Hallowed Be Thy Name

Sermon on the mountPart 4 in our series on the Our Father.

“Hallowed,” of course, means “made holy.” In English, as in the Greek of the New Testament, it is in the passive voice: the focus is not on who in particular is making God’s name holy, but just that it be made holy.

This is, obviously, a strange statement. We don’t make God holy. God makes us holy. But this is not the only such strangeness when we talk about God. God is hard to talk about, because everything flows one way: we are always the ones who benefit. Even our worship – and this petition of the Our Father has much to do with worship – does not help God, it helps us. Philosophically – and Biblically – this is really what defines God: he is the Creator, the one from whom everything else receives everything that it is. But if we have received everything from him, we have nothing to offer in return. We just receive. God is sheer generosity.


One traditional way of interpreting “hallowed be thy name,” then, is to begin by ignoring the direction of the statement, and turning it around more towards, “Hallower be thy name”: God is the one who makes others holy. The place of holiness in the statement is nice, because it points us to the highest gift God gives us. Yes, he gives us our daily bread, forgives us, delivers us. But far more, he shares with us his nature, lets us enter into his very life.

This, as we have said before, is the real meaning of holiness: sharing in God’s happiness, sharing in God’s love, sharing the internal life of the Trinity.

God’s name, we could say, is “Holy-maker.” First, “maker”: that is, he’s the one who makes everything else, the giver, the generous one. But second, the ultimate making he does is to make us holy: to give us infinitely more than this created world, to give us himself. That’s a pretty good definition, a pretty good name, for the Christian God. And a pretty good place to start, and to rise to, in our prayer: to know that “hallowing” is what God is all about.


On the other hand, the line in the Gospel does say “made holy”: as if other people (us) are the ones making God’s name holy. Granted the obvious fact that we can’t literally make God holy, what could the statement mean?

Perhaps it simply points to our keeping an attitude of worship toward God. First, in prayer, “hallowing God’s name” means rising above our begging for things, above even seeking his will for us, to a simple recognition of God’s holiness, of God being God. Be still and know that I am God.

And then, in relation to other people, to do the same: to make clear in all our actions that what we really live for is the good God, the generous God, the God whose ultimate purpose is not, for example, political, but holiness: the sharing of his goodness with us.

(“Not political,” by the way, is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, Christianity is not ultimately about winning political battles. On the other hand, it’s also not about winning popularity contests by our tolerance. True Christian politics works for the true good of people, which is found in union with their Creator. But that’s far too big a topic for here.)


Finally, names are interesting. What does a name do but point to the person himself? There is “my son,” or “the four year old,” or “that person who is hungry,” or “the sweet little snuggler” – but then, deeper than any of these partial descriptions, there is William, himself. To hallow God’s name is to single out not some particular aspect of God, but God himself.

This is the power of the name of Jesus: to look to him. The power of the name Our Father, which points down to the depths of who God is (the sanctifier, sheer generosity). The power, too, of the Hebrew name I-am-who-am. To contemplate God himself, to love God himself, beyond all other goods.

This holds an important place in the way the Our Father gradually moves outward. Beyond God himself (“Our Father”), and beyond heaven (“who art”), on the one hand, but more intimate than those who merely seek forgiveness, or bread, or even his will or his kingdom, there are those who know his name, those who care about his kingdom and his will, and even their daily bread, etc., above all because they love Him, his name.


How do you hallow God’s name?

Our Father

Sermon on the mountPart 2 in our series on the Our Father.  Click here for the entire series.

“Father”: the first word of the Our Father (in Greek, the language of Matthew’s Gospel, as in Latin, word order is flexible enough that you can say “Father Our”: Pater humon, or Pater noster) describes the entire inner life of the Trinity. To truly understand this first word would be to understand everything in all of Christianity. The rest of the prayer, in fact, merely spells out, in increasing particularity, the real meaning of this first word.

The Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not merely God One, God Two, and God Three. Father and Son are defined by their relationship: the proper name for the Father says nothing except that he is Father of the Son. The name of the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is the opposite: his name signals what is common to Father and Son: they are both Holy, they are both Spirit. The inner life of God, then, is not just “threeness,” but Father and Son and what they share. The life of the Trinity is Father-Son.

To be Son is simply to receive the nature of the Father. On the one hand, it means similarity. When the Father is God, it means the Son must be God too: purely God, “true God from true God” – and thus, somehow, way beyond our understanding, he must share in the Oneness of God. What it means to be God includes, among other things, that there can only be One. What it means to be “God from God,” then, is to be “consubstantial with the Father”: to be the One God. Else he would not be true Son.

On the other hand, to be Son is to receive your nature from your Father. In the Trinity, Father and Son are totally equal and identical in all respects – except that the Son receives everything from the Father, and the Father gives everything to the Son.

“Father”: the first word of the Our Father is the inner life of God.


And it is the life we are called to, the sublime call and offering of Christianity: the Gospel. Jesus does nothing but allow us to enter into the inner life of God, to enter into his very nature, which is to call God Father. When we say, “Father,” we mean, (a) sharing in his nature, and (b) receiving everything from him. Entering into that internal life of the Trinity. The Son eternally says nothing but “Father.” That is our eternal destiny, as well. That is the Gospel.

“As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs: heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17). What the Holy Spirit gives us is nothing else but Sonship: to share in that interior sharing of Father and Son. He lets us share in the inheritance of the Son: and the Son of God inherits nothing from his Father except God himself.

