In his new book, Our Father: Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer, Pope Francis offers unprecedented insight into some of Jesus’s most profound words. In this excerpt from the book, the Pope unpacks the line “who art in heaven.”
“Heaven” means the greatness of God, his omnipotence. He is the first, he is great, and he is the one who has made us. “Heaven” represents the immensity of his power, of his love, of his beauty. Nevertheless, let us think about the God of Abraham, who draws near to him and says, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless” (Gen 17:1). Keep looking up, move forward, believe, hope, and do not give up. God is very close.
However, let us also think about the God who reveals himself on Sinai: “There were thunder and lightning, and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast” (Ex 19:16). “Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln” (Ex 19:18). God reveals himself in glory, in light, in smoke, in cloud; he shows his terrible majesty, and this is something that is hard to understand. You must, I must, we must say “Our Father, who art in heaven,” but not with a sense of humiliation. I am reminded of a time when I was five or six years old, and they operated on my throat to take out my tonsils.
At that time, they performed this procedure without anesthesia. The doctor would show you the ice cream you would get afterward, then they put something into your mouth to keep it open, and then the nurse held you. You could not close your mouth. The doctor, then, with a pair of scissors took out both of your tonsils. Moments later, they gave you the ice cream and that was it.
After the operation, I could not speak because of the pain, and my dad called a taxi and we went home. Once we arrived at home, Dad paid the driver and I was shocked: Why does Dad pay this man? As soon as I was able to talk, two days later, I asked him, “Why did you pay that man with the car?” He explained to me that it was a taxi. “But wait, wasn’t the car yours?” I asked him. You see, at the time, I thought my dad owned all the cars in the city!
The memory of this childhood experience with a father who teaches and explains, especially when we are experiencing pain, gives us an idea of our relationship with God, his greatness but also his closeness. God is a God of glory, but he walks with you and when it is necessary, he even gives you ice cream…
Yes, [our Father] is always there waiting for us. And “in heaven” he is powerful and great and majestic—this is what the expression “who art in heaven” means—but he is close and walks with us.
Reprinted from "OUR FATHER: REFLECTIONS ON THE LORD'S PRAYER" by Pope Francis. Copyright © 2017 by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Citta del Vaticano. Copyright © 2017 by Rizzoli Libri, S.p.A./Rizzoli, Milano. Translation copyright © 2018 by Penguin Random House LLC. Published by Image, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Originally published in Italian by Rizzoli Libri S.p.A. in 2017.