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Father Tom’s Homily
32nd Sunday
November 11, 2007

       In the spring of 2004 I was in Rome for three months in a sabbatical
program for priests.  I was one of about 40 priest who were Communion
Ministers at the Liturgy of Holy Thursday in St. Peter’s Basilica.
       During the offertory we were gathered in the back of the basilica so
that each of us could carry a ciborium of hosts up to the altar where
Pope John Paul was celebrating the Mass.  We stood at the side of the
altar holding the ciboria during the Eucharistic Prayer.
       At Communion we distributed the consecrated hosts to the people each
from his own ciborium.

       While standing at the back before beginning the offertory procession,
I noticed a dad holding his young son talking gently to him.
       They were almost nose-to-nose, the dad stroking the child’s hair and
talking to him.  At one point, the child reached out and touched the
dad’s cheek.  I was moved watching the scene some twenty feet away.  In
truth, I think the dad was trying to calm his restless child lest he
disturb the prayerfulness of the sacred Holy Thursday liturgy conducted
by the pope.
Later at the Our Father of that liturgy, my mind was flooded with the
image of that tender interplay of the dad and his son that I had
witnessed.  It powerfully suggested the intimate relationship we have
with a God who asks us to call him Father.

Jesus, a devout Jew, certainly knew the deep reverence within Judaism
towards God.  The name of God was so sacred that it was not to be
spoken. Worshippers were to approach God with a sense of reverential
fear.  The ceremonies of worship kept God at a respectful distance.
       Yet Jesus taught his disciples to pray to God with the words, “Our
Father…”
       This suggested a familiarity and intimacy such as I noticed in the dad
and child at the Holy Thursday liturgy.

       In addition to inviting a closer relationship with God, giving God the
title “Father” was a serious political statement.
       God was not simply a father.  He was the Father.

       In the language of the state, kings were seen as fathers who looked
after their subjects.  “Father” was the dominant title of the Roman
emperor.
       To address God, not only as the Father, but in addition as Our Father
was considered to be subversive.  It offered an alternative vision of
empire.
       It was, in the words of Mary in the Magnificat Prayer, “pulling the
high and mighty down from their thrones.”

       To say “Our Father” to God is an act of faith.  It is not something we
are able to come up with on our own.  It is only by the working of the
Spirit that we can approach God in this way.
       As St. Paul says in his letter to the church at Galatia (chap 4), “God
sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying out, “Abba, Father.”
       The word “abba” is a term of endearment best translated “papa.”  Such
language makes a loving relationship with God possible.  It also
encourages and empowers us.

       In response to the apostles’ request, “teach us to pray,” Jesus taught
them the prayer we call the Our Father.
       It is the Christian prayer because it has been taught us by Jesus
himself.  He too addressed God as “Father” when he prayed.   It is the
prayer that every Christian knows and treasures.

       There was in a cave at the top of the Mount of Olives where Jesus
often gathered with his disciples.  Here he taught them the Our Father.
       Today a church has been built over the cave.  It is called the Pater
Noster Church.  The cloisters around the church are decorated with
ceramic tiles that give the Our Father in 62 languages.
       One of these languages is Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, the
dominant language in Palestine in Jesus’ day.

The bulletin insert is meant to bring us on a journey up the Mount of
Olives to visit the cloisters of the Pater Noster church.
We pay special attention to the Aramaic version of the prayer because
that was the language that Jesus used in teaching his disciples to say
the Our Father. It begins “Abwoon, Our Father.”

       The early Church in Jerusalem prayed the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic.  As
the Church grew in other parts of the world, this prayer was said in
other languages.
       Today there are very few people who speak Aramaic.  It is still spoken
in only three villages in Syria today.  But it remains the language of
the Syrian Orthodox Church.

When I was in Jerusalem I attended an ecumenical prayer service at the
Church of St. Mark, a Syrian Orthodox Church.  That was the first time
I heard the “Our Father” in Aramaic.
       I would like to recite it in Aramaic again at this liturgy.  We pray
it as if we were in that cave on the Mount of Olives praying it with
Jesus.
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