Last Words


Prayer is necessary, but it's not easy. "[F]or we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Rom 8:26). We know how to pray in a superficial way, but not as we ought.

The good news is that our Father knows this, and so He has sent His Son to teach us and has sent His Spirit to transform our moans, groans, and sighs into the profoundest prayers that reach the depths of God's heart. "The Spirit helps us in our weakness. . . . [T]he Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (Rom. 8:26).

We need to pray better, because that is the only way we can live better. It is sometimes said that prayer is the breath of the spiritual life. That's partially true. It would be truer to say that it is the breath, food, rest, shelter, and means of begetting in the spiritual life. Prayer, then, is the very life of the soul. And, since the soul is immortal, the prayer that we build up on earth will be more permanent than any buildings, memorials, cathedrals, or skyscrapers we can raise with bricks, steel, glass, or marble.

Time for a Change

Prayer is the way we live our relationship with God. Covenant is the word Jesus used to describe this relationship. In the ancient world, a covenant was the legal and ritual means of establishing a family bond. Marriage was considered a covenant; so was adoption. Covenant, then, makes us share in the life of the eternal Family of God, the Blessed Trinity.

We often pray so that something will change. We pray for a healing, a promotion, a reconciliation, a deliverance. All of these are changes.

A covenant, indeed, always changes something. It changes a relationship by changing the status of one of the parties. And what is it that changes when we pray? Often, it seems that people pray in order to change God's mind. But God is eternal, perfect, unchanging, and unchangeable. We pray so that God can change our minds.

Prayer is the way we live our covenant, and so every prayer changes something. It changes us because it intensifies our relationship with God. If the Spirit can change our moans and groans into prayer, then the Spirit can also change our minds, hearts, and wills through prayer — and He'll do this in a way that cannot happen apart from prayer.

Our Fathers

We pray in order to become saints. That's what it means to have an intense relationship with God. Sainthood is the one thing we're here on earth to acquire.

So learn from the saints who have gone before us. They've prayed the Lord's Prayer and have enjoyed its effects most abundantly. We have the Church's infallible word on that. But which saints should we study? The best place to start is at the beginning, with our very eldest brothers in Christ, the brothers we call our fathers: the Fathers of the Church. I would rather lead you to learn from them than from me.

So read the Fathers. Their sermons, poems, letters, and theological works are like treasures hidden away for ages, waiting for you to discover them. Many of the Fathers wrote commentaries on the Lord's Prayer, and I have depended on their wisdom throughout this series in Lay Witness. Today I'd like to draw your attention to three themes you'll find again and again in the Church's most ancient works.

Children of God

First in importance is the centrality of divine fatherhood and our share — our real participation in Christ's divine sonship.

Next, notice how the Fathers insist that our goal is virtue, and not mere learning. They're speaking, moreover, not just of the virtues that make us more prosperous: honesty, diligence, thrift, patience, and so on. They want us especially to grow in the possession and practice of the theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. To live these virtues means, quite simply, to live as children of God.

Finally, learn from the Fathers how to appreciate the unity of the Old and New Covenants. The New Covenant is promised in the Old, and the Old is fulfilled in the New. Typology is the principle by which we see this most clearly (cf. Catechism, nos. 128-30). Typology shows us that passing from the Old to the New is more than just turning the page from Malachi to Matthew. Typology shows us how Jesus' coming, in the fullness of time, represents the hinge of history — world history and personal history, your life and mine. Typology is not just a literary device, not just an interpretive key to a difficult book. Typology means something intimate for all of us, our movement from servitude to sonship, from time to eternity, from the natural to the supernatural, from earth to heaven . . . from our Creator to our Father.

Scott Hahn's book, Understanding "Our Father" includes all 13 articles from Lay Witness as well as selections from the Fathers of the Church. Order it here


Scott Hahn. "Last Words." Lay Witness (January/February 2004).

This article is reprinted with permission from Lay Witness magazine. Lay Witness is a publication of Catholic United for the Faith, Inc., an international lay apostolate founded in 1968 to support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.


Scott Hahn is Professor of Theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he has taught since 1990, and is the founder and director of the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology. He is the author of many books, including Lord Have Mercy, Letter and Spirit, Understanding the Scriptures, Swear to God, Scripture Matters, Understanding Our Father, First Comes Love: Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity, Hail Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God, The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth, A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God's Covenant Love in Scripture, Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism, and co-editor of Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God. Dr. Hahn has also written numerous articles in lay and academic publications.

Scott Hahn received his Bachelor of Arts degree with a triple-major in Theology, Philosophy and Economics from Grove City College, Pennsylvania, in 1979, his Masters of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 1982, and his Ph.D. in Biblical Theology from Marquette University in 1995. Scott has ten years of youth and pastoral ministry experience in Protestant congregations (in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, Kansas and Virginia) and is a former Professor of Theology at Chesapeake Theological Seminary. He was ordained in 1982 at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia. He entered the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, 1986.

Copyright © 2004 LayWitness

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Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.