The powerful promises hidden in the Our Father

3 mins read
Our Father

I only recently realized that when I prayed “Deliver us from evil” in the Our Father, I was saying in part, “Get us to confession.” It was another way to say “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”

This is probably obvious to most of you, but it came as a real insight to me. In saying the prayer, I hadn’t clearly connected God’s invisible aid with his visible aid. It felt so nice to feel the two things click together, to see another connection in the Church’s structure of grace.

We ask the Father to deliver us from evil, which he must do in many invisible ways. We don’t know how delivered we’ve been and how many close calls we’ve had.

People joke about their guardian angels having to work. We don’t know the good that God and his holy angels have done for us, protecting us from Satan and all the evil spirits who seek the ruin of our souls, and protecting us from doing the foolish and wicked things we’d do entirely on our own.

I sometimes thank God for what he’s done for me that I don’t know he’s done, because he’s done something for me and it may well have been big. When we pray “deliver us from evil,” we assume the God who answers our prayers has done so.

Deliverance through confession

I had thought of the petition as a request for that kind of help. We ask God to help us in spiritual realms we can’t see and also to help us in invisible ways in the physical world we do see. But there’s more! as the ads say. God also created a practical, physical way to deliver us from evil. He gave us something to do.

He gave us a sacrament that delivers us from evil. The Church then developed the way we experience the sacrament: when we should go and when we must go, the examination of conscience, the words we say, the words the priest says, the penance we do afterwards. And added a call to live a certain way afterwards. When you say these words in the Our Father, St. John Henry Newman wrote, you must intend to struggle against the evil in your heart that you know about and asked God to forgive. The request for help is a promise to take it.

That struggle “is difficult,” he says (there’s an understatement), then points out that we have to keep struggling. “You must actually carry your good intentions into effect during the week, and in truth and reality war against the world, the flesh, and the devil.”

I like this example, because the connection, the sign of God’s care for us, his anticipating what we need, is so clear. It clicks together.

The Our Father has depths and depths, of course, but at the first level we can see something of God’s knowing our needs and providing for them in multiple ways. He creates at least two layers of a spiritual safety net to catch us when we fall, like backing up delivering us from evil with confession.

The promise of the kingdom

The whole prayer works like this. We just don’t ask, we receive, and what we get may be a blessing or an instruction, but of course a divine instruction, if obeyed, becomes a blessing. We always come out ahead. God gives multiple gifts.

The prayer directs our attention up but also down, to Heaven and all that means and to the world and its people, whom we need to love. Our Father says, “I do this, you do that. Indeed, I do this so you can do that.”

“Your kingdom come,” for example. Here too things click together. It seems like one request that only God can fulfill, that offers us nothing concrete in this world. The kingdom is God’s, to institute in his own good time.

We can’t do anything to bring it and we can’t do anything to build it. Christianity firmly puts down the seductive belief that we are the great agents of history, a belief that usually ends in bloodshed (especially in its secularized versions, like orthodox Marxism and utopian views of “American exceptionalism.”)

But that doesn’t let us off the hook. We can anticipate his kingdom coming, by making the parts of the world that we can affect more like it. Jesus makes this imperative clear several times in the Gospels, but especially when he invites into his kingdom those who fed the hungry and thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, visited prisoners and the sick.

Doing that for the love of God changes us, makes us holier and happier. It adds to the petition “Your kingdom come” what the sacrament of confession adds to “Deliver us from evil.” The structure of grace clicks together. 

David Mills

David Mills writes from Pennsylvania.