This is how you are to pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-10).
I was five when my dad deserted us. I remember that day in 1955 as if it happened last week.
When I was eighteen I began to entertain thoughts of a long forgotten hope. Perhaps Mom’s explanations for why Dad abandoned us were a collage of faulty memories discolored by years. Perhaps Al really didn't want to leave me.
I convinced myself I needed to know the truth. So I asked Mom to arrange a meeting at my paternal grandparent's house.
My hands felt like ice as I shook the hand of the man I hadn't seen for more than a decade. I studied him. He was shorter than I expected. Heavier, too. He no longer wore a beard, and his dark brown hair receded toward the middle of his head. We chatted a few minutes about nothing. And then, after what seemed an appropriate time, I asked him, "Why did you leave me?"
I still remember how his expression changed before the last syllable left my lips. He thought only a moment before answering: "Because I wanted to."
Time froze as I stared at him, trying to absorb what I'd just heard. And when it had finished burning itself into my consciousness, I turned to Mom. It was time to leave. I'd heard enough to last a lifetime, and as best I could, I buried Al -- and his searing words -- in the recesses of my mind.
Four years later, I met an acquaintance who intrigued me when he called God his heavenly Father. And for some reason, hope suddenly surged to my conscious mind. I ached to know if God could also be my father, if God would also love me. After weeks of self-debate and doubt, I cast myself into what can only be described as "faith." I bowed my knees in prayer and asked God to make me His child.
I didn't feel any different when I stood up. But I plunged into my new faith with the fervor of a thirsty straggler coming upon an oasis. I devoured Scripture, reading the entire Bible twice the first year. Regular Sunday worship and Bible classes fueled my spiritual growth. I fasted, spent hours in prayer, and as my faith grew, I slowly grasped the wonderful truth that, unlike my earthly father, my heavenly Father will never leave me. His love will never falter.
Yesterday my wife and I stood in a classroom of 6th grade Faith Formation students (the Catholic equivalent to Sunday school). We opened the class by asking if anyone had prayer requests. One of the young girls asked for prayer for her uncle who'd recently been "abandoned" (that was her word) by his wife.
Within moments, tears welled in her eyes and traced down her cheeks. She wept periodically through the rest of the class.
Divorce and unfaithfulness is all around us -- so much so that it is likely you know of someone who understands the emptiness that echoes through the caverns of the heart after a divorce.
"Our Father who art in heaven."
Years ago I learned -- and I can only pray that our young student will learn -- "Our Father" is infinitely more than simple words prayed during Mass. They provide for us an intimate doorway to a relationship with One who will never, ever leave us.
We need only to open the door and walk in.