not useful to us.
Wise, therefore, was the desire of that disciple who approached his Master with that ardent supplication, “Lord, teach us how to pray.” Teach us to seek after light and life, that we may be able to receive the gifts of light and life; teach us, who are alone and abandoned, and who feel nought in ourselves save darkness and self-seeking,— teach us to sigh to Him who alone can beatify us; as it is written, “ I have opened my mouth, and have drawn the breath of life, because I have desired Thy commandments.” (Psalm cxviii.)
And how fully was this petition heard! To it we are indebted for that simple, exalted, celestial form of prayer, which, as it was given by the Lord, has been named the LORD's PRAYER; and which, in the power of its effects, in the fulness of its contents, in the brevity and clearness of its expression, proves the divinity of its origin. For if we consider this prayer in its power, it displays to us the high dignity of Him who gave it. Let us pray,' says St. Cyprian, as the Divine Master has taught us, that, when we pray, the Father may hear again the words of the Son. For if we have received the promise that we shall receive all things whatsoever we ask in His name, how much more powerful will our supplication be, when we ask not only in His name, but with His words ! If we meditate upon it in the fulness of its contents, we shall find that it comprehends, without exception, all those things of which we can be worthy, and for which we should dare to pray. Yes, as St. Augustine shews, if we examine all the prayers which are scattered through the books of the sacred Scripture, we should find no more than is contained in the words of the Lord's Prayer.
When, for example, Solomon prays, “Grant, O Lord, that Thou mayst be honoured ;” and when the Psalmist sings, “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” what more is expressed than the petition, “Hallowed be Thy name?” When we read in the Psalm, “Shew us, O Lord, Thy face, and we shall be blessed,” what do these words declare more than the second petition, “ Thy kingdom come?” Again, when it is said in the Psalms, “Direct, O Lord, my steps according to the words of Thy truth; teach me to do Thy will,” what is said more than “ Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven ? When we find amongst the Proverbs, “Send me neither poverty nor riches, but grant what is sufficient for my life,” is this different from the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread ?” When the divine Psalmist exclaims, “O Lord, remember David, and all his meekness ;” and again, “If I repay evil with evil, may I become a shame before my enemies,” what signification do these words contain? The same that is expressed by the fifth petition, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.” When the son of Sirach prays, “Take from me the desire of sensuality, and deliver me not to the spirit of insolence and licentiousness,” he says as much as, “Lead us not into temptation.” And when, finally, it is said in the Psalms, “Save me, O Lord, from evil men, from the wicked and perverse deliver me,” the prayer is similar to the last petition, “Deliver us from
With justice, therefore, did St. Cyprian call the Lord's Prayer the Gospel abridged. And if we further consider how, by the vast riches of its contents, by its
connexion, and by its clearness, it accommodates itself to all times and to all persons ; how it is clear and comprehensible to the unlearned, and yet contains an inexhaustible source of thought and meditation for the learned ; and lastly, how by its simplicity, like to the clear blue of the heavens, it contains within itself an immeasurable depth, and embraces all the regions of the doctrines of faith and of moral truth: it is sufficiently evident that this prayer, to be fully understood in all its relations, requires meditation the most mature, which is the more necessary, as it declares and regulates the highest duties of human life.
But as the thinking and inquiring spirit seeks to enter into its every and inmost depths, in order that it may comprehend the whole in its parts, and these in their unity, so does it endeavour to gain the image and view of the whole. When the traveller has gained an eminence, from which the splendours of a royal city or a beautiful country are spread before his eyes, he will desire immediately to continue his journey ; but before he enters the streets of that city, or passes through the vales of that lovely champaign, he will tarry for a time to gaze upon the whole, thereby to regulate his view. The Lord's Prayer, considered from the right point of believing and docile love, presents to us a wide and beautiful region of thought, which extends itself into immeasurable space. Here are heights pointing to the heavens, and veiled in part with clouds :
Our Father, who art in heaven.” Here are seen strong and splendid castles and pinnacles : “Thy kingdom come.” Here vineyards and cornfields flourish and bloom : “Give us this day our daily bread.” Here