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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sunday Meditation: Should the English Translation of the Our Father be Changed?

St. Francis de Sales would definitely oppose
changing the Our Father!
Last December Pope Francis suggested (in an impromptu comment) changing the translation of the Our Father from "lead us not into temptation" to "do not let us fall into temptation." I don't know if there is any support for the change among the English speaking hierarchy, but I don't think St. Francis de Sales, bishop and Doctor of the Church, would agree. I think he would oppose the French bishops who did, in fact, change the translation before the pope's comments. effective the first Sunday of Advent. (Maybe that's what gave the pope the idea.)

In his Sermons for Lent which he preached to the Visitation nuns in 1622, St. Francis took up this subject directly on the First Sunday. He devoted that homily to temptation emphasizing that Jesus, as scripture tells us, was "led [my emphasis] into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil." If you read St. Matthew's gospel (Matt 4:1-11) you get the complete story. The devil came only after Jesus had fasted and prayed for 40 days. He was hungry. The devil is patient. He waits for our moments of weakness to attack us.

St. Francis begins his sermon quoting from the book of Sirach:
My son, if you intend to serve God, prepare your soul for temptation," for it is an infallible truth that no one is exempt from temptation when he has truly resolved to serve God. This being the case, Our Lord Himself chose to be subjected to temptation in order to show us how we ought to resist it.
Joseph resisting the temptation of Potiphar's wife
Then St. Francis warns that no one should seek temptation of his own accord, but only go into the places of temptation where he is led by God. He compares King David and the patriarch Joseph, Jacob's son, who was sold into slavery. King David, instead of going to lead his soldiers on the battlefield where he should have been, remained idle at the palace where he strolled on the roof and observed Bathsheba bathing.  Aroused by her beauty, he succumbed to the temptation to lust. That led to adultery, a pregnancy, and the murder of Bathsheba's husband Uriah who was so faithful to his duty he would not go down to his house while the Israelites were at war. So David arranged his death.

Joseph, on the other hand, when he was a slave in Potiphar's house in Egypt fled the advances of Potiphar's wife who falsely accused him of attempting to molest her. Joseph was imprisoned which led to his coming to the notice of the king when he interpreted the dream of a fellow prisoner, the king's steward, who later remembered Joseph's talent and referred him to the king. He became one of the most important men in the kingdom and saved his own family during the famine. Two men: David put himself in the way of temptation; Joseph was placed there by God.

St. Francis' interpretation makes a lot of sense to me. Think about it. There are many places that, by their nature, are filled with temptations. A student going off to college will be thrown into a maelstrom of temptations. A person who chooses to run for Congress, if successful, will soon find himself faced with numerous temptations: to greed from the many lobbyists waving goodies, to lust when away from home and surrounded by flatterers, to pride, in fact the whole list of the deadly sins. We see evidence every day of Catholic politicians who have fallen in the face of temptation. Did God have any place at all in their decisions to run for public office? It would be better for them if they stayed home and collected garbage rather than endanger their souls in the halls of power.

Decisions about a new job or where we choose to live or attend school, the activities we engage in. All can be sources of temptation. So the question comes down to how we make our decisions. Will we bring God into the equation by prayer and fasting like Jesus did so we will only be led into the places of temptation that God chooses; or will we depend on our own human choices and throw ourselves willy-nilly into temptations that should be avoided?

St. Francis says:
If we are led by the Spirit of God to the place of temptation, we should not fear, but should be assured that He will render us victorious. But we must not seek temptation nor go out to allure, however holy and generous we may think ourselves to be, for we are not more valiant than David, nor than our Divine Master Himself, who did not choose to seek it. Our enemy is like a chained dog; if we do not approach, it will do us no harm, even though it tries to frighten us by barking at us.
St. Francis de Sales is one of the most powerful spiritual guides of the Church. His Introduction to the Devout Life is a classic used by many priests who offer spiritual direction.  If you are looking for good reading to grow in the faith, you can't go wrong with St. Francis de Sales.

And for a modern opinion on changing the translation check out Msgr. Charles Pope who gives a number of reasons for retaining the original. Do I hear an "Amen!"


  1. One of your very best posts EVER, Mary Ann! Thank you so much!

  2. Thanks Susan, St. Francis de Sales is the best! How can anyone go wrong who quotes him?