Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Lord's Prayer ... "Lead Us Not Into Temptation"

From recent comments by Pope Francis, conversations about the translation of the Lord’s Prayer and whether God “leads us into temptation” or not have been offered by many. America Magazine recently ran a story about the Italian bishops choosing to consider changing the translation of the Lord’s Prayer within the Eucharist to “... do not let us enter into temptation…,” as the French did in December, while the German bishops specifically chose to keep the existing translation. While such discussions seem controversial, we ought to better understand these as ancient discussions of The Lord’s Prayer. 

Consider that Saint Augustine commented in this way (as 
presented in the Catena Aurea, Volume I, by St. Thomas Aquinas on Matthew’s Gospel, MT 6:13): “When then we say, Lead us not into temptations, what we ask is, that we may not, deserted by His aid, either consent through the subtle snares, or yield to forcible might, of any temptation.” Augustine also preached: “When the Saints pray, Lead us not into temptation, what else do they pray for than that they may persevere in their sanctity. … Therefore we seek not to be led into temptation that this may not happen to us; and if it does not happen, it is God that does not permit it to happen.” Augustine continues: “God would have us pray to Him that we may not be led into temptation, though He could have granted it without our prayer, that we might be kept in mind who it is from whom we receive all benefits.”

Other Church Fathers, cited by Aquinas in Catena Aurea, Volume III, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Luke 11:1-4) tell us: “... we wish only such temptations as the condition of man can sustain. For it is impossible not to be tempted by the devil, but we make this prayer that we may not be abandoned to our temptations.” Saint Thomas Aquinas then references Saint Basil: “But when one [a temptation] has already entered, it is fitting to ask from the Lord the power of enduring, that we may have fulfilled in us those words, he that endures to the end shall be saved.”

Saint Augustine discusses our lives of prayer at length in his “Letter to Proba,” (early 5th century) which in Chapter 11 speaks directly to the Lord’s Prayer. Augustine wrote: “When we say: Lead us not into temptation, we admonish ourselves to seek that we may not, through being deprived of God's help, be either ensnared to consent or compelled to yield to temptation.”

Our Catholic tradition holds that we take the whole of Scripture, not isolated portions, and this applies to the Lord’s Prayer, too. While we strive to better understand Scripture a line at a time, it is the whole that links us to the fullness of Jesus’ teaching. “The Lord’s Prayer” is not a single line accusing the Father of tempting us to sin, but a plea, from us, which taken as a whole places us squarely as the creatures, surrendering to the Creator. 

In his same “Letter to Proba,” Augustine declared in reference to the very nature of prayer: “For whatever other words we may say ... if we pray rightly, and as becomes our wants, we say nothing but what is already contained in the Lord's Prayer.” In other words, the Lord’s Prayer, taught by Jesus and offered to men and women of good will by both Matthew and Luke, offers us a perfect prayer of surrender to God, of dependence on His mercy and grace, and with the strength that only comes from His grace, may we be able to resist temptations from evil, and live the Gospel in our lives.