If we stop to pause at the Our Father, many of us trip up even at the thought and image of God as a loving 'Father' . That God the Father loves us, and that the Father loves even me!
Somehow somewhere along the way in the Church we somehow got into our heads the idea of a vengeful angry God wanting to trip up us up, who counts our sins (and not our tears). This may well be due to incidents in the Old Testament such as that of Sodom and Gomorrah and the ‘fire and brimstone’ that fell from heaven to obliterate these cities of notoriety.
While the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is one that captures the imagination of a God who is ready to punish the wicked there is yet a seeming reluctance on the part of God – as reflected in the First Reading today - to do so. The sins of Sodom were grave indeed and if we were to read more about the residents (in Genesis 19) they are portrayed as depraved beyond belief, guilty of sexual desire without any boundaries and any sense of moral consequence. They were stubborn in their ways and recklessly abandoned any natural morality. As a consequence – young and old were spiritually and morally dead. It is hard for us to imagine a kind of existence without any moral frame of reference although as a society we are certainly headed in that direction. Sodom was a society in self-destruct mode.
The story of Abraham’s intercession on their behalf shows us that God is ready to relent if there is some justice and uprightness in a sinful society, that God withholds his just punishment if there are those whose lives have gained God’s favour on behalf of their sinful brethren interceding for them and making reparation for them. But there is a breaking point, an irretrievable point at which God says ‘enough!’ – as if to say ‘no more sin, or punishment will surely come upon you.’ This is rather frightening and does not sit well with us, but it makes complete sense that if enough people break the natural moral law, there are consequences on a grander societal scale.
In the twentieth century private revelations (subsequently approved by the Church) show that things have not changed since Sodom and Gomorrah – God’s threat of punishment is conditional on our response. At Fatima, we were reminded that war is a punishment for sin and that we are invited to repent, or great evils will come upon us. This is the mystery of sin, and our part in it and our part in repentance and reparation for it through lives of spiritual and moral purity. Our Lady told us through us that peace will come when a sufficient number of people do as she asked. To the children she admonished us: ‘do not offend God any more, He is already too much offended.’ At Rwanda in 1980 (approved) visions to at least three people took place – where up to 10 young people were visited by Our Lady and urged to proclaim national reconciliation and prayer, and if not a river of blood would flow through their land. The people did not listen and a terrible genocide of up to 1 million dead took place in 3 months in 1994. Again a tremendous mystery. God appeals to us and we do not listen. God is patient and wants us to avail of every opportunity to purify the intentions of our hearts. ‘there are some demons that are visible and some that reside in men’s hearts’, one Rwandan had said.
In the Gospel, Jesus gave us the perfect intercessory prayer in the Our Father. The fact that God is OUR Father reminds us that we pray to Him for one another.
There is a whole section in the Catechism on the prayer (CCC nn2759-2864)
It is ultimately a prayer given out of love and for love of God and one another:
‘If we pray the Our Father sincerely we leave all individualism behind, because the love we receive frees us from it…if we are to say it truthfully, our divisions and oppositions have to be overcome…(CCC n2792)
…praying with and for all who do not yet know Him’ (CCC n2793)
Let us pray for one another out of pure hearts, free from sin, for those in sin, that we may all come to experience the love of God - ‘our Father who art in heaven.’