1ST AUDIENCE IN NEW SERIES
"Virtually Always and Everywhere, People Have Turned to God"
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to begin a new series of catecheses. After the catecheses on fathers of the Church, on great theologians of the Middle Ages, on great women, I would now like to choose a subject that we all have very much at heart: It is the subject of prayer, specifically, Christian prayer, which is the prayer that Jesus taught us and that the Church continues to teach us. It is in Jesus, in fact, that man is made capable of approaching God with the depth and intimacy of the relationship of fatherhood and sonship. Together with the first disciples, we now turn with humble trust to the Master and ask: "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1).
In the forthcoming catecheses, approaching sacred Scripture, the great tradition of the fathers of the Church, the teachers of spirituality, and the liturgy, we will learn to live yet more intensely our relationship with the Lord, as though in a "school of prayer." We know well, in fact, that prayer cannot be taken for granted: We must learn how to pray, almost as if acquiring this art anew; even those who are very advanced in the spiritual life always feel the need to enter the
to learn to pray with authenticity. school of Jesus
We receive the first lesson from the Lord through his example. The Gospels describe to us Jesus in intimate and constant dialogue with the Father: It is a profound communion of the One who came into the world not to do his will but that of the Father who sent him for man's salvation.
In this first catechesis, by way of introduction, I would like to propose some examples of prayer present in ancient cultures, to reveal how, virtually always and everywhere, people have turned to God.
I begin with ancient
, as an example. Here a blind
man, asking the divinity to restore his sight, attests to something universally
human, as is the pure and simple prayer of petition on the part of one who is
suffering. This man prays: "My heart desires to see you ... You who made
me see the darkness, create light for me, that I may see you! Bend over me your
beloved face" (A. Barucq -- F. Daumas, Hymnes et prieres de l'Egypte
ancienne, Paris, 1980, translated into Italian as Preghiere dell'umanita,
Brescia, 1993, p. 30). That I may see you; here is the heart of prayer!
Prevailing in the religions of Egypt Mesopotamia was
a mysterious and paralyzing sense of guilt, though not deprived of the hope of
rescue and liberation by God. Hence we can appreciate a supplication by a
believer of those ancient cults, which sounds like this: "O God who are
indulgent even in the most serious fault, absolve my sin ... Look, Lord, to
your weary servant, and blow your breeze on him: Forgive him without delay.
Alleviate your severe punishment. Free from the shackles, make me breathe
again; break my chain, loosen my ties" (M. J. Seux, Hymnes et prieres aux
Dieux de Babylone at d'Assyrie, Paris, 1976, translated into Italian in Preghiere
dell'umanita, op. cit., p. 37).
These are expressions that show how, in his search for God, man intuited, though confusedly, on one hand his guilt and on the other, aspects of divine mercy and kindness.
At the heart of the pagan religion of ancient
witness a very significant evolution: prayers, though continuing to invoke
divine help to obtain heavenly favor in all circumstances of daily life and to
obtain material benefits, are oriented progressively toward more selfless
requests, which enable believing man to deepen his relationship with God and to
become better. For example, the great philosopher Plato reported a prayer of
his teacher, Socrates, who is justly regarded as one of the founders of Western
thought. Socrates prayed thus: "Make me beautiful within. That I may hold
as rich one who is wise and possess no more money than the wise man can take
and carry. I do not ask for anything more" (Opere I. Fedro 279c,
translated into Italian by P. Pucci, Bari, 1966). Greece
Above all he wanted to be beautiful and wise within, and not rich in money.
In the Greek tragedies -- those outstanding literary masterpieces of all time that still today, after 25 centuries, are read, meditated and performed -- there are prayers that express the desire to know God and to adore his majesty. One of these reads thus: "Support of the earth, who dwell above the earth, whoever you are, difficult to understand, Zeus, be the law of nature or of the thought of mortals, I turn to you: given that, proceeding by silent ways, you guide human affairs according to justice" (Euripide, Troiane, 884-886, translated into Italian by G. Mancini, in Preghiere dell'umanita, op. cit., p. 54).
God remains somewhat nebulous and yet man knows this unknown God and prays to him who guides the affairs of the earth.
Also with the Romans, who constituted that great Empire in which a large part of the origins of Christianity was born and spread, prayer -- though associated to a utilitarian conception fundamentally bound to the request for divine protection on the life of the civil community -- opens at times to admirable invocations because of the fervor of personal piety, which is transformed into praise and thanksgiving. Apuleius, an author of Roman Africa of the 2nd century after Christ, is a witness to this. In his writings he manifests contemporaries' dissatisfaction at comparing the traditional religion and the desire for a more authentic relationship with God. In his masterpiece, titled Metamorphosis, a believer addresses a feminine divinity with these words: "You, yes, are a saint, you are at all times savior of the human species, you, in your generosity, always give your help to mortals, you offer the poor in travail the gentle affection that a mother can have. Not a day or a night or an instant passes, no matter how brief it is, that you do not fill him with your benefits" (Apuleius of Madaura, Metamorphosis IX, 25, Translated into Italian by C. Annaratone, in Preghiere dell'umanita, op. cit., p. 79).
In the same period the emperor Marcus Aurelius -- who was as well a thoughtful philosopher of the human condition -- affirmed the need to pray to establish a fruitful cooperation between divine and human action. He wrote in his Memoirs: "Who has told you that the gods do not help us even in what depends on us? Begin then to pray to them and you will see" (Dictionnaire de Spiritualite XII/2, col. 2213). This advice of the philosopher-emperor was put into practice effectively by innumerable generations of men before Christ, thus demonstrating that human life without prayer, which opens our existence to the mystery of God, is deprived of meaning and reference. Expressed in every prayer, in fact, is the truth of the human creature, which on one hand experiences weakness and indigence, and because of this asks for help from heaven, and on the other is gifted with extraordinary dignity, as, preparing himself to receive divine Revelation, he discovers himself capable of entering into communion with God.
Dear friends, emerging from these examples of prayer from various periods and civilizations is the human awareness of his condition as a creature and his dependence on Another superior to him and the source of every good. The man of all times prays because he cannot fail to ask himself what is the meaning of his existence, which remains dark and discomforting, if he is not placed in relationship with the mystery of God and of his plan for the world. Human life is an interlacing of good and evil, of unmerited suffering and of joy and beauty, which spontaneously and irresistibly drives us to pray to God for that interior light and strength which aid us on earth and reveal a hope that goes beyond the boundaries of death. The pagan religions remain an invocation that from the earth awaits a word from Heaven. Proclus of Constantinople, one of the last great pagan philosophers, who lived already at the height of the Christian age, gave voice to this expectation, saying: "Unknowable, no one contains you. Everything that we think belongs to you. Our ills and goods are from you, every breath depends on you, O Ineffable One, may our souls feel you present, raising a hymn of silence to you" (Hymn,ed. E. Vogt, Wiesbaden, 1957, in Preghiere dell'umanita, op. cit., p. 61).
In the examples of prayer from the various cultures that we considered, we can see a testimony of the religious dimension and of the desire for God inscribed in the heart of every man, which receive fulfillment and full expression in the Old and New Testaments. Revelation, in fact, purifies and leads to fullness man's original longing for God, offering him, with prayer, the possibility of a more profound relationship with the heavenly Father. At the beginning of this journey of ours in the "school of prayer" we now wish to ask the Lord to illumine our minds and hearts so that our relationship with him in prayer is ever more intense, affectionate and constant. Once again, let us say to him: "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1).
On prayer: 2
ON THE UNIVERSAL RELIGIOUS SENSE
"Man Bears Within Himself the Desire for God"
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to continue reflecting on how prayer and the religious sense have been a part of mankind throughout history.
We live in an age in which the signs of secularism are evident. It seems that God has disappeared from the horizon of many persons or that he has become a reality before which one remains indifferent. However, at the same time we see many signs that indicate to us an awakening of the religious sense, a rediscovery of the importance of God for man's life, a need of spirituality, of surmounting a purely horizontal, material vision of human life. Analyzing recent history, the prediction has failed of those who in the age of the Enlightenment proclaimed the disappearance of religions and exalted absolute reason, separated from faith, a reason that would have dispelled the darkness of religious dogmas and dissolved "the world of the sacred," restoring to man his liberty, his dignity and his autonomy from God. The experience of the last century, with the two tragic World Wars, put in crisis that progress that autonomous reason, man without God, seemed to be able to guarantee.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: "In the act of creation, God calls every being from nothingness into existence. [...] Even after losing through his sin his likeness to God, man remains an image of his Creator, and retains the desire for the one who calls him into existence. All religions bear witness to men's essential search for God" (No. 2566). We could say -- as I showed in the previous catechesis -- that there has been no great civilization, from the most ancient times up to our days, which has not been religious.
Man is religious by nature, he is homo religiosus as he is homo sapiens and homo faber. "The desire for God," the Catechism also affirms, "is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God" (No. 27). The image of the Creator is imprinted in his being and he feels the need to find a light to give an answer to the questions that have to do with the profound meaning of reality; an answer that he cannot find in himself, in progress, in empirical science. Homo religiosus does not emerge only from the ancient world, but he crosses the whole history of humanity.
To this end, the rich terrain of human experience has witnessed the emergence of different forms of religiosity, in the attempt to respond to the desire for plenitude and happiness, to the need of salvation, to the search for meaning. "Digital" man and the caveman alike seek in religious experience the ways to overcome his finitude and to ensure his precarious earthly adventure. Moreover, life without a transcendent horizon would not have complete meaning, and the happiness to which we tend, is projected toward a future, toward a tomorrow that is yet to be attained.
In the declaration "Nostra Aetate," the Second Vatican Council stressed it synthetically. It states: Men expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the hearts of men: What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what sin? Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road to true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going?" (No. 1). Man knows that he cannot answer on his own his fundamental need to understand. Even if he is deluded and still believes that he is self-sufficient, he has the experience that he is not sufficient unto himself. He needs to open himself to the other, to something or someone, which can give him what he lacks, he must come out of himself toward the One who can fill the extent and profundity of his desire.
Man bears within himself a thirst for the infinite, a nostalgia for eternity, a search for beauty, a desire for love, a need for light and truth, which drive him toward the Absolute; man bears within himself the desire for God. And man knows, in some way, that he can address himself to God, that he can pray to him. St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians of history, defines prayer as the "expression of man's desire for God." This attraction toward God, which God himself has placed in man, is the soul of prayer, which is cloaked in many forms and modalities according to the history, time, moment, grace and finally the sin of each one of those who pray. In fact, man's history has known varied forms of prayer, because he has developed different modalities of openness toward the on High and toward the Beyond, so much so that we can recognize prayer as an experience present in every religion and culture.
In fact, dear brothers and sisters, as we saw last Wednesday, prayer is not linked to a particular context, but is found inscribed in every person's heart and in every civilization.
Of course, when we speak of prayer as man's experience in as much as man, of the homo orans, it is necessary to keep in mind that this is an interior attitude, rather than a series of practices and formulas, a way of being before God, rather than carrying out acts of worship or pronouncing words. Prayer has its center and founds its roots in the most profound being of the person; that is why it is not easily decipherable and for the same reason, it can be subject to misunderstandings and mystifications. Also in this sense we can understand the expression: it is difficult to pray. In fact, prayer is the place par excellence of gratuitousness, of the tension towards the Invisible, the Unexpected, the Ineffable. Because of this, the experience of prayer is a challenge for everyone, a "grace" to be invoked, a gift of the One whom we address.
In all the periods of history, in prayer man considers himself and his situation before God, from God and in regard to God, and he experiences himself as being a creature in need of help, incapable of achieving by himself the fulfillment of his existence and his hope. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein reminded that "to pray means to feel that the meaning of the world is outside the world." In the dynamic of this relationship with the One who gives meaning to existence, with God, prayer has one of its typical expressions in the gesture of kneeling. It is a gesture that bears in itself a radical ambivalence: in fact, I can be obliged to kneel -- condition of indigence and slavery -- or I can kneel spontaneously, confessing my limit and, hence, my need for the Other. To Him I confess that I am weak, needy, a "sinner."
In the experience of prayer, the human creature expresses all his awareness of himself, all that he is able to understand of his existence and, at the same time, he addresses himself wholly to the Being before whom he is, he orients his soul to that Mystery from which he awaits the fulfillment of his most profound desires and help to surmount the indigence of his life. In this looking at the Other, in this addressing "the beyond" is the essence of prayer, as experience of a reality that surpasses the sentient and the contingent.
However, the full realization of man's search is found only in the God who reveals himself. Prayer, which is the opening and raising of the heart to God, becomes a personal relationship with Him. And even if man forgets his Creator, the living and true God does not fail to call man to the mysterious encounter of prayer. As the Catechism affirms: "In prayer, the faithful God's initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response. As God gradually reveals himself and reveals man to himself, prayer appears as a reciprocal call, a covenant drama. Through words and actions, this drama engages the heart. It unfolds throughout the whole history of salvation" (No. 2567).
