Spiritual Life

Heaven can be in your heart

In my last column, we began looking at the Catechism’s teaching on the Our Father. We continue today by examining the phrase “who art in heaven.”

What does it mean to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven?” Our first thought might be that God is very distant from human beings. But how can this be what Jesus meant? He came to earth to bring God close to us, so why would he then teach us that God is far away?

The Catechism answers these questions by explaining that Jesus was not speaking of a physical place here. God said to Moses concerning the Law, “It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (Dt 30:12-14). How much truer this is when Jesus, the Word of God, has come down to us in human flesh!

Why, then, did Jesus instruct us to pray, “who art in heaven?” According to the Catechism, this phrase emphasizes our need for conversion through Christ. “Heaven” refers to God’s dwelling. In the Old Testament, God dwelt in the temple. To be in relationship with God, the people of Israel needed to bring regular sacrifices to the temple. God called them to himself, but they had to act in order to be in communion with him. They had to visit Jerusalem, follow the dictates of the Law, and send the priests into the holy places of the temple on their behalf to meet with God.

Already in the Old Testament there were signs that simply fulfilling the exterior dictates of the Law was not enough for a person to remain in God’s grace. One must journey to God in one’s heart as well.

Then Jesus came as the Word of God and as the new temple. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9). Jesus is God’s dwelling place in the New Testament. In him, God truly walked among his people and shared their daily lives. But this was not enough for God. He desires to dwell in us as well. If we “journey” to Jesus, trusting in his sacrifice to free us from sin, God dwells in our hearts. Our hearts become his temple. More than that, our hearts become heaven!

“‘Our Father who art in heaven’ is rightly understood to mean that God is in the hearts of the just, as in his holy temple. At the same time, it means that those who pray should desire the one they invoke to dwell in them” (CCC, no. 2794, quoting St. Augustine).

When we pray to our Father “who art in heaven,” we are asking for God to dwell in our hearts. We are begging him to help us start living our heaven now. We are asking him to make us fully converted, through the death and resurrection of Christ (no. 2795). Or, as the Catechism sums up its teaching on this phrase, “When the Church prays ‘our Father who art in heaven,’ she is professing that we are the People of God, already seated ‘with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ and ‘hidden with Christ in God’; yet at the same time, ‘here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling’” (no. 2796).

How can we live our lives as “citizens of heaven?” Jesus shows us how in the remainder of the Our Father. We will discover the specifics in my next few columns.

Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is the author of “The Q&A Guide to Mental Prayer,” now available at amazon.com, and five other books on Catholic spirituality.