US (Our Father, Word by Word)

May 17, 2011 | 14 comments

Our Father Who Art in Heaven, Hallowed Be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done, On Earth As it Is in Heaven. Give Us…

by Margaret Berns

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.”

(Not really.)

(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.

WYD '93

World Youth Day '93: Can you see the "me" in all this "us"?

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!

WYD '93 II

WYD '93: One Procession among Many

(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.


  1. Kimberlie

    Some of my girlfriends and I were just talking this weekend about how we love the universal nature of the Catholic Church. When some of my Protestant relatives argue that Mass is so boring in it’s sameness week after week, or that our prayers are “rote,” I tell them that’s what I love most about being Catholic. I think of that scripture where Jesus says “where two or more are gathered in my name, I am with you” and it’s not just one place he’s talking about but as Catholics we all gather together each day/week in Jesus’ name and He’s with us all! I love that!!! When I pray the Our Father, I know it’s the whole Church praying right along with me. Woo-hoo!

    Now, hopefully you will overlook my atrocious grammar as I am a grammar flunkie.

  2. Liesl

    Wow, great reminder!!!

    I think the little bio at the end is one of my favorites so far. I like to pretend to do really cool and important things in coffee shops and Panera breads.

  3. Jamie Jo

    I’ll never look at that word the same way again.
    Beautifully done Margaret.

  4. Christine

    I remember WYD 93…I was there!

    Excellent job!

  5. sarah

    I was thinking about this today after reading a Protestant opinion that the relationship with God is one-to-one, none of this community thing. We should forget about others (in the context of worship and prayer) and just be alone with God. It made me sad, because it seems to me we are all family, and we should pray with each other, for each other. It’s one of the things I love best about the Catholic faith – that sense of being together in spirit before God. Thank you Margaret, you always have such interesting things to say, and you say them beautifully.

  6. Sue

    I grew up in a Protestant denomination that includes the praying of the Our Father together each Sunday during worship. I have to say, though, that I never “got” it. Not really. I think one of the things missing was the understanding of this little word. The “us.” One can recite the prayer until blue in the face, but if it’s with of attitude of “just me and You, Jesus” the prayer just doesn’t… make sense!

    Great post!

  7. Robin E

    Great post! That’s why I love the Morning Offering. The part where we pray for the intentions “of all our associates” helps me to remember just who those associates are, and their intentions. It’s such a powerful image, too, to think of the entire universal church taking up these petitions, known and unknown, and offering their all that day to our Lord.

  8. Kris, in New England

    I grew up in an evangelical/fundamentalist faith that definitely preached an individual relationship with God. We never prayed the Lord’s Prayer during church services; it was up to the individual. Now that I’ve converted to Catholicism (baptized this past Easter Vigil, woo hoo!) and have been attending Mass regularly since last June – I see the beauty in the shared prayers, in the community praying all at the same time.

    Like Kimberlie above, I was taught that the Catholic Mass was just rote recitation (even worse that it all was the vain repetitions of the heathen; yes the faith of my birth was quite bigoted and stridently against the Catholic faith). They were wrong – oh so very wrong.

    There is such beauty to the community of worship that occurs during every Mass; all those voices united for the same purpose. The power in all that overwhelms me every time.

  9. regan

    i love you margaret berns!!! and i think its GREAT that you got grammar girl!!!

    this was beautiful…our priest actually just talked to “us” about this very same subject a few weeks ago and i loved it!

    and lastly, though this is not really on the subject…another priest friend talked to us about Ite Missa Est…and he translated it as: the Mass IS…as in the Mass is Everything…Jesus in the Eucharist is EVERYTHING!!!

    i will close with that thought…it’s something i’d like to take with me into the rest of this gloomy day ( and NOT the thought that a glass of wine wouldn’t be a bad idea at all right now. but rest assured, i did settle for coffee!!!)

  10. Amanda

    Thanks, Margaret – that was great! Its so neat to see you over here as I occasionally read your blog and enjoy your humor and honesty.

    On another note, I think this series of postings is great – and Jennifer, it could be a book, doesn’t have to be, but really could! You’re the editor, with all these great writers adding their thoughts. As a mom of 4 , 6 and under, with 1 due this summer – sound familiar?- I have no idea how you fit all you do in, and so I have no idea if another project is at all attainable for you right now, but it just occurred to me as I read this lovely and thought-provoking post. I really need to go back and read the ones I missed. 🙂 But dishes and laundry call.

  11. MelanieB

    Yes! Love this, Margaret. It is the sense of “us” that is one of the things I love most about being Catholic. That I’m not going it alone but am part of a body. That we are one in Christ and we pray together. (“Live together, die alone” Lost got that part right, didn’t it!)

  12. AgnesRegina

    Wonderful post Margaret! This reminds me of one that my sister did a while ago, about the way she would always say things at college like “We don’t watch much TV at home” or “we’re going on a trip” and the next question was always “who’s We?” She meant we the family, of course (and I do this all the time too, I notice); because we really do work and move as a unit. Of course, the Catholic Church is also a family so we work the same way. I love being Catholic. 🙂

  13. Lana

    Margaret, this is fantastic!

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