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Fr. Joe Answers:
Yes, it’s true that Jesus’ own prayer was directed toward God as Father. The prayer which Jesus teaches his disciples in ths gospels of Matthew and Luke is addressed to “our Father” and does not mention Jesus at all! We still pray this as “The Lord’s Prayer” and regard it as a central Christian prayer.
Apart from the Lord’s Prayer, most prayer in Catholic worship is addressed “TO the Father, THROUGH the Son, IN unity with the Holy Spirit.” This formula expresses two basic beliefs of Catholics: the Trinity and the Incarnation.
The Apostle’s Creed, one of the earliest Christian professions of faith, states: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary…” This awareness of Jesus being one in nature with God the Father and yet also (as “Son of Mary”) completely human was most fully articulated at the Councils of Nicea in 325 and Chalcedon in 451 but its roots are in the New Testament. For example, in the gospel of John, Jesus says to his disciples at his “last supper”: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John 14:9-10). For another instance, when Paul concludes his letter to the Romans with the phrase “to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ be glory for ever and ever” (Romans 16:27) he is associating Jesus with the conclusion of a prayer traditionally addressed to God alone.
The most correct title for Jesus, following upon the Apostles’ Creed, is not “God” but “Son of God.” What does it mean that Catholics believe that he is “one in nature with the Father?”
Perhaps the best insight comes from the first letter of John: “let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God…God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him” (1 John 4:7,16). If the essence of God is love, Christians have come to believe in Jesus as the embodiment of self-sacrificing love. The Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx has referred to Jesus as “the sacrament of the encounter with God.” The Anglican Bishop J.A.T. Robinson used a similiar metaphor, calling Jesus “the human face of God.” For Catholics, the mystery of God is revealed in the person of Jesus.
Because of this awareness, Catholics and other Christians direct some prayers to Jesus. An example of these would be the “Lord, have Mercy” prayers of the Penitential Rite at the beginning of Mass, and the “Jesus Prayer” that is a tradition of Orthodox Christians. The more common and perhaps more appropriate address for Christian prayer is “TO the Father, THROUGH the Son, IN unity with the Holy Spirit.”