St. Teresa of Jesus in her book The Way of Perfection sets out to write some things about prayer. It is forty-two chapters long, and it isn’t until chapter nineteen that she begins to write about prayer in general. All the previous chapters were devoted to practical advice about virtue.
In chapter twenty-seven she begins to writer her commentary on the Our Father. What follows are just some excerpts from her commentary on each on the seven petitions of this beautiful prayer from our Lord.
Our Father who art in heaven
“You know that God is everywhere; and this is a great truth, for, of course, wherever the king is, or so they say, the court is too: that is to say, wherever God is, there is Heaven.”
“Remember how Saint Augustine tells us about his seeking God in many places and eventually finding Him within himself.”
“. . .a soul has no need to go to Heaven or to speak in a loud voice . . .”
“He is so near that He will hear us: we need no wings to go in search of Him but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us. (Way 28:2)
“Those who are able to shut themselves up in this way within this little Heaven of the soul, wherein dwells the Maker of Heaven and earth, and who have formed the habit of looking at nothing and staying in no place which will distract these outward senses, may be sure that they are walking on an excellent road, and will come without fail to drink of the water of the fountain, for they will journey a long way in a short time.” (Way 28:5)
Hallowed be Thy name, thy kingdom come
Here St. Teresa reflects on why these two petition are put together:
“I am thinking here of what we are asking in praying for this kingdom, and it is well that we should realize this. His Majesty, knowing of how little we are capable, saw that, unless He provided for us by giving us His Kingdom here on earth, we could neither hallow nor praise nor magnify nor glorify nor exalt this holy name of the Eternal Father in a way befitting it. The good Jesus, therefore, places these two petitions next to each other.” (Way 30:4)
It is here in this chapter that she mentions the prayer of quiet. She says that this request in the Our Father “thy kingdom come” is a request for this prayer.
” . . . when the soul is brought to this state of prayer, it would seem that the Eternal Father has already granted its petition that He will give it His Kingdom on earth. O blessed request, in which we ask for so great a good without knowing what we do! Blessed manner of asking! It is for this reason, sisters, that I want us to be careful how we say this prayer, the Paternoster, and all other vocal prayers, and what we ask for in them. For clearly, when God has shown us this favor, we shall have to forget worldly things, all of which the Lord of the world has come and cast out.” (Way 31:11)
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
“Thou didst well, O our good Master, to make this last petition, so that we may be able to accomplish what Thou dost promise in our name. For truly, Lord, hadst Thou not done this, I do not think it would have been possible for us to accomplish it.” (Way 32:2)
St. Teresa says that God gives the soul the capacity to suffer and that bandonment is an important factor in doing His will.
Give us this day our daily bread
He knows we are weak and doing His will will be difficult; therefore, He gives us this petition.
“It seems to me, in the absence of a better opinion, that the good Jesus knew what He had given for us and how important it was for us to give this to God, and yet how difficult it would be for us to do so, as has been said, because of our natural inclination to base things and our want of love and courage. He saw that, before we could be aroused, we needed His aid, not once but every day, and it must have been for this reason that He resolved to remain with us.” (Way 33:2)
and He gives it ‘daily’
“While writing this I have been wondering why, after saying “our ‘daily’ bread”, the Lord repeated the idea in the words “Give us this day, Lord.” I will tell you my own foolish idea: if it really is foolish, . . . This bread, then, is ours daily, it seems to me, because we have Him here on earth, since He has remained with us here and we receive Him; and, if we profit by His company, we shall also have Him in Heaven, for the only reason He remains with us is to help and encourage and sustain us so that we shall do that will, which, as we have said, is to be fulfilled in us.” (Way 34:1)
Forgive us our debts since we ourselves forgive
“Notice, sisters, that He does not say: “as we shall forgive.” “ (Way 36:2)
“Anyone, then, who sincerely repeats this petition, “Fiat voluntas tua”, must, at least in intention, have done this already. You see now why the saints rejoiced in insults and persecutions: it was because these gave them something to present to the Lord when they prayed to Him. What can a poor creature like myself do, who has had so little to forgive others and has so much to be forgiven herself? This, sisters, is something which we should consider carefully; it is such a serious and important matter that God should pardon us our sins, which have merited eternal fire, that we must pardon all trifling things which have been done to us and which are not wrongs at all, or anything else. For how is it possible, either in word or in deed, to wrong one who, like myself, has deserved to be plagued by devils for ever? Is it not only right that I should be plagued in this world too? As I have so few, Lord, even of these trifling things, to offer Thee, Thy pardoning of me must be a free gift: there is abundant scope here for Thy mercy. Thy Son must pardon me, for no one has done me any injustice, and so there has been nothing that I can pardon for Thy sake.” (Way 36:2)
Lead us not into temptation
Temptation here means begin sucked in by the devil disguised as an angel of light where all our virtue is destroyed and where we are drawn into error and the light of truth is hidden from us. It is not a question of asking God to make us exempt for distress or conflict, but praying for the strength and humility to cope with them and to profit by them.
“I consider it quite certain that those who attain perfection do not ask the Lord to deliver them from trials, temptations, persecutions and conflicts — and that is another sure and striking sign that these favors and this contemplation which His Majesty gives them are coming from the Spirit of the Lord and are not illusions. For, as I said a little way back, perfect souls are in no way repelled by trials, but rather desire them and pray for them and love them.” (Way 38:1)
but deliver us from evil
“Still, let us realize that what we are asking here — this deliverance from all evil — seems an impossibility, whether we are thinking of bodily ills, as I have said, or of imperfections and faults in God’s service. I am referring, not to the saints, who, as Saint Paul said, can do all things in Christ but to sinners like myself. When I find myself trammeled by weakness, lukewarmness, lack of mortification and many other things, I realize that I must beg for help from the Lord.” (Way 42:2)
“. . . so I ask the Lord to deliver me from all evil “for ever.” What good thing shall we find in this life, sisters, in which we are deprived of our great Good and are absent from Him? Deliver me, Lord, from this shadow of death; deliver me from all these trials; deliver me from all these pains; deliver me from all these changes, from all the formalities with which we are forced to comply for as long as we live, from all the many, many, many things which weary and depress me, and the enumeration of all of which would weary the reader if I were to repeat them.” (Way 42:2)