Did you know that Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was 250 words long? The man before Lincoln spoke for over an hour. The man who followed Lincoln spoke for even longer. Today, no one remembers what they said. Lincoln’s 2 ½ minutes, by contrast, changed the USA’s history and the mentality of the western world. This call to brevity is always a good challenge to preachers too! Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, which has 38 words, is another example of how a few sentences have changed history. Around 50 years after the death of Jesus, Luke’s Gospel was most probably written for the Christian community in Antioch, which was the political and cultural capital of the Roman Province of Syria. There are six major themes running throughout this Gospel: prayer, hospitality, compassion, forgiveness, the common life and care for the outsider. Most of them are expressed in the 38 words of this prayer. We declare that we belong to God in the most intimate of ways, as members of God’s family, and therefore we belong to each other. We pray that God’s Kingdom will come here and how, through our gratitude for God’s generosity and forgiveness and so we can be saved from evil. I think Christians should keep saying this prayer with great urgency. In most western countries today there are strong right-wing political movements who say they are for Christ or that they want our country to return to "Christian values." Many of their platforms and policies, however, are irreconcilable with the hospitality, forgiveness, compassion, common life and care for outsiders found in the Lord’s Prayer. It is so easy to allow our faith lives to become compartmentalized. For some, religious belief and practice fits into a nice little box that has no discernible influence on the rest of their lives. Coming to Church is a privatized affair. What we celebrate each Sunday is supposed to have an effect on all areas of our lives, every day. Though we can try to make ourselves feel better by turning religion into a weekly spiritual bonbon, that is not what Jesus and the martyrs of our faith gave their lives for. Some Catholics argue that the Church’s teaching should be more publicly proclaimed and obeyed. In its social teaching, the Church tells us that we should support political parties which best represent these key values in the Gospel. The Church has also taught us about refugees, immigration, gun control, violence, capital punishment and the rights of minority groups. All Catholics are called to hold true to this teaching as well as on doctrinal matters. Some Catholics complain that the Church should not speak out on political issues. It is, however, the role of the Church to help people form their consciences and to declare what it sees as evil, sinful or harmful in society. Christ expects nothing less of all of us. And where the Church has not done this, history has judged it very harshly, as in the Church’s relatively recent condemnation of slavery. The old line goes, "Be careful what you pray because you might just get what you ask for." Let’s join then with all Christians and be worthy of the one prayer which unites us and, in the spirit of these 38 words, pray fervently that all people everywhere will become one--in Christ--and under our one Father in heaven. Richard Leonard, S.J.
A few sentences that changed history