Dear brothers and sisters, let us learn to spend more time before God, let us learn to recognize in silence the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, to recognize in the depth of ourselves his voice that calls us and leads us back to the profundity of our existence, to the fount of life, to the source of salvation, to make us go beyond the limits of our life and to open ourselves to the measure of God, to the relationship with Him who is Infinite Love. Thank you!
On prayer 3
ON ABRAHAM'S PRAYER
"It Is Forgiveness That Interrupts the Spiral of Sin"
* * *
Dear brothers and sisters,
In the two last catecheses we reflected on prayer as a universal phenomenon, which -- although in different forms -- is present in the cultures of alltimes.
Today, instead, I would like to begin a biblical review on this subject, which will lead us to deepen in the covenant dialogue between God and man that animates the history of salvation, up to its culmination in the definitive Word that is Jesus Christ. This journey will bring us to pause on some important texts and paradigmatic figures of the Old and the New Testaments.
Abraham, the great Patriarch, father of all believers (cf. Romans 4:11-12.16-17), will offer us the first example of prayer, in the episode of his intercession for the cities of
And I would also like to invite you to take advantage of the journey we will
make in the forthcoming catecheses to learn to know the Bible more, which I
hope you have in your homes and, during the week, pause to read and meditate in
prayer, to know the wonderful history of the relationship between God and man,
between God who communicates with us and man who responds, who prays. Gomorrah
The first text on which we wish to reflect is found in Chapter 18 of the Book of Genesis; it recounts that the iniquity of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah had reached a peak, so much so as to render necessary an intervention of God to carry out an act of justice and to halt the evil by destroying those cities. It is here that Abraham comes in, with his prayer of intercession. God decided to reveal to him what was about to happen and brings him to know the gravity of the evil and its terrible consequences, because Abraham is his chosen one, chosen to become a great people and to make the divine blessing reach the whole world. His is a mission of salvation, which must respond to the sin that has invaded man's reality; through him the Lord wishes to bring humanity back to faith, to obedience, to justice. And now, this friend of God opens to the reality and the need of the world, he prays for those who are about to be punished and prays that they be saved.
Abraham sets out the problem immediately in all its gravity, and says to the Lord: "Wilt thou indeed destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt thou then destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (vv. 23-25). With these words, with great courage, Abraham puts before God the need to avoid a summary justice: if the city is culpable, it is right to condemn its offense and inflict punishment, but -- affirms the great Patriarch -- it would be unjust to punish in an indiscriminate way all the inhabitants. If there are innocents in the city, they cannot be treated as the guilty. God, who is a just judge, cannot act like that, says Abraham rightly to God.
However, if we read the text more attentively, we realize that Abraham's request is even more serious and more profound, because he does not limit himself to ask for the salvation of the innocent. Abraham asks for forgiveness for the whole city and he does so appealing to God's justice. In fact, he says to the Lord: "Wilt thou then destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?" (v. 24b). By so doing, he puts into play a new idea of justice: not the one that limits itself to punish the guilty, as men do, but a different, divine justice, which seeks the good and creates it through forgiveness that transforms the sinner, that converts and saves him. Hence, with his prayer Abraham does not invoke a merely retributive justice, but an intervention of salvation that, taking into account the innocent, also liberates the wicked from their guilt, forgiving them. Abraham's thought, which seems almost paradoxical, can be synthesized thus: obviously the innocent cannot be treated as the guilty, this would be unjust; instead, it is necessary to treat the guilty as the innocent, putting into act a "superior" justice, offering them a possibility of salvation, because if the evildoers accept God's forgiveness and confess their fault letting themselves be saved, they will no longer continue to do evil, they will also become righteous, without any further need to be punished.
It is this request of justice that Abraham expresses in his intercession, a
request that is based on the certainty that the Lord is merciful. Abraham does not ask of God something that is contrary to his essence; he knocks on the door of God's heart, knowing his real will. Sodom was certainly a large city; fifty righteous seems but little, but are not God's justice and his forgiveness perhaps the manifestation of the force of goodness, even if it seems smaller and weaker than evil? The destruction of Sodom should have halted the evil present in the city, but Abraham knows that God has other ways and other means to check the spread of evil. It is forgiveness that interrupts the spiral of sin and Abraham, in his dialogue with God, appeals precisely for this. And when the Lord agrees to forgive the city if fifty righteous can be found, his prayer of intercession begins to descend to the abysses of divine mercy. Abraham -- as we recall -- makes the number of the innocent necessary for salvation diminish progressively: if there are not fifty, perhaps forty-five would suffice, and then ever lower to ten, continuing with his supplication, which is made almost bold in its insistence: "Suppose forty are found there ... thirty ... twenty ... ten" (cf. vv. 188.8.131.52). And the smaller the number becomes, the greater is the manifestation of God's mercy, who listens with patience, accepts and repeats to every supplication: "I will spare, ... I will not destroy, ... I will not do it" (cf. vv. 184.108.40.206.31.32).
Thus, by the intercession of Abraham, Sodom can be saved if in it are found just ten innocent. This is the power of prayer. Because manifested and expressed through intercession, prayer to God for the salvation of others is the desire of salvation that God always harbors for sinful man. Evil, in fact, cannot be accepted, it must be singled out and destroyed through punishment: the destruction of Sodom had precisely this function. But the Lord does not desire the death of the wicked, but that he be converted and live (cf. Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11); his desire is always to forgive, to save, to give life, to transform evil into good. Well, it is precisely this divine desire that, in prayer, becomes man's desire and is expressed through the words of intercession. With his supplication, Abraham is lending his own voice, but also his own heart, to the divine will: God's desire is mercy, love and will of salvation, and this desire of God found in Abraham and in his prayer the possibility of manifesting itself in a concrete way within the history of men, to be present where there is need of grace. With the voice of his prayer, Abraham is giving voice to God's desire, which is not to destroy, but to save Sodom, to give life to the converted sinner.
This is what the Lord wishes, and his dialogue with Abraham is a prolonged and unmistakable manifestation of his merciful love. The need to find righteous men within the city becomes ever less exacting and in the end ten will suffice to save the totality of the population. For what reason Abraham stops at ten is not said in the text. Perhaps it is a number that indicates a minimum community nucleus (also today, ten persons are the necessary quorum for Jewish public prayer). Nevertheless, it is a small number, a small particle of good from which to save a great evil. However, not even ten righteous are found in Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities were destroyed. A destruction attested paradoxically as necessary precisely by Abraham's prayer of intercession. Precisely because that prayer revealed God's salvific will: the Lord was ready to forgive, he wished to do so, but the cities were closed in a total and paralyzing evil, without even a few innocent from which to begin to transform the evil into good. Because it is precisely this way of salvation that Abraham also requested: to be saved does not mean simply to flee from punishment, but to be liberated from the evil that dwells in us. It is not the punishment that must be eliminated, but sin, that rejection of God and of love that already bears punishment in itself.
The prophet Jeremiah would say to the rebellious people: "Your wickedness will chasten you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God" (Jeremiah 2:19). It is from this sadness and bitterness that the Lord wishes to save man liberating him from sin. But, of service therefore is a transformation from within, some occasion of good, a beginning from which to transform evil into good, hatred into love, revenge into forgiveness. Because of this the righteous must be inside the city, and Abraham continually repeats: "perhaps there, they will be found ..."
"There": is inside the sick reality that the germ of good must be which can heal and give back life. It is a word addressed also to us: that the germ of good be found in our cities; that we do everything so that there will be not just ten righteous, to really make our cities live and survive and to save ourselves from this interior bitterness which is the absence of God. And in the sick reality of Sodom and Gomorrah that germ of goodness was not found.
However, the mercy of God in the history of his people widens further. If to save Sodom ten righteous were sufficient, the prophet Jeremiah will say, in the name of the Almighty, that just one righteous will suffice to save Jerusalem.
"Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth; that I may pardon her" (5:1). The number has gone down again, God's goodness shows itself even greater. And yet this is still not enough, the superabundant mercy of God does not find the answer of goodness that it seeks, and Jerusalem falls under the siege of the enemy.
It will be necessary for God himself to become that righteous one. And this is the mystery of the Incarnation: to guarantee a righteous one, he himself becomes man. There will always be a righteous one because he is: it is necessary, however, that God himself become that righteous one. The infinite and amazing divine love will be fully manifested when the Son of God becomes man, the definitive Righteous One, the perfect Innocent One, who will bring salvation to the whole world by dying on the cross, forgiving and interceding for those who "know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). Then the prayer of every man will find its answer, then every intercession of ours will be fully heard.
Dear brothers and sisters, the supplication of Abraham, our father in the faith, teaches us to open our hearts ever more to the superabundant mercy of God, so that in our daily prayer we will be able to desire the salvation of humanity and to ask for it with perseverance and trust in the Lord who is great in love.
On prayer 4
ON JACOB'S WRESTLING WITH GOD "He Who Allows Himself to Be Blessed by God ... Renders the World Blessed"
VATICAN CITY, MAY 25, 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to reflect with you upon a text from the Book of Genesis that narrates a rather particular episode in the history of the Patriarch Jacob. It is not an easily interpreted passage, but it is an important one for our life of faith and prayer; it recounts the story of his wrestling with God at the ford of the Jabbok, from which we have just heard a passage.
As you will remember, Jacob had taken away his twin brother Esau's birthright in exchange for a dish of lentils and then, through deception, had stolen the blessing of his father Isaac who was already quite advanced in years, by taking advantage of his blindness. Having escaped Esau's fury, he had taken refuge with a relative, Laban; he married and had grown rich and now was returning to the land of his birth, ready to face his brother after having put several prudent measures in place. But when he is all ready for this encounter -- after having made those who were with him cross the ford of the stream marking Esau's territory -- Jacob, now left alone, is suddenly attacked by an unknown figure who wrestles with him for the whole of the night. It is this hand to hand battle which we find in Chapter 32 of the Book of Genesis that becomes for him a singular experience of God.
Night is the favorable time for acting in secret, the best time, therefore, for Jacob to enter his brother's territory without being seen, and perhaps with the illusion of taking Esau unawares. But instead, it is he who is surprised by an unexpected attack for which he was not prepared. He had used his cunning to try to save himself from a dangerous situation, he thought he had succeeded in having everything under control, and instead he now finds himself facing a mysterious battle that overtakes him in solitude without giving him the possibility of organizing an adequate defense. Defenseless -- in the night -- the Patriarch Jacob fights with someone. The text does not specify the aggressor's identity; it uses a Hebraic term that generically indicates "a man," "one, someone;" it therefore has a vague, undetermined definition that intentionally keeps the assailant in mystery. It is dark. Jacob is unsuccessful in seeing his opponent distinctly, and also for the reader he remains unknown. Someone is setting himself against the patriarch; this is the only sure fact furnished by the narrator. Only at the end, once the battle has ended and that "someone" has disappeared, only then will Jacob name him and be able to say that he has wrestled with God.
The episode unfolds, therefore, in obscurity and it is difficult to perceive not only the identity of Jacob's assailant, but also the battle's progress. Reading the passage, it is hard to establish which of the two contenders succeeds in having the upper hand. The verbs used often lack an explicit subject, and the actions progress in an almost contradictory way, so that when one thinks that either of the two has prevailed, the next action immediately contradicts it and presents the other as the winner. At the beginning, in fact, Jacob seems to be the strongest, and the adversary -- the text states -- "did not prevail against him" (verse 26 ); yet he strikes the hollow of his thigh, dislocating it. One would then be led to think that Jacob has to surrender, but instead it's the other who asks him to let him go; and the patriarch refuses, laying down a condition: "I will not let you go, unless you bless me" (verse 27). He who by deception had defrauded his brother of the firstborn's blessing, now demands it from the stranger in whom perhaps he begins to see divine characteristics, but still without being able to truly recognize him.
The rival, who seemed to be held and therefore defeated by Jacob, instead of submitting to his request, asks his name: "What is your name?" And the patriarch responds: "Jacob" (verse 28). Here the battle undergoes an important development. To know someone's name, in fact, implies a kind of power over the person, since the name, in biblical thinking, contains the most profound reality of the individual; it unveils his secret and his destiny. Knowing someone's name therefore means knowing the truth of the other, and this allows one to be able to dominate him. When, therefore, at the stranger's request, Jacob reveals his own name, he is handing himself over to his opponent; it is a form of surrender, of the total giving over of himself to the other.
But in this act of surrender, Jacob paradoxically also emerges as a winner, because he receives a new name, together with an acknowledgement of victory on the part of his adversary, who says to him: "Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed" (verse 29 ). "Jacob" was a name that recalled the patriarch's problematic beginnings; in Hebrew, in fact, it calls to mind the word "heel," and takes the reader back to the moment of Jacob's birth when, coming from the maternal womb, his hand took hold of his twin brother's heel (cf. Gen. 25:26), as though prefiguring the overtaking of his brother's rights in his adult life; but the name Jacob also calls to mind the verb "to deceive, to supplant." Now, in the battle, the patriarch reveals to his opponent, through an act of entrustment and surrender, his own reality as a deceiver, a supplanter; but the other, who is God, transforms this negative reality into something positive: Jacob the deceiver becomes Israel; he is given a new name that signifies a new identity. But also here, the account maintains its intended duplicity, since the most probable meaning of the name Israel is "God is mighty, God triumphs."
