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The Our Father of Mercy

Prayed with the eyes of faith

The disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. And he said: “When you pray, say this: ‘Father, hallowed be your name'” (Lk.11.1-4)

Father This is the first unconscious invocation that, in our Sister Josephine Bakhita, rises to the ‘god’ she does not know, but which she evokes, driven by a profound impulse that rises to her lips in the reflection of the beauty of creation and of a providence that precisely rhythms its days, months, seasons, births and deaths a beautiful creation that refers to a principle before which she bows her head and feels that she too is part of that whole in which she immerses herself and enjoys, in the freedom of contemplating His face in all that is given to her.

Our Father declines Matthew (6:9-13) who captures the proximity of all those who recognise themselves as children and emphasises its importance for that reciprocity that asks God’s mercy to have a ‘patner’ with whom to deal, who, while referring us back to our identity and making us exist as something other than ourselves, allows us to widen the space of the Father’s mercy and makes us indispensable collaborators so that the work of His hands may be poured out on the world.

who art in heaven, those heavens that Bakhita saw above her. Those heavens that from above lead back to below, were already within her and were reflected in her luminous gaze capable of bringing God to earth. “Whoever sees me sees the Father” and whoever sees the Father sees his kingship as a son, sees that grace which “according to rabbinic tradition, is the breath of life that was given to Adam with a kiss”. (from: “La fede nuda” Ronchi/Marcolini) Breath that placed “that little piece of God within us”. (Etty Hillesum) And scripture confirms it: “…of little less than God” you will take heaven with you.

Hallowed be thy name “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings rise up thy praise” It is the wonder with which children look at the world, a look that knows how to raise to God true praise, that prayer that asks nothing and offers nothing… it only wants to praise God for his greatness and magnificence and for the love and mercy with which he has filled the earth.  “Who is he who has done all these things? How would I like to know him?” and to the purity of the question springs from Bakhita’s heart the immense tenderness of gratitude. “Tenderness is disarming, that gesture that is neither possession nor predation, that gesture that touches and leaves free, that offers warmth and asks nothing. God’s caress is faith” (from: “La fede nuda” Ronchi/Marcolini) Faith for us and care for the other in the praise and work that brings God down to earth.

Thy kingdom come. And if God comes down to earth “The kingdom is here…” says Jesus, here where every man confidently defers to that Father who loves to inhabit the earth more than the heaven of heavens. A near God who walks with us in this heaven that is called man, that is called earth, that is called, absurdly, “evil and pain”. In Bakhita lives and works this childlike faith not yet tested by human malice and selfishness. A faith that fills man with the God of mercy. “A bare faith, essential, carried in the arms that inagulates the theology of tenderness…that contains the revelation of the face of God”. (from: “La fede nuda” Ronchi/Marcolini) It is a kingdom that is given to us to inhabit even when faith must become mature and face suffering, death and all those limits that only love overcomes with “absurd love”.

Thy will be done Adherence to being children of God involves accepting the same submission to Him: the submission that was Jesus’. “Father, if it is possible, pass this cup from me, but thy will be done” says Bakhita, cooperating in an ignorant, but not rebellious manner, to salvation. A mature, responsible cooperation that asks God for other faith, that which comes from self-consciousness as the daughter of a God who cannot be salvation for all if man does not give himself over to His irruption of mercy that transforms him. Yes, because “It is not God’s turn to add faith, He cannot do it, because faith is man’s free response to God’s wooing” (from: “Una fede nuda” Ronchi/Marcolini)

Give us today our daily bread. A bread that satisfies every need for hunger, care and tenderness, a bread that every father never denies his children, a bread that has in it all the flavours of life and that God crumbles in us and through us in the hearts and suffering bodies of every man on earth. But even to distribute this bread God needs our faith and our courage, our complicity, our being there to help him.  But to whom should we give this bread every day, in that daily life that challenges and involves us?  To the hungry, life responds. Then the works of mercy unfold before us: spiritual and corporal works, capable of saving the man in situation. Then “Faith gives the intelligence that penetrates the minimum in order to perceive the maximum” (G.Barzaghi) and the return to interiority becomes peremptory and one cannot but surrender to the total and faithful “Hic sum” of our presence. There God sets to work. And this happens, says Ronchi ‘when I discovered that there was God within me, and I began to see God in others’ (from: “La fede nuda” Ronchi/Marcolini) and in seeing God in others I saw what bread they needed and taught them to taste its sweet and salty flavour, just as Bakhita had learned in her experience now as a slave and now as a free woman.

Forgive us our trespasses. This is the invocation of the humble and simple person who feels a deep need for forgiveness and that inner purification that not only restores to him the likeness of his God, but also that space of purity in which God finds in the man made flesh, the son Jesus, the worker of his mercy. To recognise in faith our limitation and God’s absolute otherness, is to believe in that truth that puts us in our place in the merciful embrace that only God knows how to give: an embrace in which we will feel his forgiveness strongly, but in turn will make us capable of forgiving. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” says Jesus, and Bakhita echoes that forgiveness: “If I went back to Africa I would seek out my captors, I would kneel before them and not only forgive them, but thank them because through them I came to know Jesus.

as we forgive our debtors…Thus all grandstanding falls away and a new consciousness comes to life in us that leaves room for the embrace of God in which we feel, together, beloved and forgiven children.

Do not abandon us to temptation. In the certainty of a prevenient and all-encompassing love such as God’s love is, and in the free abandonment to His will for good, the expression of the prayer does not seem to us very comprehensible, which, at this point, does not seem to fully correspond to the parameters of a fatherly love, where no good Father can abandon his son to temptation. And this is because he cannot will it except in the space of that freedom that God has left to man so that he may freely choose between good and evil, a freedom in which God cannot intervene unless he is allowed to. So it is the son’s heartfelt and free plea that reverses the fate: “Father I have sinned against heaven and against you” stay with me, do not leave me alone!”

but deliver us from evil And the Father not only delivers us from evil, but calls us back to himself wholeheartedly and gives us back his sonship and asks us to be his ‘patner’ of mercy for all.  “Hic sum” is the renewed response. Freed from all bondage Bakhita will address the Father with the same words: “I am here and I am yours my “Paron”, yours forever!

Amen! So be it Father, Hic sum!

Suor Roberta Casini – Canossiana


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