St Augustine's letter to Proba
|You will find no prayer that is not already contained in the Lord's Prayer|
Here are some examples.
When one prays: Be glorified among all nations as thou art glorified among us, and Let your prophets be proved true, what else is one asking than Hallowed be thy name?
When the psalmist says: Bring us back, O God of hosts, let your face shine on us and we shall be saved what else is he saying than Thy kingdom come?
When he says: Direct my steps according to your word, so that iniquity has no dominion over me what else is he saying than Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?
When in the book of Proverbs it is said: give me neither poverty nor riches, grant me only my share of food what else is this than Give us this day our daily bread?
When the psalmist says Lord, remember David and how he served you or O Lord, if I have done this, if there is iniquity in my hands, if I have rewarded with evil those that did evil to me what else is this than Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us?
When he says: Deliver me from my enemies, O my God, and defend me from those that rise up against me what else is this than Deliver us from evil?
And if you go over all the words of holy prayers, I think you will find nothing which cannot be comprised and summed up in the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. So when we pray we are free to use different words to any extent, but we must ask the same things: in this we have no choice.
It is our duty to ask these things without hesitation for ourselves and for our friends, for strangers and even for our enemies; although of course our emotions may differ according to the persons being prayed for and their closeness or their distance from us.
Now you have the answers to two questions: what sort of person you should be when you pray, and what sort of things you should pray for. These answers have not come from my teaching but from the teaching of him who has condescended to teach us all.
We must seek a blessed life and we must ask God to grant it to us. What a blessed life might mean is something that many people have had many arguments about; but why should we go to many people or listen to many arguments? God’s own Scriptures have summed it up exactly: Blessed is the people whose God is the Lord. How are we to be part of that people, to look on God and live with him for ever? As St Paul says, The only purpose of this instruction is that there should be love coming out of a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a sincere faith.
For “a clear conscience” we may read “hope.” Faith, hope, and charity, therefore, lead to God the man who prays, the man, that is, who believes, hopes, and desires, and is guided as to what he should ask from the Lord by studying the Lord’s Prayer.