Jacob therefore prevailed, he triumphed -- it is the adversary himself who affirms it – but his new identity, received by the same adversary, affirms and testifies to God's triumph. When in turn Jacob will ask his contender's name, he will refuse to pronounce it, but he will reveal himself in an unequivocal gesture, by giving him his blessing. That blessing which the patriarch had asked at the beginning of the battle is now granted him. And it is not the blessing grasped by deception, but that given freely by God, which Jacob is able to receive because now he is alone, without protection, without cunning and deception. He gives himself over unarmed; he accepts surrendering himself and confessing the truth about himself. And so, at the end of the battle, having received the blessing, the patriarch is able finally to recognize the other, the God of the blessing: "I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved" (verse 31 ), and now he can cross the ford, the bearer of a new name but "conquered" by God and marked forever, limping from the wound he received.
The explanations that biblical exegesis can give regarding this passage are numerous; in particular, the learned recognize in it intentions and literary components of various kinds, as well as references to a few popular stories. But when these elements are taken up by the sacred authors and included in the biblical account, they change in meaning and the text opens itself up to broader dimensions. The episode of the wrestling at the Jabbok is offered to the believer as a paradigmatic text in which the people of Israel speak of their own origins and trace out the features of a particular relationship between God and man. For this reason, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church also affirms: "the spiritual tradition of the Church has retained the symbol of prayer as a battle of faith and as the triumph of perseverance" (No. 2573).
The biblical text speaks to us of the long night of the search for God, of the battle to know his name and to see his face; it is the night of prayer that, with tenacity and perseverance, asks a blessing and a new name from God, a new reality as the fruit of conversion and of forgiveness.
In this way, Jacob's night at the ford of the Jabbok becomes for the believer a point of reference for understanding his relationship with God, which in prayer finds its ultimate expression. Prayer requires trust, closeness, in a symbolic "hand to hand" not with a God who is an adversary and enemy, but with a blessing Lord who remains always mysterious, who appears unattainable. For this reason the sacred author uses the symbol of battle, which implies strength of soul, perseverance, tenacity in reaching what we desire. And if the object of one's desire is a relationship with God, his blessing and his love, then the battle cannot but culminate in the gift of oneself to God, in the recognition of one's own weakness, which triumphs precisely when we reach the point of surrendering ourselves into the merciful hands of God.
Dear brothers and sisters, our whole life is like this long night of battle and prayer that is meant to end in the desire and request for God's blessing, which cannot be grasped or won by counting on our own strength, but must be received from him with humility, as a gratuitous gift that allows us, in the end, to recognize the face of the Lord. And when this happens, our whole reality changes; we receive a new name and the blessing of God. But even more: Jacob, who receives a new name, who becomes Israel, also gives a new name to the place where he wrestled with God; he prayed there and renamed it Peniel, which means "the Face of God." With this name, he recognized that place as filled with God's presence; he renders the land sacred by imprinting upon it the memory of that mysterious encounter with God. He who allows himself to be blessed by God, who abandons himself to him, who allows himself to be transformed by him, renders the world blessed. May the Lord help us to fight the good fight of faith (cf. Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7) and to ask his blessing in our prayer, so that he may renew in us the anticipation of seeing his face. Thank you.
On prayer 5
POPE'S MEDITATION AT CONCLUSION OF MARIAN MONTH
"We Wish to Join Our Voices to Mary's, in Her Own Canticle of Praise"
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 1, 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am happy to join you in prayer, at the feet of the Holy Virgin, whom we contemplate today on the feast of the Visitation. I greet and thank Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica, the cardinals and bishops present, and all of you who have gathered here this evening.
As conclusion of the month of May, we wish to join our voices to Mary's, in her own canticle of praise. With her we wish to praise the Lord for the wonders he continues to do in the life of the Church and of each one of us. In particular, it has been and continues to be for all of us a motive of great joy and gratitude, to have begun this Marian month with the memorable beatification of John Paul II. What a great gift of grace for the whole Church was the life of this great Pope! His testimony continues to illumine our lives and drives us to be true disciples of the Lord, to follow him with the courage of faith, to love him with the same enthusiasm with which he gave his own life.
Meditating today on Mary's Visitation, we are impelled to reflect on this courage of the faith. She whom Elizabeth received in her home is the Virgin who "believed" in the Angel's annunciation and responded with faith, accepting with courage the plan of God for her life and thus receiving, in herself, the Eternal Word of the Most High. As my Blessed Predecessor pointed out, in the encyclical "Redemptoris Mater," through the faith that Mary pronounced with her "fiat," "she abandoned herself to God without reservations and 'consecrated herself totally as the Lord's handmaid, in the person and the work of her Son'" (No. 13; cf., "Lumen Gentium," No. 56). Because of this, in her greeting Elizabeth exclaims: "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled" (Luke 1:45).
Mary truly believed that "with God nothing will be impossible" (v. 37) and, firm in this confidence, she allowed herself to be led by the Holy Spirit in the daily obedience of his plans. How can we not desire to have the same confident abandonment in our life? How can we oppose this happiness born from a profound and intimate familiarity with Jesus? Because of this, addressing ourselves to her "full of grace," we pray that she will obtain for us also, from Divine Providence, the ability to say every day our "yes" to God's plans with the same humble and sincere faith with which she pronounced hers. May she who, receiving in herself the Word of God, abandoned herself to him without reservations, lead us to a more generous and unconditional response to his plans, also when we are called to embrace the cross. In this Easter Season, while we invoke from the Risen One the gift of the Holy Spirit, we entrust to the maternal intercession of the Virgin the Church and the whole world. May Mary Most Holy, who in the Cenacle with the Apostles invoked the Consoler, obtain for all the baptized, the grace of a life illumined by the mystery of the crucified and risen God, the gift to be able to accept increasingly in our life, the lordship of him who with his resurrection defeated death. Dear friends, upon each one of you, and of your loved ones, in particular all those who suffer, I impart from my heart the Apostolic Blessing.
On prayer 6
St. Peter's Square Wednesday, 15 June 2011 [
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The prophets, with their teaching and their preaching, had great importance in the religious history of ancient Israel. Among them the figure of Elijah stands out, impelled by God to bring the people to conversion. His name means “the Lord is my God”, and his life develops in accordance with this name, entirely dedicated to kindling in the people gratitude to the Lord as the one God.
The Book of Sirach [Ecclesiastes] says of Elijah: “then the prophet Elijah arose like a fire, and his word burned like a torch” (Sir 48:1). With this flame Israel found its way back to God. In his ministry Elijah prayed; he called upon the Lord to restore to life the son of a widow who had given him hospitality (cf. 1 Kings 17:17-24), he cried out to God in his weariness and anguish while fleeing to the desert, for Queen Jezabel sought to kill him (cf. 1 Kings 19:1-4), however it was on Mount Carmel in particular that he showed his full power as an intercessor when, before all Israel, he prayed the Lord to show himself and to convert the people’s hearts. This is the episode recounted in chapter 18 of the First Book of Kings, on which we are reflecting today.
It was in the kingdom of the north, in the ninth century before Christ at the time of King Ahab, at a moment when Israel had created for itself a situation of blatant syncretism. Beside the Lord, the people worshipped Baal, the reassuring idol from which it was believed that the gift of rain came, and to which, was therefore attributed the power of making fields fertile and giving life to people and animals.
In spite of claiming to follow the Lord, an invisible and mysterious God, the people were also seeking security in a comprehensible and predictable god from whom they believed they could obtain fruitfulness and prosperity in exchange for sacrifices. Israel was capitulating to the seduction of idolatry, the continuous temptation of believers, deluding itself that it could “serve two masters” (cf. Mt 6:24; Lk 16:13) and facilitate the impracticable routes of faith in the Almighty even by putting its faith in a powerless god, fashioned by men.
It was exactly in order to unmask the deceptive foolishness of this attitude that Elijah gathered the People of Israel on Mount Carmel and confronted it with the need to make a decision: “If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). And the prophet, a herald of God’s love, did not abandon his people as they faced this decision; rather, he helped it by pointing out a sign that would reveal the truth. Both he and the prophets of Baal were to prepare a sacrifice and pray and the true God would reveal himself, responding with fire that would burn the offering. Thus began the confrontation between the prophet Elijah and the followers of Baal, which was in fact between the Lord of Israel, the God of salvation and of life, and the mute idol with no substance which could do nothing, neither good nor evil (cf. Jer 10:5). And so the confrontation also began between two completely different approaches to God and to prayer. The prophets of Baal, in fact, cried aloud, worked themselves up, danced and leaped about and falling into a state of ecstasy, even going so far as to cut themselves, “with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them” (1 Kings 18:28). They had recourse to themselves in order to call on their god, trusting to their own devices to provoke his answer. In this way the idol’s deceptive reality was revealed: it was thought up by human beings as something that could be used, that could be managed with their own efforts, to which they could gain access through their own strength and their own vital force. Worship of an idol, instead of opening the human heart to Otherness, to a liberating relationship that permits the person to emerge from the narrow space of his own selfishness to enter the dimensions of love and of reciprocal giving, shuts the person into the exclusive and desperate circle of self-seeking. And the deception is such that in worshipping an idol people find themselves forced to extreme actions, in the vain attempt to subject it to their own will. For this reason the prophets of Baal went so far as to hurt themselves, to wound their bodies, in a dramatically ironic action: in order to get an answer, a sign of life out of their god, they covered themselves with blood, symbolically covering themselves with death.
Elijah’s prayerful attitude was entirely different. He asked the people to draw close, thereby involving it in his action and his supplication. The purpose of the challenge he addressed to the prophets of Baal was to restore to God the people which had strayed, following idols; therefore he wanted Israel to be united with him, to become a participator in and a protagonist of his prayer and of everything that was happening. Then the prophet built an altar, using, as the text says, “twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying: ‘Israel shall be your name’” (v. 31). Those stones represented the whole of Israel and are the tangible memorial of the story of the choice, predilection and salvation of which the people had been the object. The liturgical gesture of Elijah had crucial importance; the altar was a sacred place that indicated the Lord’s presence, but those stones of which it was made represented the people which now, through the prophet’s mediation was symbolically placed before God, it had become an “altar”, a place of offering and sacrifice.
Yet it was necessary for the symbol to become reality, for Israel to recognize the true God and to rediscover its own identity as the Lord’s People. Elijah therefore asked God to show himself, and those twelve stones that were to remind Israel of its truth also served to remind the Lord of his fidelity, for which the prophet appealed in prayer. The words of his invocation are full of meaning and faith: “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back” (vv. 36-37). Elijah turned to the Lord, calling him the God of the Fathers, thus implicitly calling to mind the divine promises and the story of the choosing and Covenant that bound the Lord indissolubly to his people. The involvement of God in human history is such that his name was inseparably connected with that of the patriarchs and the prophet spoke that holy so that God might remember and show himself to be faithful, but also so that Israel might feel called by name and rediscover its faithfulness. In fact the divine title spoken by Elijah seems somewhat surprising. Instead of using the customary formula, “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”, he used a less known title: “God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel”. The replacement of the name “Jacob” by “Israel” calls to mind Jacob’s struggle at the ford of the Jabbok, with the change of name to which the narrator explicitly refers (cf. Gen 32:31) and of which I spoke in one of the recent catecheses. The substitution acquires a pregnant meaning in Elijah’s invocation. The prophet is praying for the people of the kingdom of the north which was called, precisely, Israel, as distinct from Judah, which indicated the kingdom of the south. And now, this people, which seemed to have forgotten its own origins and privileged relationship with the Lord, heard itself called by name while the name of God, God of the Patriarch and God of the People, was spoken: “O Lord, God... of Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel”.
The people for which Elijah prayed was faced with its own truth, and the prophet asked that the truth of the Lord might also be shown and that he intervene to convert Israel, detaching it from the deception of idolatry and thereby bringing it to salvation. His request was that the people might finally realize and know in fullness, who truly is its God, and make a decisive choice to follow him alone, the true God. For only in this way is God recognized for what he is, Absolute and Transcendent, ruling out the possibility of setting him beside other gods, which would deny that he was absolute and relativize him. This is the faith that makes Israel the People of God; it is the faith proclaimed by the well known text of the Shema‘ Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love, the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Dt 6:4-5). The believer must respond to the Absolute of God with an absolute, total love that binds his whole life, his strength, his heart. And it was for the very heart of his people that the prophet, with his prayers, was imploring conversion: “that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back” (1 Kings 18:37). Elijah, with his intercession, asked of God what God himself wanted to do, to show himself in all his mercy, faithful to his reality as the Lord of life who forgives, converts and transforms. And this is what happened: “then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The Lord he is God; the Lord, he is God’” (vv. 38-39). Fire, the element both necessary and terrible, associated with the divine manifestations of the burning bush and of Sinai, then served to mark the love of God that responds to prayer and was revealed to his people. Baal, the mute and powerless God, had not responded to the invocations of his prophets; the Lord on other other hand, responded, and unequivocally, not only by burning the sacrifice but even by drying up all the water that had been poured round the altar. Israel could no longer have doubts; divine mercy came to meet its weakness, its doubts, its lack of faith. Now Baal, a vain idol, was vanquished, and the people which had seemed to be lost, rediscovered the path of truth and rediscovered itself.
