When Jennifer asked me if I’d take a word for this series, she wondered if the word “us” was okay. “I’ll take it!” I said, and then asked if I got to write five different posts.
One for “Give us this day”…and one for “Forgive us our sins”…and one for “And lead us not”…and…
“One post is all you get!” she said. “Take it or leave it.”
(Jen is much too sweet to respond to my greed like that.)
(She merely thought it.)
Ecstatic, I floated out to the van, where my children sat waiting for me to drive them somewhere. “Guess which word I got?” I crowed. “I’ll give you a hint: it’s a first person collective pronoun and it’s in the second half of the prayer.”
My son stared at me. First person collective pronoun? Who talks like that? “Um…’day’?” he asked.
“Wrong!” My voice was sharp, like a buzzer on a talk show. “And ‘day’ is not a pronoun.”
Hi, everyone, my name is Margaret…and I’m a recovering English teacher. Yes, I can be obnoxious.
Because I am a former English teacher and possess a next-to-fanatical obsession with word choice, this series on the Our Father has been fascinating for me. This little two-letter word “us”, especially, has got me thinking about how often I use the words “I” or “me” rather than “you” or “them” or “us” or “we.”
Too often! is the unfortunate answer. I am a very selfish creature.
And yet in this prayer God is asking that we come to Him collectively. Why does He use the word “us” and not “me”? It is because, I believe, Our Lord wants us to stand together spiritually. We are joining our prayers to…everyone.
This stands in contrast to the radical individualism that is now so prevalent in our country — an individualism that stems, in part, from the concept of “me & God, ” where salvation is seen as basically a private issue between the individual and God. For Catholics, salvation is not an individual issue; it’s about “us, ” the collective Church Militant. At every Mass, we pray with each other and for each other, and then — at the end — we are sent forth, just like the Apostles on their initial mission.
Ite Missa Est. Go in peace, to love and serve.
Isn’t that an awesome concept?
You see, then, that we Christians do not pray the Lord’s Prayer merely on own behalf. We pray that God grant us our daily bread, forgive us our sins and deliver us. In giving us this sacred recitation, Christ makes it clear from the opening to the closing that we are a spiritual family. We are members of the human race, and when we pray we should recognize our place in this family.
Heck, it’s not just those of us in the Church Militant either; we have an entire communion of saints to rely on!
(St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Margaret Mary…)
(St. Teresa of Avila, St. Isaac Jogues, Blessed Pope John Paul the Great…)
(Don’t even get me started on my favorite saints.)
We come before God with our collective need, and we fall on our knees with a collective groan. We need Him, desperately — more than anything or anybody — but we also need to stand together. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “this ‘us’ recognizes [God] as the Father of all men and we pray to him for them all, in solidarity with their needs and sufferings” (CCC 2829).
We are one body, one body in Christ. I’m humming that song by Dana as I type this! (World Youth Day in Denver, 1993. I was there. Were you? If ever I was aware of the mass humanity that is Catholicism, it was at this World Youth Day.)
I’m grateful that Jen gave me the word “us” for this series because it has made me that much more aware of my stubborn individualism and—even worse—my selfish pride. Like a child, I am way too guilty of an “I can do it myself!” attitude—and of a Lucifer-like arrogance that says I don’t need Him and certainly I don’t need you. Yet God continually asks me to forget myself (or, at least, move past her) and keeps reminding me (again and again) that there’s strength—great strength—in numbers.
It’s thinking “win-win” instead of “I want”…
It’s wanting to all be in heaven forever…
And it’s believing wholeheartedly that we need us.
Margaret Berns (a.k.a Minnesota Mom) is a homeschooling mother of six who lives out the word “us” on an hourly basis. She is not currently writing a book, though she likes to hang out in coffee shops and pretend that she is.
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