By Richard Watkins

If you are fan of the movie “A Christmas Story” as I am, you will undoubtedly remember the infamous triple-dog dare scene. The scene where Schwartz double-dares, double-dog dares and finally (in a breach of social etiquette) triple-dog dares Flick to put his tongue on a frozen flag pole. After much back and forth and jockeying between the two, feeling the pressure, Flick acquiesces and does it. And, as Schwartz predicted, his tongue gets stuck.

What is it about the word dare? It could be used positively as in: to have the courage to do something. The daring young man on the flying trapeze. Or it could be used negatively as in “don’t you dare change that channel” in which the indication is if you do, something bad will happen.

Not many people realize this but the word dare is used during the Mass. Right before the congregation recites the Lord’s Prayer (or the Our Father). The priest will say “At the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say…”

So why is it a dare? Why isn’t it “At the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we say…” or “…we are bound to say…” or even “…we are glad to say…”?

According to Monsignor Stuart Swetland, who said on an episode of “Go Ask Your Father” it is because “There is an awesomeness in God, and God transcends us. He is greater than any concept of Him, He is greater than we can imagine, than we can think.” In other words, for us to ask something of God, who is all-everything; greater than great; to approach him we need to be reverent and respectful. Sort of like Moses with the burning bush when God said, “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Well, in this case, God Himself is the holy ground and to approach Him needs to be done with deference to Him.

Seems plausible. And after all, who am I to disagree with a priest? Richard Watkins. Pleased to meet you.

Actually, I’m not going to disagree. I’m going to add to it. I believe we “dare” to pray because we don’t really know what we’re getting ourselves into. See, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are affirming specific facts and asking for specific things to happen. Things that if we knew what we were asking, most probably we wouldn’t continue to pray. Let’s break it down. First, we attest that God is our Father and that His name is hallowed. Hallowed meaning holy, sanctified, blessed, sacred. Or, in other words. God’s name is the utmost of names so God is the utmost of the utmost. It’s really the biblical version of “we’re not worthy,” because we aren’t and we are telling God we know that.  As such, we better do what He says.

That theme continues when we then say “…Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” So, after we just said God is the end all-be all, now we are saying that whatever God wants done on earth, we will do it just like it is done in Heaven.  Really? We will? Remember, it’s not “…Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven…the best we can; and if we can get around to it; maybe after the ball game and if I don’t have to mow the lawn and, oh yeah… I forgot, we have dinner plans with the McDermit’s tonight and I’ll have to take the kids to my mother’s and then pick them up and tomorrow, talk about a packed schedule…”.

As you can see, we’re already pushing the limits of quid pro quo. So far, it’s been a lot of: you do, and I’ll think about it.

Next, we ask for our daily bread. A rather benign request. Simply, provide us food to survive. Until you factor in that it is written in Deuteronomy, chapter 8 and then later reemphasized by Jesus in Matthew 4:4, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” So now, instead of just appeasing our appetite with some manna, we also have to ingest the word of God as well. And ingesting means taking it all in and letting it permeate and nurture our body. Geez. All that from asking for a little bread?

And then comes the coup de grâce. “…and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The key word here is “as”. Not “and we’ll try” or “after that”.  “As” means that we, at the very moment we ask for forgiveness, are forgiving those who wronged us. And if we don’t forgive others, we should have no expectation of being forgiven by God. At least that’s what it’s supposed to mean. Not everyone picks up on that, or agrees to it.  

As you can see, praying the Lord’s Prayer is not a one way, nonreciprocal “ask and thou shalt receive” proposition. God is not the Genie from Aladdin. It’s no “Your wish is my command.” With God, it’s more like “give good, get good.” What you put into it, you get out of it. That’s why we dare to pray to The Lord’s Prayer. Because we have to be aware of what we are getting ourselves into and the action items on our part as a result of asking God for what we want. Not everyone is willing to follow through on the promises we make during that prayer. But if you are willing, then go ahead. Pray. I dare you. No, make that I triple dog dare you.