Dear brothers and sisters, what does this history of the past tell us? What is the present of this history? First of all the priority of the first Commandment is called into question: worship God alone. Whenever God disappears, man falls into the slavery of idolatry, as the totalitarian regimes demonstrated in our time, and as the various forms of nihilism that make man dependent on idols, on idolatry, also demonstrate; they enslave him. Secondly, the primary aim of prayer is conversion, the flame of God that transforms our heart and enables us to see God and so to live in accordance with God and live for others. And the third point. The Fathers tell us that this history of a prophet is prophetic too if, they say, it foreshadows the future, the future Christ; it is a step on the journey towards Christ. And they tell us that here we see God’s true fire: the love that guided the Lord even to the cross, to the total gift of himself. True worship of God, therefore, is giving oneself to God and to men and women, true worship is love. And true worship of God does not destroy but renews, transforms. Of course, the fire of God, the fire of love burns, transforms, purifies, but in this very way does not destroy but rather creates the truth of our being, recreates our heart. And thus, truly alive through the grace of the fire of the Holy Spirit, of love of God, we are worshippers in spirit and in truth. Many thanks.
On prayer 7
St. Peter's Square Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In recent catecheses we have reflected on some of the Old Testament figures who are particularly significant for our reflection on prayer. I have talked about Abraham, who interceded for foreign cities, about Jacob, who in his nocturnal struggle received the blessing, about Moses, who invoked forgiveness for his people and about Elijah, who prayed for the conversion of Israel.
With today’s catechesis I would like to begin a new stretch of the journey: instead of commenting on specific episodes of people praying, we shall enter “the book of prayer” par excellence, the Book of Psalms. In the forthcoming catecheses we shall read and meditate on several of the most beautiful Psalms that are dearest to the Church’s tradition of prayer. Today I would like to introduce them by talking about the Book of Psalms as a whole. The Psalter appears as a “formulary” of prayers, a collection of 150 Psalms which the Biblical Tradition offers the people of believers so that they become their and our prayer, our way of speaking and of relating to God. This Book expresses the entire human experience with its multiple facets and the whole range of sentiments that accompany human existence.
In the Psalms are expressed and interwoven with joy and suffering, the longing for God and the perception of our own unworthiness, happiness and the feeling of abandonment, trust in God and sorrowful loneliness, fullness of life and fear of death. The whole reality of the believer converges in these prayers. The People of Israel first and then the Church adopted them as a privileged mediation in relations with the one God and an appropriate response to God’s self revelation in history.
Since the Psalms are prayers they are expressions of the heart and of faith with which everyone can identify and in which that experience of special closeness to God — to which every human being is called — is communicated. Moreover the whole complexity of human life is distilled in the complexity of the different literary forms of the various Psalms: hymns, laments, individual entreaties and collective supplications, hymns of thanksgiving, penitential psalms, sapiential psalms and the other genres that are to be found in these poetic compositions.
Despite this multiplicity of expression, two great areas that sum up the prayer of the Psalter may be identified: supplication, connected to lamentation, and praise. These are two related dimensions that are almost inseparable since supplication is motivated by the certainty that God will respond, thus opening a person to praise and thanksgiving; and praise and thanksgiving stem from the experience of salvation received; this implies the need for help which the supplication expresses.
In his supplication the person praying bewails and describes his situation of anguish, danger or despair or, as in the penitential Psalms, he confesses his guilt, his sin, asking forgiveness. He discloses his needy state to the Lord, confident that he will be heard and this involves the recognition of God as good, as desirous of goodness and as one who “loves the living” (cf. Wis 11:26), ready to help, to save and to forgive. In this way, for example, the Psalmist in Psalm 31 prays: “In you, O Lord, do I seek refuge; let me never be put to shame... take me out of the net which is hidden for me, for you are my refuge” (vv. 2,5). In the lamentation, therefore, something like praise, which is foretold in the hope of divine intervention, can already emerge, and it becomes explicit when divine salvation becomes a reality.
Likewise in the Psalms of thanksgiving and praise, recalling the gift received or contemplating the greatness of God’s mercy, we also recognize our own smallness and the need to be saved which is at the root of supplication. In this way we confess to God our condition as creatures, inevitably marked by death, yet bearing a radical desire for life. The Psalmist therefore exclaims in Psalm 86 : “I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name for ever. For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol” (vv. 12-13). In the prayer of the Psalms, supplication and praise are interwoven in this manner and fused in a single hymn that celebrates the eternal grace of the Lord who stoops down to our frailty.
It was precisely in order to permit the people of believers to join in this hymn that the Psalter was given to Israel and to the Church. Indeed the Psalms teach how to pray. In them, the word of God becomes a word of prayer — and they are the words of the inspired Psalmist — which also becomes the word of the person who prays the Psalms.
This is the beauty and the special characteristic of this Book of the Bible: the prayers it contains, unlike other prayers we find in Sacred Scripture, are not inserted in a narrative plot that specifies their meaning and role. The Psalms are given to the believer exactly as the text of prayers whose sole purpose is to become the prayer of the person who assimilates them and addresses them to God. Since they are a word of God, anyone who prays the Psalms speaks to God using the very words that God has given to us, addresses him with the words that he himself has given us. So it is that in praying the Psalms we learn to pray. They are a school of prayer.
Something similar happens when a child begins to speak, namely, he learns how to express his own feelings, emotions, and needs with words that do not belong to him innately but that he learns from his parents and from those who surround him. What the child wishes to express is his own experience, but his means of expression comes from others; and little by little he makes them his own, the words received from his parents become his words and through these words he also learns a way of thinking and feeling, he gains access to a whole world of concepts and in it develops and grows, and relates to reality, to people and to God. In the end his parents’ language has become his language, he speaks with words he has received from others but which have now become his own
This is what happens with the prayer of the Psalms. They are given to us so that we may learn to address God, to communicate with him, to speak to him of ourselves with his words, to find a language for the encounter with God. And through those words, it will also be possible to know and to accept the criteria of his action, to draw closer to the mystery of his thoughts and ways (cf. Is 55:8-9), so as to grow constantly in faith and in love.
Just as our words are not only words but teach us a real and conceptual world, so too these prayers teach us the heart of God, for which reason not only can we speak to God but we can learn who God is and, in learning how to speak to him, we learn to be a human being, to be ourselves.
In this regard the title which the Jewish tradition has given to the Psalter is significant. It is called tehillîm, a Hebrew word which means “praise”, from the etymological root that we find in the expression “Alleluia”, that is, literally “praised be the Lord”. This book of prayers, therefore, although it is so multiform and complex with its different literary genres and its structure alternating between praise and supplication, is ultimately a book of praise which teaches us to give thanks, to celebrate the greatness of God’s gift, to recognize the beauty of his works and to glorify his holy Name. This is the most appropriate response to the Lord’s self manifestation and to the experience of his goodness.
By teaching us to pray, the Psalms teach us that even in desolation, even in sorrow, God’s presence endures, it is a source of wonder and of solace; we can weep, implore, intercede and complain, but in the awareness that we are walking toward the light, where praise can be definitive. As Psalm 36 teaches us: “with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light” (Ps 36:10).
However, in addition to this general title of the book, the Jewish tradition has given many Psalms specific names, attributing most of them to King David. A figure of outstanding human and theological depth, David was a complex figure who went through the most varied fundamental experiences of life. When he was young he was a shepherd of his father’s flock, then passing through chequered and at times dramatic vicissitudes, he became King of Israel and pastor of the People of God. A man of peace, he fought many wars; unflagging and tenacious in his quest for God, he betrayed God’s love and this is characteristic: he always remained a seeker of God even though he sinned frequently and seriously. As a humble penitent he received the divine pardon, accepted the divine punishment and accepted a destiny marked by suffering. Thus David with all his weaknesses was a king “after the heart of God” (cf. 1 Sam 13:14), that is, a passionate man of prayer, a man who knew what it meant to implore and to praise. The connection of the Psalms with this outstanding King of Israel is therefore important because he is a messianic figure, an Annointed One of the Lord, in whom, in a certain way, the mystery of Christ is foreshadowed.
Equally important and meaningful are the manner and frequency with which the words of the Psalms are taken up in the New Testament, assuming and accentuating the prophetic value suggested by the connection of the Psalter with the messianic figure of David. In the Lord Jesus, who in his earthly life prayed with the Psalms, they were definitively fulfilled and revealed their fullest and most profound meaning.
The prayers of the Psalter with which we speak to God, speak to us of him, speak to us of the Son, an image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), which fully reveals to us the Father’s Face. Christians, therefore, in praying the Psalms pray to the Father in Christ and withChrist, assuming those hymns in a new perspective which has in the paschal mystery the ultimate key to its interpretation. The horizon of the person praying thus opens to unexpected realities, every Psalm acquires a new light in Christ and the Psalter can shine out in its full infinite richness.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us therefore take this holy book in our hands, let us allow God to teach us to turn to him, let us make the Psalter a guide which helps and accompanies us daily on the path of prayer. And let us too ask, as did Jesus’ disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11:1), opening our hearts to receive the Teacher’s prayer, in which all prayers are brought to completion. Thus, made sons in the Son, we shall be able to speak to God calling him “Our Father”. Many thanks.
On prayer 8
Castel Gandolfo Wednesday, 3 August 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am very glad to see you here in the square at Castel Gandolfo and to resume the audiences after the interval in July. I would like to continue with the subject we have embarked on, that is, a “school of prayer”, and today, in a slightly different way and without straying from this theme, I would also like to mention certain spiritual and concrete aspects which seem to me useful, not only for those who — in one part of the world — are spending their summer holidays like us, but also for all who are involved in daily work.
When we have a break from our activities, especially in the holidays, we often take up a book we want to read. It is on this very aspect that I would first like to reflect today.
Each one of us needs time and space for recollection, meditation and calmness.... Thanks be to God that this is so! In fact, this need tells us that we are not made for work alone, but also to think, to reflect or even simply to follow with our minds and our hearts a tale, a story in which to immerse ourselves, in a certain sense “to lose ourselves” to find ourselves subsequently enriched.
Of course, many of these books to read, which we take in our hands during our vacation are at best an escape, and this is normal. Yet various people, particularly if they have more time in which to take a break and to relax, devote themselves to something more demanding.
I would therefore like to make a suggestion: why not discover some of the books of the Bible which are not commonly well known? Or those from which we heard certain passages in the liturgy but which we never read in their entirety? Indeed, many Christians never read the Bible and have a very limited and superficial knowledge of it. The Bible, as the name says, is a collection of books, a small “library” that came into being in the course of a millennium.
Some of these “small books” of which it is composed are almost unknown to the majority, even people who are good Christians.
Some are very short, such as the Book of Tobit, a tale that contains a lofty sense of family and marriage; or the Book of Esther, in which the Jewish Queen saves her people from extermination with her faith and prayer; or the Book of Ruth, a stranger who meets God and experiences his providence, which is even shorter. These little books can be read in an hour. More demanding and true masterpieces are the Book of Job, which faces the great problem of innocent suffering; Ecclesiastes is striking because of the disconcerting modernity with which it calls into question the meaning of life and of the world; and the Song of Songs, a wonderfulsymbolic poem of human love. As you see, these are all books of the Old Testament. And what about the New? The New Testament is of course better known and its literary genres are less diversified. Yet the beauty of reading a Gospel at one sitting must be discovered, just as I also recommend the Acts of the Apostles, or one of the Letters.
To conclude, dear friends, today I would like to suggest that you keep the Holy Bible within reach, during the summer period or in your breaks, in order to enjoy it in a new way by reading some of its books straight through, those that are less known and also the most famous, such as the Gospels, but without putting them down.
By so doing moments of relaxation can become in addition to a cultural enrichment also an enrichment of the spirit which is capable of fostering the knowledge of God and dialogue with him, prayer. And this seems to be a splendid holiday occupation: to take a book of the Bible in order to have a little relaxation and at the same time to enter the great realm of the word of God and to deepen our contact with the Eternal One, as the very purpose of the free time that the Lord gives us.
On Prayer 9
BENEDICT XVI GENERAL AUDIENCE
Castel Gandolfo Wednesday, 10 August 2011
“Oasis” of the spirit
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In every age, men and women who have consecrated their lives to God in prayer — like monks and nuns — have founded their communities in particularly beautiful places: in the countryside, on hilltops, in mountain valleys, on the shores of lakes or of the sea and even on small islands. These places combine two very important elements for contemplative life: the beauty of creation, which evokes the beauty of the Creator, and silence, which is guaranteed by living far from cities and the great thoroughfares of the media.
