A few years ago, there was quite a dustup in the Catholic world when headlines started coming out that Pope Francis was thinking about changing the Lord’s Prayer! In fact, a quick Google search resulted in the following headline: “Pope Francis made this big change to the Lord’s Prayer.” I even remember somebody telling me how upset they were that the Pope was changing the most familiar prayer that we as Catholics know.
The rumor of the Holy Father’s change came from an interview that he did in which he was asked about a new French translation to be used in the liturgy. The new translation addressed the petition: “lead us not into temptation”, and it would now take the form (in French) to be more like: “do not let us fall into temptation.” When asked about this change, the Holy Father was supportive of the decision the French bishops had made, reportedly saying: “It’s me who falls. It’s not Him who pushes me into temptation, as if I fell. A father doesn’t do that. A father helps you to get up right away. The one who leads into temptation is Satan.”
The Holy Father’s comment was in no way a suggestion that the Lord’s Prayer should be changed for everybody, but it did give an opportunity for us to better appreciate this sometimes confusing petition in this prayer we love so well. So how are we to understand it? As is often the case, we can find a more than adequate answer from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
This petition goes to the root of the preceding one, for our sins result from our consenting to temptation; we therefore ask our Father not to “lead” us into temptation. It is difficult to translate the Greek verb used by a single English word: the Greek means both “do not allow us to enter into temptation” and “do not let us yield to temptation.” “God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one”; on the contrary, he wants to set us free from evil. We ask him not to allow us to take the way that leads to sin. We are engaged in the battle “between flesh and spirit”; this petition implores the Spirit of discernment and strength. (CCC 2846)
This petition, along with “thy will be done” upon which we reflected last week, is a very helpful one to invoke each day. As human beings, we are constantly subjected to temptations, both from within and without. In those moments when we come to understand that we are being tempted (not by God), we should not try to rely on our own willpower. Rather, we cry out to the Father who loves us: “lead us not into temptation”, which is a cry for His protection and strength, for as He reminds us: “without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We make this prayer with the confidence that St. Paul had in the Lord when he wrote: “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.” (Phil 4:13)
Speaking of temptations, it strikes me that all of this confusion is a subtle tactic of the deceiver, Satan, trying to distract us, even to the point of distrusting this petition, for he knows how powerful these words proposed by Jesus are in thwarting his attempts to lead us off course in doing God’s will.