To say “Father” is to speak eternity.


But Jesus teaches us not to say “My Father” but “Our Father”: the first person plural. “Our,” because shared with Jesus: his father and mine. But also “our” because I am joined to everyone else for whom God is Father.

Christianity offers us a vastly deeper reason for loving our neighbor than merely because he is a creature of God, or human rights. I don’t mean to put those things down – but Christianity goes vastly deeper, because Christianity takes us into divine Sonship. The Christian loves others because they are, or might be, eternal coheirs, co-sons and -daughters, brothers and sisters in the life of the Trinity.

There are many Scripture passages we could consider to think about this. Certainly in St. John’s writings, especially his magnificent First Letter, it is all about loving, not just “other human beings,” but “the brothers.”

But consider the fantastic passage from Matthew 25: “Lord, when did we see you hungry, and fed you? or athirst, and gave you drink? when did we see you a stranger, and took you in? or naked, and clothed you? and when did we see you sick, or in prison, and came to you? And the King shall answer and say to them, Truly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of these my brothers, even these least, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:37-40).

The Christian loves others as brothers and sisters of the Son of God, and so our brothers and sisters: either because they have already begun to share his divine life in fact, or because they might.

To say “Our Father” is to bespeak a totally transformed vision of our own destiny, and our call to love God and neighbor.


What does it mean for you to call God “Father”? How do you experience the sharing of that Fatherhood with others?

The Our Father: An Introduction to the Spiritual Life

Sermon on the mountThe first post in our series on the “Our Father”.

Last Fall we worked through the Hail Mary, a fine little catechism on grace. We begin in this new year a series on the Our Father, which itself contains a complete introduction to the spiritual life. Today we will examine the prayer as a whole, then comment on each phrase over the coming Mondays.


First, the context. The Our Father as we know it comes from Matthew’s Gospel, 6:5-14. What distinguishes Matthew’s Gospel from the others is its very straightforward organization. We could say that Matthew is the grand organizer of the sayings and doings of Jesus.

(To say that is non-controversial. We could further conjecture that Mark’s Gospel whittles Matthew’s down to a rush to the Cross as the only interpretive key to the person of Jesus; Luke’s reworks the previous two according to a Pauline theology of grace and God’s promises; and John’s provides a theological commentary on the previous three: for example, instead of the infancy narratives, he gives us “In the Beginning was the Word”; instead of the Institution of the Eucharist he gives us the Bread of Life discourse, united to the multiplication of the loaves, in John 6; the washing of feet as manifestation of the charity implicit in the Eucharist; and the discourses on unity in John 14-17. Each Gospel has its proper character.)

Matthew organizes Jesus’s teachings into Five Sermons (parallel to the five books of Moses, the central teaching of the Old Testament), with a book of infancy signs beforehand and a book of cross and resurrection signs afterwards. Each Sermon has a narrative attached that ties his actions to these central words. Matthew is straightforward.

The first Sermon is the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus’ teaching on the moral life – or, more properly, the spiritual life, beginning with the Beatitudes. (The subsequent sermons are on the mission of the apostles, the parables of the Kingdom, the Church, and the end of time.) What is important here is that Matthew is gathering all of Jesus’s teaching on Christian living into one place. The Our Father is the center of this discourse, and like the Beatitudes at the beginning, summarizes the whole. This is Matthew’s distillation of Jesus’s teaching on life.


The Our Father itself contains two clear parts: “thine” and “ours.” Thy name, thy kingdom, thy will; our daily bread, our trespasses (as we forgive), lead us not into temptation, deliver us. Thy comes first: first we look to God, then we look to ourselves.

There is a kind of descent, from the highest to the most mundane. “Deliver us from evil” is the most pragmatic phrase of the prayer. Physical evil is the most immediate (and self-centered) reason we turn to God; for many people, God serves as nothing but a help when things get rough. Moral evil can seem the most basic struggle of the Christian life: God, just help me not to sin!

On the one hand, obviously this is a pretty limited idea of Christianity – indeed, one where God is purely instrumental, and where we are more interested in avoiding evil than in seeking good. On the other hand, there is some sense in which this is the most basic struggle of life, and the Catholic tradition has always seen the struggle with sin as the foundation – though not the end – of the spiritual life. We want to be delivered, or liberated, for something: freedom is no good unless we have something we want to do. But we can’t do anything else until we are liberated.


On the other end of the Our Father is the highest, most contemplative part of the spiritual life. Notice the expansion, if we move backwards through the “thy” section. “Thy will” is a beautiful thing, but on the one hand, it focuses more on what happens here than on God himself, and on the other hand, it makes God sound a bit arbitrary, as if he has no plan or higher purpose, just acts of command. In fact, part of the good of speaking of God’s will is that it emphasizes that we don’t know why he wills what he does – though he has his reasons.

“Thy Kingdom,” on the other hand, takes a step higher: bigger purpose, a grander vision, a union of souls, not just the immediate obedience of one man to God. This is the higher vision of his will.

And “thy name” – indeed “Our Father, who art in heaven,” itself – enters into a vision of God himself: not what he wills out there, but him. Think of the difference between saying, “God, tell me what to do,” and simply praying, “Jesus I love you. Jesus, Jesus. Father!”


How do you use the Our Father?