Silence is the environmental condition most conducive to contemplation, to listening to God and to meditation. The very fact of enjoying silence and letting ourselves be “filled”, so to speak, with silence, disposes us to prayer.
The great prophet Elijah on Mount Horeb — that is, Sinai — experienced a strong squall, then an earthquake and finally flashes of fire, but he did not recognize God’s voice in them; instead, he recognized it in a light breeze (cf. 1 Kings 19:11-13).
God speaks in silence, but we must know how to listen. This is why monasteries are oases in which God speaks to humanity; and in them we find the cloister, a symbolic place because it is an enclosed space yet open to Heaven.
Tomorrow, dear friends, we shall commemorate St Clare of Assisi. Therefore, I would like to recall one such “oasis” of the spirit that is particularly dear to the Franciscan family and to all Christians: the little convent of St Damian, situated just beneath the city of Assisi, among the olive groves that slope down towards Santa Maria degli Angeli [St Mary of the Angels]. It was beside this little church, which Francis restored after his conversion, that Clare and her first companions established their community, living on prayer and humble tasks. They were called the “Poor Sisters” and their “form of life” was the same as that of the Friars Minor: “To observe the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rule of St Clare, 1, 2), preserving the union of reciprocal charity (cf. ibid, X, 7) and observing in particular the poverty and humility of Jesus and of his Most Holy Mother (cf. ibid., XII, 13).
The silence and beauty of the place in which the monastic community dwells — a simple and austere beauty — are like a reflection of the spiritual harmony which the community itself seeks to create. The world, particularly Europe, is spangled with these oases of the spirit, some very ancient, others recent, yet others have been restored by new communities. Looking atthings from a spiritual perspective, these places of the spirit are the backbone of the world! It is no accident that many people, especially in their breaks, visit these places and spend several days here: the soul too, thanks be to God, has its needs!
Let us therefore remember St Clare. But let us also remember other saints who remind us of the importance of turning our gaze to the “things of heaven”, as did St Edith Stein, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Carmelite, co-Patroness of Europe, whom we celebrated yesterday. And today, 10 August, we cannot forget St Lawrence, deacon and martyr, with special congratulations to the Romans who have always venerated him as one of their Patrons. Lastly, let us turn our gaze to the Virgin Mary, that she may teach us to love silence and prayer.
On prayer 10
Castel Gandolfo Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are still in the light of the Feast of the Assumption, which — as I said — is a Feast of hope. Mary has arrived in Heaven and this is our destination: we can all reach Heaven. The question is: how? Mary has arrived there. It is she — the Gospel says — “who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:45).
Thus Mary believed, she entrusted herself to God, bent her will to the will of the Lord and so was truly on the most direct road, the road to Heaven. Believing, entrusting oneself to the Lord and complying with his will: this is the essential approach.
Today I do not want to talk about this whole journey of faith; I want to speak of only one small aspect of the life of prayer — which is life in contact with God — namely, meditation. And what is meditation? It means “remembering” all that God has done and not forgetting his many great benefits (cf. Ps 103:2b).
We often see only the negative things; we must also keep in mind all that is positive, the gifts that God has made us; we must be attentive to the positive signs that come from God and must remember them. Let us therefore speak of a type of prayer which in the Christian tradition is known as “mental prayer”. We are usually familiar with vocal prayer.
The heart and the mind must of course take part in this prayer. However we are speaking today of a meditation that does not consist of words but rather is a way of making contact with the heart of God in our mind. And here Mary is a very real model. Luke the Evangelist repeated several times that Mary, “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (2:19; cf. 2:51b). As a good custodian, she does not forget, she was attentive to all that the Lord told her and did for her, and she meditated, in other words she considered various things, pondering them in her heart.
Therefore, she who “believed” in the announcement of the Angel and made herself the means of enabling the eternal Word of the Most High to become incarnate also welcomed in her heart the wonderful miracle of that human-divine birth; she meditated on it and paused to reflect on what God was working within her, in order to welcome the divine will in her life and respond to it. The mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God and of Mary’s motherhood is of such magnitude that it requires interiorization; it is not only something physical which God brought about within her, but is something that demanded interiorization on the part of Mary whoendeavours to deepen her understanding of it, to interpret its meaning, to comprehend its consequences and implications.
Thus, day after day, in the silence of ordinary life, Mary continued to treasure in her heart the sequence of marvellous events that she witnessed until the supreme test of the Cross and the glory of the Resurrection. Mary lived her life to the full, her daily duties, her role as a mother, but she knew how to reserve an inner space to reflect on the word and will of God, on what was occurring within her and on the mysteries of the life of her Son.
In our time we are taken up with so many activities and duties, worries and problems: we often tend to fill all of the spaces of the day, without leaving a moment to pause and reflect and to nourish our spiritual life, contact with God.
Mary teaches us how necessary it is to find in our busy day, moments for silent recollection, to meditate on what the Lord wants to teach us, on how he is present and active in the world and in our life: to be able to stop for a moment and meditate. St Augustine compares meditation on the mysteries of God to the assimilation of food and uses a verb that recurs throughout the Christian tradition, “to ruminate”; that is, the mysteries of God should continually resonate within us so that they become familiar to us, guide our lives and nourish us, as does the food we need to sustain us.
St Bonaventure, moreover, with reference to the words of Sacred Scripture, says that “they should always be ruminated upon so as to be able to gaze on them with ardent application of the soul,” (Coll. In Hex, ed. Quaracchi 1934, p. 218). To meditate, therefore, means to create within us a situation of recollection, of inner silence, in order to reflect upon and assimilate the mysteries of our faith and what God is working within us; and not merely on the things that come and go.
We may undertake this “rumination” in various ways: for example, by taking a brief passage of Sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles or the Letters of the Apostles, or a passage from a spiritual author that brings us closer and makes the reality of God more present in our day; or we can even, ask our confessor or spiritual director to recommend something to us.
By reading and reflecting on what we have read, dwelling on it, trying to understand what it is saying to me, what it says today, to open our spirit to what the Lord wants to tell us and teach us. The Holy Rosary is also a prayer of meditation: in repeating the Hail Mary we are asked to think about and reflect on the Mystery which we have just proclaimed. But we can also reflect on some intense spiritual experience, or on words that stayed with us when we were taking part in the Sunday Eucharist. So, you see, there are many ways to meditate and thereby to make contact with God and to approach God; and in this way, to be journeying on towards Heaven.
Dear friends, making time for God regularly is a fundamental element for spiritual growth; it will be the Lord himself who gives us the taste for his mysteries, his words, his presence and action, for feeling how beautiful it is when God speaks with us; he will enable us to understand more deeply what he expects of me. This, ultimately, is the very aim of meditation: to entrust ourselves increasingly to the hands of God, with trust and love, certain that in the end it is only by doing his will that we are truly happy.
BENEDICT XVI-GENERAL AUDIENCE
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Art and Prayer
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In this period I have recalled several times the need for every Christian, in the midst of the many occupations that fill our days, to find time for God and for prayer. The Lord himself gives us many opportunities to remember him. Today I would like to reflect briefly on one of these channels that can lead to God and can also be of help in the encounter with him. It is the way of artistic expression, part of that “via pulchritudinis” — the “way of beauty”, of which I have spoken several times and whose deepest meaning must be recovered by men and women today.
It may have happened on some occasion that you paused before a sculpture, a picture, a few verses of a poem or a piece of music that you found deeply moving, that gave you a sense of joy, a clear perception, that is, that what you beheld was not only matter, a piece of marble or bronze, a painted canvas, a collection of letters or an accumulation of sounds, but something greater, something that “speaks”, that can touch the heart, communicate a message, uplift the mind.
A work of art is a product of the creative capacity of the human being who in questioning visible reality, seeks to discover its deep meaning and to communicate it through the language of forms, colour and sound. Art is able to manifest and make visible the human need to surpass the visible, it expresses the thirst and the quest for the infinite.
Indeed it resembles a door open on to the infinite, on to a beauty and a truth that go beyond the daily routine. And a work of art can open the eyes of the mind and of the heart, impelling us upward.
However some artistic expressions are real highways to God, the supreme Beauty; indeed, they help us to grow in our relationship with him, in prayer. These are works that were born from faith and express faith. We can see an example of this when we visit a Gothic cathedral: we are enraptured by the vertical lines that soar skywards and uplift our gaze and our spirit, while at the same time we feel small yet long for fullness....
Or when we enter a Romanesque church we are spontaneously prompted to meditate and to pray. We perceive that these splendid buildings contain, as it were, the faith of generations. Or when we listen to a piece of sacred music that plucks at our heartstrings, our mind, as it were, expands and turns naturally to God.
I remember a concert of music by Johann Sebastian Bach in Munich, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. At the end of the last passage, one of the Cantatas, I felt, not by reasoning but in the depths of my heart, that what I had heard had communicated truth to me, the truth of the supreme composer, and impelled me to thank God. The Lutheran bishop of Munich was next to me and I said to him spontaneously: “in hearing this one understands: it is true; such strong faith is true, as well as the beauty that irresistibly expresses the presence of God’s truth”.
Yet how many pictures or frescos, fruits of the artist’s faith, in their form, in their colour, in their light, urge us to think of God and foster within us the desire to draw from the source of all beauty. What Marc Chagall, a great artist, wrote, remains profoundly true: that for centuries painters have dipped their paintbrush in that coloured alphabet which is the Bible. Thus how often artistic expression can bring us to remember God, to help us to pray or even to convert our heart!
Paul Claudel, a famous French poet, playwright and diplomat, precisely while he was listening in the Cathedral of Notre Dame to the singing of the Magnificat during Christmas Mass in 1886, had a tangible experience of God’s presence. He had not entered the church for reasons of faith but rather in order to seek arguments against Christians and instead God's grace worked actively in his heart.
Dear friends, I ask you to rediscover the importance of this path also for prayer, for our living relationship with God. Towns and villages throughout the world contain treasures of art that express faith and beckon to us to return to our relationship with God. May the visits to places filled with art, then, not only be opportunities for cultural enrichment — that too — but may they become above all moments of grace, incentives to strengthen our bond and our dialogue with the Lord so that — in switching from simple external reality to the more profound reality it expresses — we may pause to contemplate the ray of beauty that strikes us to the quick, that almost “wounds” us, and that invites us to rise toward God.
I end with a prayer from a Psalm, Psalm 27: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and contemplate his temple” (v. 4).
Let us hope that the Lord will help us to contemplate his beauty, both in nature and in works of art, so that we, moved by the light that shines from his face, may be a light for our neighbour. Many thanks.
BENEDICT XVI-GENERAL AUDIENCE
St. Peter's Square
Wednesday, 7 September 2011
Psalm 3: “Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God!”
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today we are resuming the Audiences in St Peter’s Square and the “school of prayer” which we attend together during these Wednesday Catecheses. I would like to begin by meditating on several Psalms, which, as I said last June, constitute the “prayer book” par excellence. The first Psalm I shall consider is a Psalm of lamentation and supplication, imbued with deep trust, in which the certainty of God’s presence forms the basis of the prayer that springs from the condition of extreme peril in which the person praying finds himself.
It is Psalm 3, which Jewish tradition ascribes to David at the moment when he fled from his son Absalom (cf. v. 1): this was one of the most dramatic and anguishing episodes in the King’s life, when his son usurped his royal throne and forced him to flee from Jerusalem for his life (cf. 2 Sam 15ff).
Thus David’s plight and anxiety serve as a background to this prayer and, helping us to understand it by presenting a typical situation in which such a Psalm may be recited. Every man and woman can recognize in the Psalmist’s cry those feelings of sorrow, bitter regret and yet at the same time trust in God, who, as the Bible tells us, had accompanied David on the flight from his city. The Psalm opens with an invocation to the Lord:
“O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of me, ‘There is no help for him in God’” (vv. 2-3).
The praying man's description of the situation is therefore marked by intensely dramatic tones. The idea of “multitude” is conveyed with the triple use of “many” — three words that in the original text are different terms with the same Hebrew root so as to give further emphasis to the enormity of the danger — in a repetitive manner, as it were, hammering it in. This insistence on the large number of his enemies serves to express the Psalmist’s perception of the absolute disproportion between him and his persecutors, which justifies and establishes the urgency of his plea for help; his oppressors are numerous, they get the upper hand, whereas the man praying is alone and defenceless, at the mercy of his assailants.
Yet the first word the Psalmist says is “Lord”; his cry opens with a call to God. A multitude threatens him and rises against him, generating fear that magnifies the threat, making it appear greater and even more terrifying; but the praying person does not let this vision of death prevail, he keeps intact his relationship with the God of life and turns to him first in search of help.
However his enemies attempt to break this bond with God and to injure their victim's faith. They insinuate that the Lord cannot intervene, they say that not even God can save him. Hence the attack is not only physical but involves the spiritual dimension too: “there is no help for him in God”, they say, targeting the central principle of the Psalmist's mind.
