The 11th chapter of Luke begins with the familiar image of Jesus in prayer. His disciples must have been watching Him even more closely than usual, for something about his prayerful attitude made them a little jealous. They felt that they were missing out on something important and so when he returned to their circle they confronted Him. "Lord, John taught his disciples to pray, won't you teach us?
Jesus' response was immediate. "When you pray, say... Our Father." They hardly heard what came next so distracted had they become by those first words.
Any Jew could have easily prayed, "Our Father" using the liturgical word "Abbinu" for Father. But Jesus chose to use the word "Abba." This was an intimate form of endearment, commonly used by a child addressing his or her father during lighter moments of family life.
By using this word, Jesus transformed the "Fatherhood of God" from theological doctrine into intense and immediate experience. In so doing He also claimed an unheard of intimacy with God. To some it would border on blasphemy. And as if this were not enough, He encouraged His disciples to pray in the same way. They did so but it must have been with considerable fear and anxiety lest the Father be offended.
Echoes of this fear could be heard in the early Church and were clearly reflected in our liturgy well into the last century. Do you remember how we used to start The Lord's Prayer at Mass? "Audemus dicere, Pater Noster"... meaning WE DARE TO SAY, OUR FATHER...
And now the liturgy instructs us to pray with confidence to the Father in the words Our Saviour gave us. Indeed we can be confident as we address Our Creator in terms which would be unheard of were it not for the revelation of Jesus Christ. The revelation that when we pray, we are heard, understood and loved.
How important personal prayer must be in the overall plan of God for each of us!