Luke 11:1-13
Spiritual Health
by Rev. James C. Hudgins
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples."  He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.  And lead us not into temptation."

And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ' Friend, lend me three loves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,' and he says in reply from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed.  I cannot get up to give you anything.'  I tell you, if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.

"And I tell you, ask and you will receive, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish?  Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?  If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy spirit to those who ask him?"

Are you spiritually healthy? Prudent people take great pains to care for their physical well-being, and turn to a medical doctor at the first sign of illness. But how many people recognize that there is such a thing as spiritual health? When I am spiritually healthy, external circumstances and the vicissitudes of life are powerless to disrupt the peace of my soul. Traffic cannot upset me. The fall of the stock market does not cause me worry. My favorite sports team can lose the big game. My flight can be canceled. Despite life’s changing circumstances, my soul remains at peace.

When I am not spiritually healthy, the only way I can stay cheerful is if everything goes my way. Think about your best days. What were they like? Were they days in which everything had to go your way? If so, then you are a spiritual prisoner — a prisoner of circumstances and of self-seeking. God wants to set you free, but you must cooperate. The quality of our cooperation with God is determined in great measure by the quality of our prayer.

In the Gospel this week, a disciple approaches Jesus and asks, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” First-century rabbis typically gave instruction in prayer to their disciples, so this request is not surprising. What is surprising is Jesus’ answer. Jesus does not teach a technique, but rather teaches a prayer, which we all know as the Our Father. This week we hear Luke’s version of the Our Father, which is shorter than the one we are accustomed to from the Gospel of Matthew. It contains five petitions instead of seven. Why is Luke’s Our Father shorter? In all likelihood, Luke recounts one of many times Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer. Every good teacher knows the most important lessons deserve to be repeated, and knows which points to highlight when doing so.

Take a moment to consider the Our Father not just as words to recite, but as an instruction in how to pray. Notice how the Our Father begins. Our first word to God is not a request or a demand, but a deeply personal greeting: “Father.” Prayer is a relationship, and we don’t approach God as though he were an employee, or a boss, or a vending machine that delivers goods on demand. God is not an abstract power, or an impersonal creator, or a spirit-force. God is your Father, and we should speak to him with deepest love. Jesus’ next words are replete with joy and praise. “Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come” (Lk 11:2). Once again, our relationship with God, joyful to the core, comes before a single petition to God is addressed. The Our Father teaches us that the praise and love of God should be our first instinct.

Of the three things Jesus teaches us to ask for in prayer, notice which comes first — our daily bread. What does Jesus mean by daily bread? When a first-century Jewish audience heard these words, they would have thought immediately of the manna in the desert. The Book of Exodus describes manna as a fine, flaking, frost-like bread that appeared each morning like the dewfall. The Israelite people could gather only one day’s worth of manna. Anyone who tried to hoard up too much manna would soon discover that it went bad. Literally, “It bred worms, and stank” (Exod 16:20). Then just as now, God wants you to abandon yourself to trust in his goodness each day, and to recognize that God really does provide what you need.

Since the Our Father is a prayer taught by Christ himself, its capacity for teaching us about prayer is literally infinite. This week, try to hear the Our Father as Jesus’ instruction in how to become spiritually healthy. Place first things first — love, praise and trustful surrender. This path, taught by Christ and proven by generations of saints, is how children of the heavenly Father discover the unassailable peace that is their birthright.

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