This is the extreme temptation to which the believer is subjected, the temptation to lose faith, to lose trust in God’s closeness. The righteous pass the final test, remain steadfast in faith, in the certainty of the truth and in full trust in God; in this way they find life and truth. It seems to me that here the Psalm touches us very personally: beset by many problems we are tempted to think that perhaps God does not save me, that he does not know me, perhaps he is not able to; the temptation to lose faith is our enemy's ultimate attack and if we are to find God, if we are to find life, we must resist it.
Thus in our Psalm the person praying is called to respond with faith to the attacks of the wicked: his foes — as I said — deny that God can help him; yet he invokes God, he calls him by name, “Lord”, and then turns to him with an emphatic “thou/you” that expresses a solid, sturdy relationship and implies the certainty of the divine response:
“But you, O Lord are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cry aloud to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy hill” (vv. 4-5).
The vision of the enemies then disappears, they have not triumphed because the one who believes in God is sure that God is his friend. Only the “thou/you” of God is left. Now only One opposes the “many”, but this One is far greater, far more powerful, than many adversaries.
The Lord is help, defence and salvation; as a shield he protects the person who entrusts himself to him and enables him to lift his head in the gesture of triumph and victory. Man is no longer alone, his foes are not invincible as they had seemed, for the Lord hears the cry of the oppressed and answers from the place of his presence, from his holy hill.
The human being cries out in anguish, in danger, in pain; the human being calls for help and God answers. In this interweaving of the human cry and the divine response we find the dialectic of prayer and the key to reading the entire history of salvation. The cry expresses the need for help and appeals to the other’s faithfulness; crying out means making an act of faith in God’s closeness and in his willingness to listen.
Prayer expresses the certainty of a divine presence already experienced and believed in, that is fully expressed in God’s salvific answers. This is important: that in our prayer the certainty of God's presence be given importance and be made present. Thus the Psalmist, who feels besieged by death, professes his faith in the God of life who, as a shield, surrounds him with an invulnerable protection; the one who believed he was as good as lost can raise his head because the Lord saves him; the praying person, threatened and mocked, is in glory, because God is his glory.
The divine response that hears his prayer totally reassures the Psalmist; even his fear is no more and his cry is soothed in peace, in deep inner tranquility. “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the Lord sustains me. I am not afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me round about” (vv. 6-7).
The praying person, even in peril, in the midst of battle, can sleep serenely in an unequivocal attitude of trusting abandonment. His foes have pitched camp around him, they are numerous, they besiege him, they rise up against him, taunting and trying to make him fall; instead he lies down and sleeps, calm and serene, sure of God's presence. And, on reawakening he finds God still beside him, as a custodian who does not fall asleep (cf. Ps 121:3-4), who sustains him, who holds his hand, who never abandons him.
The fear of death is vanquished by the presence of One who never dies. And even the night that is peopled by atavistic fears, the sorrowful night of solitude and anguished waiting is now transformed: what evoked death became the presence of the Eternal One.
The enemy’s visible, massive, impressive attack is countered by the invisible presence of God with all his invincible power. And it is to him that the Psalmist, after his trusting words, once again addresses the prayer: “Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God!” (v. 8a). His assailants “are rising” (cf. v. 2) against their victim; instead the One who will “arise” is the Lord and it will be to defeat them. God will deliver him, answering his cry. Thus the Psalm ends with the vision of liberation from the peril that kills, and from the temptation that can cause us to perish.
After addressing his plea to the Lord to arise and deliver him, the praying person describes the divine victory: the enemies — who with their unjust and cruel oppression are the symbol of all that opposes God and his plan of salvation — are defeated.
Struck on the mouth, they will no longer attack with their destructive violence and will be unable to instil evil and doubt in God’s presence and action. Their senseless and blasphemous talk is denied once and for all and is reduced to silence by the Lord's saving intervention (cf. v. 8bc). In this way the Psalmist can conclude his prayer with a sentence with liturgical connotations that celebrates the God of life in gratitude and praise: “Deliverance belongs to the Lord; your blessing be upon your people” (v. 9).
Dear brothers and sisters, Psalm 3 has presented us with a supplication full of trust and consolation. In praying this Psalm, we can make our own the sentiments of the Psalmist, a figure of the righteous person persecuted, who finds his fulfilment in Jesus.
In sorrow, in danger, in the bitterness of misunderstanding and offence the words of the Psalm open our hearts to the comforting certainty of faith. God is always close — even in difficulties, in problems, in the darkness of life — he listens and saves in his own way.
However it is necessary to recognize his presence and accept his ways, as did David in his humiliating flight from his son, Absalom; as did the just man who is persecuted in the Book of Wisdom and, ultimately and completely, as did the Lord Jesus on Golgotha. And when, in the eyes of the wicked, God does not seem to intervene and the Son dies, it is then that the true glory and the definitive realization of salvation is manifest to all believers.
May the Lord give us faith, may he come to our aid in our weakness and make us capable of believing and praying in every anxiety, in the sorrowful nights of doubt and the long days of sorrow, abandoning ourselves with trust to him, who is our “shield” and our “glory”. Many thanks.
BENEDICT XVI-GENERAL AUDIENCE
Paul VI Audience Hall
Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Psalm 22 (21): "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the Catechesis today I would like to apply myself to a Psalm with strong Christological implications which continually surface in accounts of Jesus' passion, with its twofold dimension of humiliation and glory, of death and life. It is Psalm 22 according to the Hebrew tradition and Psalm 21 according to the Graeco-Latin tradition, a heartfelt, moving prayer with a human density and theological richness that make it one of the most frequently prayed and studied Psalms in the entire Psalter. It is a long poetic composition and we shall reflect in particular on its first part, centred on the lament, in order to examine in depth certain important dimensions of the prayer of supplication to God.
This Psalm presents the figure of an innocent man, persecuted and surrounded by adversaries who clamour for his death; and he turns to God with a sorrowful lament which, in the certainty of his faith, opens mysteriously to praise. The anguishing reality of the present and the consoling memory of the past alternate in his prayer in an agonized awareness of his own desperate situation in which, however, he does not want to give up hope. His initial cry is an appeal addressed to a God who appears remote, who does not answer and seems to have abandoned him: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest” (vv. 3-4).
God is silent and this silence pierces the soul of the person praying, who ceaselessly calls but receives no answer. Day and night succeed one another in an unflagging quest for a word, for help that does not come, God seems so distant, so forgetful, so absent. The prayer asks to be heard, to be answered, it begs for contact, seeks a relationship that can give comfort and salvation. But if God fails to respond, the cry of help is lost in the void and loneliness becomes unbearable.
Yet, in his cry, the praying man of our Psalm calls the Lord “my” God at least three times, in an extreme act of trust and faith. In spite of all appearances, the Psalmist cannot believe that his link with the Lord is totally broken and while he asks the reason for a presumed incomprehensible abandonment, he says that “his” God cannot forsake him.
As is well known, the initial cry of the Psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, is recorded by the Gospels of Matthew and Mark as the cry uttered by Jesus dying on the Cross (cf. Mt 27:46, Mk 15:34). It expresses all the desolation of the Messiah, Son of God, who is facing the drama of death, a reality totally opposed to the Lord of life. Forsaken by almost all his followers, betrayed and denied by the disciples, surrounded by people who insult him, Jesus is under the crushing weight of a mission that was to pass through humiliation and annihilation. This is why he cried out to the Father, and his suffering took up the sorrowful words of the Psalm. But his is not a desperate cry, nor was that of the Psalmist who, in his supplication, takes a tormented path which nevertheless opens out at last into a perspective of praise, into trust in the divine victory.
And since in the Jewish custom citing the beginning of a Psalm implied a reference to the whole poem, although Jesus’ anguished prayer retains its burden of unspeakable suffering, it unfolds to the certainty of glory. “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”, the Risen Christ was to say to the disciples at Emmaus (Lk 24:26). In his passion, in obedience to the Father, the Lord Jesus passes through abandonment and death to reach life and to give it to all believers.
This initial cry of supplication in our Psalm 22 is followed in sorrowful contrast by the memory of the past, “In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you did deliver them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not disappointed” (vv. 5-6).
The God who appears today to be so remote to the Psalmist, is nonetheless the merciful Lord whom Israel experienced throughout its history. The People to whom the praying person belongs is the object of God’s love and can witness to his fidelity to him. Starting with the Patriarchs, then in Egypt and on the long pilgrimage through the wilderness, in the stay in the promised land in contact with aggressive and hostile peoples, to the night of the exile, the whole of biblical history is a history of a cry for help on the part of the People and of saving answers on the part of God.
And the Psalmist refers to the steadfast faith of his ancestors who “trusted” — this word is repeated three times — without ever being disappointed. Then, however, it seems that this chain of trusting invocations and divine answers has been broken; the Psalmist’s situation seems to deny the entire history of salvation, making the present reality even more painful.
God, however, cannot deny himself so here the prayer returns to describing the distressing plight of the praying person, to induce the Lord to have pity on him and to intervene, as he always had done in the past. The Psalmist describes himself as “a worm, and no man”, scorned by men, and despised by the people” (v. 7). He was mocked, people made grimaces at him, (cf. v. 8), and wounded in his faith itself. “He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (v. 9), they said.
Under the jeering blows of irony and contempt, it almost seems as though the persecuted man loses his own human features, like the suffering servant outlined in the Book of Isaiah (cf. 52:14; 53:2b-3). And like the oppressed righteous man in the Book of Wisdom (cf. 2:12-20), like Jesus on Calvary (cf. Mt 27:39-43), the Psalmist saw his own relationship with the Lord called into question in the cruel and sarcastic emphasis of what is causing him to suffer: God’s silence, his apparent absence. And yet God was present with an indisputable tenderness in the life of the person praying. The Psalmist reminds the Lord of this: “Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you did keep me safe upon my mother’s breasts. Upon you was I cast from my birth” (vv. 10-11a).
The Lord is the God of life who brings the newborn child into the world and cares for him with a father’s affection. And though the memory of God’s fidelity in the history of the people has first been recalled, the praying person now re-evokes his own personal history of relations with the Lord, going back to the particularly significant moment of the beginning of his life. And here, despite the desolation of the present, the Psalmist recognizes a closeness and a divine love so radical that he can now exclaim, in a confession full of faith and generating hope: “and since my mother bore me you have been my God” (v. 11b).
The lament then becomes a heartfelt plea: “Be not far from me, for trouble is near and there is none to help” (v. 12). The only closeness that the Psalmist can perceive and that fills him with fear was that of his enemies. It is therefore necessary for God to make himself close and to help him, because enemies surround the praying man, they encircle him and were like strong bulls, like ravening and roaring lions (cf. vv. 13-14). Anguish alters his perception of the danger, magnifying it. The adversaries seem invincible, they become ferocious, dangerous animals, while the Psalmist is like a small worm, powerless and defenceless.
Yet these images used in the Psalm also serve to describe that when man becomes brutal and attacks his brother, something brutal within him takes the upper hand, he seems to lose any human likeness; violence always has something bestial about it and only God’s saving intervention can restore humanity to human beings.
Now, it seems to the Psalmist, the object of so much ferocious aggression, that he no longer has any way out and death begins to take possession of him: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint… my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws… they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots” (vv. 15, 16, 19).
The disintegration of the body of the condemned man is described with the dramatic images that we encounter in the accounts of Christ’s passion, the unbearable parching thirst that torments the dying man that is echoed in Jesus’ request “I thirst” (cf. Jn 19:28), until we reach the definitive act of his tormentors, who, like the soldiers at the foot of the cross divide the clothes of the victim whom they consider already dead (cf. Mt 27:35; Mk 15:24; Lk 23:34; Jn 19:23-24).
Here then, impelling, once again comes the request for help: “But you, O Lord, be not far off! O you my help, hasten to my aid!... Save me” (vv. 20; 22a). This is a cry that opens the Heavens, because it proclaims a faith, a certainty that goes beyond all doubt, all darkness and all desolation. And the lament is transformed, it gives way to praise in the acceptance of salvation: “He has heard... I will tell of your name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you” (vv. 22c-23).
In this way the Psalm opens to thanksgiving, to the great final hymn that sweeps up the whole people, the Lord’s faithful, the liturgical assembly, the generations to come (cf. vv. 24-32). The Lord went to the rescue, he saved the poor man and showed his merciful face. Death and life are interwoven in an inseparable mystery and life triumphs, the God of salvation shows himself to be the undisputed Lord whom all the ends of the earth will praise and before whom all the families of the nations will bow down. It is the victory of faith which can transform death into the gift of life, the abyss of sorrow into a source of hope.
Dear brothers and sisters, this Psalm has taken us to Golgotha, to the foot of the cross of Jesus, to relive his passion and to share the fruitful joy of the resurrection. Let us therefore allow ourselves to be invaded by the light of the paschal mystery even in God’s apparent absence, even in God’s silence, and, like the disciples of Emmaus, let us learn to discern the true reality beyond appearances, recognizing humiliation itself as the way to exaltation, and the cross as the full manifestation of life in earth. Thus, replacing in God the Father all our trust and hope, in every anxiety we will be able to pray to him with faith, and our cry of help will be transformed into a hymn of praise. Many thanks.
BENEDICT XVI-GENERAL AUDIENCE
St. Peter's Square
Wednesday, 5 October 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Turning to the Lord in prayer implies a radical act of trust, in the awareness that one is entrusting oneself to God who is good, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6-7; Ps 86:15; cf. Joel 2:13; Jon 4:2; Ps 103 :8; 145:8; Neh 9:17). For this reason I would like to reflect with you today on a Psalm that is totally imbued with trust, in which the Psalmist expresses his serene certainty that he is guided and protected, safe from every danger, because the Lord is his Shepherd. It is Psalm 23 [22, according to the Greco-Latin numbering], a text familiar to all and loved by all.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”: the beautiful prayer begins with these words, evoking the nomadic environment of sheep-farming and the experience of familiarity between the shepherd and the sheep that make up his little flock. The image calls to mind an atmosphere of trust, intimacy and tenderness: the shepherd knows each one of his sheep and calls them by name; and they follow him because they recognize him and trust in him (cf. Jn 10:2-4).
He tends them, looks after them as precious possessions, ready to defend them, to guarantee their well-being and enable them to live a peaceful life. They can lack nothing as long as the shepherd is with them. The Psalmist refers to this experience by calling God his shepherd and letting God lead him to safe pastures: “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Ps 23:2-3).
The vision that unfolds before our eyes is that of green pastures and springs of clear water, oases of peace to which the shepherd leads his flock, symbols of the places of life towards which the Lord leads the Psalmist, who feels like the sheep lying on the grass beside a stream, resting rather than in a state of tension or alarm, peaceful and trusting, because it is a safe place, the water is fresh and the shepherd is watching over them.
And let us not forget here that the scene elicited by the Psalm is set in a land that is largely desert, on which the scorching sun beats down, where the Middle-Eastern semi-nomad shepherd lives with his flock in the parched steppes that surround the villages. Nevertheless the shepherd knows where to find grass and fresh water, essential to life, he can lead the way to oases in which the soul is “restored” and where it is possible to recover strength and new energy to start out afresh on the journey.
As the Psalmist says, God guides him to “green pastures” and “still waters”, where everything is superabundant, everything is given in plenty. If the Lord is the Shepherd, even in the desert, a desolate place of death, the certainty of a radical presence of life is not absent, so that he is able to say “I shall not want”. Indeed, the shepherd has at heart the good of his flock, he adapts his own pace and needs to those of his sheep, he walks and lives with them, leading them on paths “of righteousness”, that is, suitable for them, paying attention to their needs and not to his own. The safety of his sheep is a priority for him and he complies with this in leading his flock.
Dear brothers and sisters, if we follow the “Good Shepherd” — no matter how difficult, tortuous or long the pathways of our life may seem, even through spiritual deserts without water and under the scorching sun of rationalism — with the guidance of Christ the Good Shepherd, we too, like the Psalmist, may be sure that we are walking on “paths of righteousness” and that the Lord is leading us, is ever close to us and that we “shall lack nothing”. For this reason the Psalmist can declare his calm assurance without doubt or fear: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me” (v. 4).
Those who walk with the Lord even in the dark valleys of suffering, doubt and all the human problems, feel safe. You are with me: this is our certainty, this is what supports us. The darkness of the night frightens us with its shifting shadows, with the difficulty of distinguishing dangers, with its silence taut with strange sounds. If the flock moves after sunset when visibility fades, it is normal for the sheep to be restless, there is the risk of stumbling or even of straying and getting lost, and there is also the fear of possible assailants lurking in the darkness.
To speak of the “dark” valley, the Psalmist uses a Hebrew phrase that calls to mind the shadows of death, which is why the valley to be passed through is a place of anguish, terrible threats, the danger of death. Yet the person praying walks on in safety undaunted since he knows that the Lord is with him. “You are with me” is a proclamation of steadfast faith and sums up the radical experience of faith; God’s closeness transforms the reality, the dark valley loses all danger, it is emptied of every threat. Now the flock can walk in tranquillity, accompanied by the familiar rhythmical beat of the staff on the ground, marking the shepherd’s reassuring presence.
This comforting image ends the first part of the Psalm, and gives way to a different scene. We are still in the desert, where the shepherd lives with his flock, but we are now set before his tent which opens to offer us hospitality. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows” (v. 5).
The Lord is now presented as the One who welcomes the person praying with signs of generous hospitality, full of attention. The divine host lays the food on the “table”, a term which in Hebrew means, in its primitive sense, the animal skin that was spread out on the ground and on which the food for the common meal was set out. It is a gesture of sharing, not only of food but also of life in an offering of communion and friendship that create bonds and express solidarity. Then there is the munificent gift of scented oil poured on the head, which with its fragrance brings relief from the scorching of the desert sun, refreshes and calms the skin and gladdens the spirit.
Lastly, the cup overflowing with its exquisite wine, shared with superabundant generosity, adds a note of festivity. Food, oil and wine are gifts that bring life and give joy, because they go beyond what is strictly necessary and express the free giving and abundance of love. Psalm 104 proclaims: “You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (vv. 14-15).
The Psalmist becomes the object of much attention for which reason he sees himself as a wayfarer who finds shelter in a hospitable tent, whereas his enemies have to stop and watch, unable to intervene, since the one whom they considered their prey has been led to safety and has become a sacred guest who cannot be touched. And the Psalmist is us, if we truly are believers in communion with Christ. When God opens his tent to us to receive us, nothing can harm us. Then when the traveller sets out afresh, the divine protection is extended and accompanies him on his journey: “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Ps 23:6).
The goodness and faithfulness of God continue to escort the Psalmist who comes out of the tent and resumes his journey. But it is a journey that acquires new meaning and becomes a pilgrimage to the Temple of the Lord, the holy place in which the praying person wants to “dwell” for ever and to which he also wants to “return”. The Hebrew verb used here has the meaning of “to return” but with a small vowel change can be understood as “to dwell”. Moreover, this is how it is rendered by the ancient versions and by the majority of the modern translations. Both meanings may be retained: to return and dwell in the Temple as every Israelite desires, and to dwell near God, close to him and to goodness. This is what every believer yearns and longs for: truly to be able to live where God is, close to him. Following the Shepherd leads to God’s house, this is the destination of every journey, the longed for oasis in the desert, the tent of shelter in escaping from enemies, a place of peace where God’s kindness and faithful love may be felt, day after day, in the serene joy of time without end.
With their richness and depth the images of this Psalm have accompanied the whole of the history and religious experience of the People of Israel and accompany Christians. The figure of the shepherd, in particular, calls to mind the original time of the Exodus, the long journey through the desert, as a flock under the guidance of the divine Shepherd (cf. Is 63:11-14; Ps 77: 20-21; 78:52-54). And in the Promised Land, the king had the task of tending the Lord’s flock, like David, the shepherd chosen by God and a figure of the Messiah (cf. 2 Sam 5:1-2; 7:8 Ps 78:70-72).
Then after the Babylonian Exile, as it were in a new Exodus (cf. Is 40:3-5, 9-11; 43:16-21), Israel was brought back to its homeland like a lost sheep found and led by God to luxuriant pastures and resting places (cf. Ezek 34:11-16, 23-31). However, it is in the Lord Jesus that all the evocative power of our Psalm reaches completeness, finds the fullness of its meaning: Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” who goes in search of lost sheep, who knows his sheep and lays down his life for them (cf. Mt 18:12-14; Lk 15:4-7; Jn 10:2-4, 11-18). He is the way, the right path that leads us to life (cf. Jn 14:6), the light that illuminates the dark valley and overcomes all our fears (cf. Jn 1:9; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46).
He is the generous host who welcomes us and rescues us from our enemies, preparing for us the table of his body and his blood (cf. Mt 26:26-29; Mk 14:22-25); Lk 22:19-20) and the definitive table of the messianic banquet in Heaven (cf. Lk 14:15ff; Rev 3:20; 19:9). He is the Royal Shepherd, king in docility and in forgiveness, enthroned on the glorious wood of the cross (cf. Jn 3:13-15; 12:32; 17:4-5).
Dear brothers and sisters, Psalm 23 invites us to renew our trust in God, abandoning ourselves totally in his hands. Let us therefore ask with faith that the Lord also grant us on the difficult ways of our time that we always walk on his paths as a docile and obedient flock, and that he welcome us to his house, to his table, and lead us to “still waters” so that, in accepting the gift of his Spirit, we may quench our thirst at his sources, springs of the living water “welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14; cf. 7:37-39). Many thanks.
BENEDICT XVI-GENERAL AUDIENCE
St. Peter's Square
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Dear brothers and sisters,
In the previous catecheses, we have meditated on a number of psalms of lament and of trust. Today, I would like to reflect with you on a notably joyous psalm, a prayer that sings with joy the marvels of God. It is Psalm 126 -- according to Greco-Latin numbering, 125 -- which extols the great things the Lord has done with His people, and which He continues to do with every believer.
The psalmist begins the prayer in the name of all Israel by recalling the thrilling experience of salvation:
"When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy" (Verses 1-2a).
The psalm speaks of "restored fortunes"; that is, restored to their original state in all their former favorability. It begins then with a situation of suffering and of need to which God responds by bringing about salvation and restoring the man who prays to his former condition; indeed, one that is enriched and even changed for the better. This is what happens to Job, when the Lord restores to him all that he had lost, redoubling it and bestowing upon him an even greater blessing (cf. Job 42:10-13), and this is what the people of Israel experience in returning to their homeland after the Babylonian exile.
This psalm is meant to be interpreted with reference to the end of the deportation to a foreign land: The expression "restore the fortunes of Zion" is read and understood by the tradition as a "return of the prisoners of Zion." In fact, the return from exile is paradigmatic of every divine and saving intervention, since the fall of Jerusalem and the deportation into Babylon were devastating experiences for the Chosen People, not only on the political and social planes, but also and especially on the religious and spiritual ones. The loss of their land, the end of the davidic monarchy and the destruction of the Temple appear as a denial of the divine promises, and the People of the Covenant, dispersed among the pagans, painfully question a God who seems to have abandoned them.
Therefore, the end of the deportation and their return to their homeland are experienced as a marvelous return to faith, to trust, to communion with the Lord; it is a "restoring of fortunes" that involves a conversion of heart, forgiveness, re-found friendship with God, knowledge of His mercy and a renewed possibility of praising Him (cf. Jeremiah 29:12-14; 30:18-20; 33:6-11; Ezekiel 39:25-29). It is an experience of overflowing joy, of laughter and of cries of jubilation, so beautiful that "it seems like a dream." Divine help often takes surprising forms that surpass what man is able to imagine; hence the wonder and joy that are expressed in this psalm: "The Lord has done great things." This is what the nations said, and it is what Israel proclaims:
"Then they said among the nations,
'the Lord has done great things for them.'
The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad" (Verses 2b-3).
God performs marvelous works in the history of men. In carrying out salvation, He reveals Himself to all as the powerful and merciful Lord, a refuge for the oppressed, who does not forget the cry of the poor (cf. Psalm 9:10,13), who loves justice and right and of whose love the earth is filled (cf. Psalm 33:5). Thus, standing before the liberation of the People of Israel, all the nations recognize the great and marvelous things God has accomplished for His People, and they celebrate the Lord in His reality as Savior.
And Israel echoes the proclamation of the nations, taking it up and repeating it once more -- but as the protagonist -- as a direct recipient of the divine action: "The Lord has done great things for us"; "for us" or even more precisely, "with us," in hebrew 'immanû, thus affirming that privileged relationship that the Lord keeps with His chosen ones, and which is found in the name Emmanuel, "God with us," the name by which Jesus would be called, His complete and full revelation (cf. Matthew 1:23).
Dear brothers and sisters, in our prayer we should look more often at how, in the events of our own lives, the Lord has protected, guided and helped us, and we should praise Him for all He has done and does for us. We should be more attentive to the good things the Lord gives to us. We are always attentive to problems and to difficulties, and we are almost unwilling to perceive that there are beautiful things that come from the Lord. This attention, which becomes gratitude, is very important for us; it creates in us a memory for the good and it helps us also in times of darkness. God accomplishes great things, and whoever experiences this -- attentive to the Lord's goodness with an attentiveness of heart -- is filled with joy. The first part of the psalm concludes on this joyous note. To be saved and to return to one's homeland from exile are like being returned to life: Freedom opens up to laughter, but is does so together with a waiting for a fulfillment still desired and implored. This is the second part of our psalm, which continues:
"Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb!
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy!
He that goes forth weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him" (Verses 4-6).
If at the beginning of the prayer, the psalmist celebrated the joy of a fortune already restored by the Lord, now instead he asks for it as something still to be realized. If we apply this psalm to the return from exile, this apparent contradiction could be explained by Israel's historical experience of a difficult and only partial return to their homeland, which prompts the man who prays to implore further divine help to bring the People's restoration to completeness.
But the psalm goes beyond the purely historical moment and opens to broader, theological dimensions. The consoling experience of freedom from Babylon is nevertheless still incomplete, it has "already" occurred, but it is "not yet" marked by a definitive fullness. Thus, while the prayer joyously celebrates the salvation received, it opens in anticipation of its full realization. Therefore, the psalm uses distinctive imagery that in its complexity calls to mind the mysterious reality of redemption, in which the gift received and yet still to be awaited, life and death, joys dreamed of and painful tears, are interwoven.
The first image refers to the dried-up streams of the Negeb desert, which with the rains are filled with rushing waters that restore life to the arid ground and make it flourish. Thus, the psalmist's request is that the restoration of the People's fortunes and their return from exile be like those waters, roaring and unstoppable, capable of transforming the desert into an immense stretch of green grass and flowers.
The second image shifts from the arid and rocky hills of the Negeb to the fields that farmers cultivate for food. In describing salvation, the experience renewed every year in the world of agriculture is here recalled: the difficult and tiring time of sowing, and then the overflowing joy in the harvest. It is a sowing in tears, since one casts to the ground what could still become bread, exposing it to a time of waiting that is full of uncertainty: The farmer works, he prepares the earth, he scatters the seed, but as the parable of the Sower illustrates well, one never knows where the seed will fall -- if the birds will eat it, if it will take root, if it will become an ear of grain (cf. Matthew 13:3-9; Mark 4:2-9; Luke 8:4-8).
To scatter the seed is an act of trust and of hope; man's industriousness is needed, but then one must enter into a powerless time of waiting, well aware that many deciding factors will determine the success of the harvest, and that the risk of failure is always lurking. And yet, year after year, the farmer repeats his gesture and scatters the seed. And when it becomes an ear of grain, and the fields fill with crops, this is the joy of he who stands before an extraordinary marvel.
Jesus knew well this experience, and He spoke of it with those who were His own: "He said: 'The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how'" (Mark 4:26-27). It is the hidden mystery of life, these are the wondrous, "great things" of salvation that the Lord carries out in human history and whose secret men do not know.
When divine help is manifested in all its fullness, it has an overflowing dimension, like the watercourses of the Negeb and like the grain of the fields -- the latter also evoking a disproportion characteristic of the things of God: a disproportion between the effort of the sowing and the immense joy of the harvest; between the anxiety of waiting and the comforting vision of the granaries filled; between the little seeds thrown upon the ground and the great sheaves of grain made golden by the sun. At the harvest, all is transformed; the weeping has ended and has given way to an exultant cry of joy.
This is what the psalmist refers to when he speaks of salvation, of liberation, of the restoration of fortunes and of return from exile. The deportation to Babylon, like every other situation of suffering and of crisis, with its painful darkness filled with doubts and the apparent absence of God, in reality -- our psalm says -- is like a time of sowing. In the Mystery of Christ -- in the light of the New Testament -- the message becomes even clearer and more explicit: The believer who passes through this darkness is like the grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies, but that bears much fruit (cf. John 12:24); or, borrowing another image that was dear to Jesus, the believer is like the woman who suffers the pains of labor for the sake of attaining the joy of having brought a new life to light (cf. John 16:21).
Dear brothers and sisters, this psalm teaches us that, in our prayer, we must always remain open to hope, and firm in our faith in God. Our personal history -- even if often marked by suffering, uncertainty and moments of crisis -- is a history of salvation and of the "restoring of fortunes." In Jesus our every exile ends and every tear is wiped away in the mystery of His Cross, of death transformed into life, like the grain of wheat that falls into the earth and yields a harvest. Also for us, this discovery of Jesus Christ is the great joy of God's "yes," of the restoration of our fortunes. But like those who -- having returned from Babylon filled with joy -- found an impoverished, devastated land as well as difficulty in sowing, and weeping, they suffered not knowing if at the end there would actually be a harvest, so also we, after the great discovery of Jesus Christ -- our life, the truth, the way -- entering into the terrain of faith, into the "land of faith," we also often find that life is dark, hard, difficult -- a sowing in tears -- but we are certain that in the end, the light of Christ truly gives us the great harvest.
And we must learn this also in the dark nights; do not forget that the light is there, that God is already in the midst of our lives and that we can sow with the great trust in the fact that God's "yes" is stronger than us all. It is important not to lose the memory of God's presence in our lives, this profound joy that God has entered into our lives, thus freeing us: It is gratitude for the discovery of Jesus Christ, who has come among us. And this gratitude is transformed into hope; it is a star of hope that gives us trust; it is light, since the very pains of sowing are the beginning of new life, of the great and definitive joy of God.
BENEDICT XVI-GENERAL AUDIENCE
St. Peter's Square
Wednesday, 19 October 2011
The Great Hallel
Psalm 136 (135)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to meditate with you on a Psalm that sums up the entire history of salvation recorded in the Old Testament. It is a great hymn of praise that celebrates the Lord in the multiple, repeated expressions of his goodness throughout human history: it is Psalm 136 or 135 according to the Greco-Latin tradition.
A solemn prayer of thanksgiving, known as the “Great Hallel”, this Psalm is traditionally sung at the end of the Jewish Passover meal and was probably also prayed by Jesus at the Last Supper celebrated with his disciples. In fact, the annotation of the Evangelists, “and when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (cf. Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26), would seem to allude to it.
The horizon of praise thus appears to illumine the difficult path to Golgotha. The whole of Psalm 136 unfolds in the form of a litany, marked by the antiphonal refrain: “for his steadfast love endures for ever”. The many wonders God has worked in human history and his continuous intervention on behalf of his people are listed in the composition. Furthermore, to every proclamation of the Lord’s saving action the antiphon responds with the basic impetus of praise.
The eternal love of God, is a love which, in accordance with the Hebrew term used, suggestive of fidelity, mercy, kindness, grace and tenderness, is the unifying motif of the entire Psalm. The refrain always takes the same form, whereas the regular paradigmatic manifestations of God’s love change: creation, liberation through the Exodus, the gift of land, the Lord’s provident and constant help for his people and for every created being.
After a triple invitation to give thanks to God as sovereign (vv. 1-3), the Lord is celebrated as the One who works “great wonders” (v. 4), the first of which is the Creation: the heavens, the earth, the heavenly bodies (vv. 5-9). The created world is not merely a scenario into which God’s saving action is inserted rather is the very beginning of that marvellous action. With the Creation, the Lord shows himself in all his goodness and beauty, he commits himself to life, revealing a desire for goodness which gives rise to every other action of salvation.
And in our Psalm, re-echoing the first chapter of Genesis, the principal elements of the created world are summed up, with special insistence on the heavenly bodies, the sun, the moon and the stars, magnificent created things that govern the day and the night. Nothing is said here of the creation of human beings but they are ever present; the sun and the moon are for them — for men and women — so as to structure human time, setting it in relation to the Creator, especially by denoting the liturgical seasons. And it is precisely the Feast of Easter that is immediately evoked, when, passing to God’s manifestation of himself in history, the great event of the exodus, freedom from slavery in Egypt begins, whose most significant elements are outlined:
The liberation from Egypt begins with the plague of killing the Egyptian firstborn, the Exodus from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the journey through the desert to the entry into the Promised Land (vv. 10-20). This is the very first moment of Israel’s history; God intervened powerfully to lead his people to freedom; through Moses, his envoy, he asserted himself before Pharaoh, revealing himself in his full grandeur and at last broke down the resistance of the Egyptians with the terrible plague of the death of the firstborn. Israel could thus leave the country of slavery taking with it the gold of its oppressors (cf. Ex 12:35-36) and “defiantly” (Ex 14:8), in the exulting sign of victory.
At the Red Sea too the Lord acted with merciful power. Before an Israel so terrified by the sight of the Egyptians in pursuit as to regret its departure from Egypt (cf. Ex 14:10-12), God, as our Psalm says, “divided the Red Sea in sunder... and made the people of Israel pass through the midst of it... but overthrew Pharaoh and his host” (136:13-15). The image of the Red Sea “divided” into two seems to call to mind the idea of the sea as a great monster hacked into two and thereby rendered harmless. The might of the Lord overcomes the danger of the forces of nature and of these soldiers deployed in battle array by men: the sea, which seemed to bar the way of the People of God, let Israel cross on dry ground and then swept over the Egyptians, submerging them. Thus the full salvific force of the Lord’s “mighty hand, and an outstretched arm” (cf. Deut 5:15; 7:19; 26:8) was demonstrated: the unjust oppressor was vanquished, engulfed by the waters, while the people of God “walked on dry ground through the sea”, continuing its journey to freedom.
Our Psalm now refers to this journey, recalling in one short phrase Israel’s long pilgrimage toward the promised land: he “led his people through the wilderness, for his steadfast love endures for ever” (v. 16). These few words refer to a 40-year experience, a crucial period for Israel which in letting itself be guided by the Lord learned to live in faith, obedience and docility to God’s law. These were difficult years, marked by hardship in the desert, but also happy years, trusting in the Lord with filial trust. It was the time of “youth”, as the Prophet Jeremiah describes it in speaking to Israel in the Lord’s name with words full of tenderness and nostalgia: “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown” (Jer 2:2).
The Lord, like the shepherd of Psalm 23 whom we contemplated in a Catechesis, for 40 years guided, taught and cherished his people, leading it right to the promised land, also overcoming the resistance and hostility of enemy peoples that wished to block its way to salvation (cf. 136:17-20).
So as the “great wonders” that our Psalm lists unfold, we reach the moment of the conclusive gift, the fulfilment of the divine promise made to the Fathers: “gave their land as a heritage, for his steadfast love endures for ever; a heritage to Israel his servant, for his steadfast love endures for ever” (136:21-22). Then, in celebrating the Lord’s eternal love, the gift of land was commemorated, a gift that the people were to receive but without ever taking possession of it, continuing to live in an attitude of grateful acknowledgment and gratitude.
Israel received the land it was to live in as “a heritage”, a generic term which designates the possession of a good received from another person, a right of ownership which specifically refers to the paternal patrimony. One of God’s prerogatives is “giving”; and now, at the end of the journey of the Exodus, Israel, the recipient of the gift, enters as a son or daughter the land of the promise now fulfilled. The time of wandering, of living in tents, of living a precarious life, is over.
It was then that the happy period of permanence began, of joy in building houses, of planting vineyards, of living in security (cf. Deut 8:7-13). Yet it was also the time of the temptation to idolatry, contamination with pagans, self-sufficiency that led to the Origin of the gift being forgotten.
Accordingly, the Psalmist mentions Israel’s low estate and foes, a reality of death in which the Lord, once again reveals himself as Saviour: “He... remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures for ever; and rescued us from our foes, for his steadfast love endures for ever” (136:23-24).
At this point a question arises: how can we make this Psalm our own prayer, how can we ourselves claim this Psalm as our own prayer? What is important is the Psalm’s setting, for at the beginning and at the end is the Creation. Let us return to this point: the Creation as God’s great gift by which we live and in which he reveals himself in his great goodness. Therefore, to think of the Creation as a gift of God is a common point for all of us.
The history of salvation then follows. We can of course say: this liberation from Egypt, the time in the desert, the entry into the Holy Land and all the other subsequent problems are very remote from us, they are not part of our own history. Yet we must be attentive to the fundamental structure of this prayer. The basic structure is that Israel remembers the Lord’s goodness. In this history dark valleys, arduous journeys and death succeed one another but Israel recalls that God was good and can survive in this dark valley, in this valley of death, because it remembers. It remembers the Lord’s goodness and his power; his mercy is effective for ever. And this is also important for us: to remember the Lord’s goodness. Memory strongly sustains hope. Memory tells us: God exists, God is good, his mercy endures for ever. So it is that memory unfolds, even in the darkest day or time, showing the way towards the future. It represents “great lights” and is our guiding star. We too have good memories of the goodness, of God’s merciful love that endures for ever.
Israel’s history is a former memory for us, too, of how God revealed himself, how he created a people of his own. Then God became man, one of us: he lived with us, he suffered with us, he died for us. He stays with us in the Sacrament and in the Word. It is a history, a memory of God’s goodness that assures us of his goodness: his love endures for ever. And then, in these 2,000 years of the Church’s history there is always, again and again, the Lord’s goodness. After the dark period of the Nazi and Communist persecution, God set us free, he showed that he is good, that he is powerful, that his mercy endures for ever. And, as in our common, collective history, this memory of God’s goodness is present, it helps us and becomes for us a star of hope so that each one also has his or her personal story of salvation.
We must truly treasure this story, and in order to trust must keep ever present in our mind the memory of the great things he has also worked in my life: his mercy endures for ever. And if today I am immersed in the dark night, tomorrow he sets me free, for his mercy is eternal.
Let us return to the Psalm, because at the end it returns to the Creation. The Lord, it says, “gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures for ever” (v. 25). The prayer of the Psalm concludes with an invitation to praise: “Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures for ever”.
The Lord is our good and provident Father, who gives his children their heritage and lavishes life-giving food upon all. God who created the heavens and the earth and the great heavenly bodies, who entered human history to bring all his children to salvation is the God who fills the universe with his presence of goodness, caring for life and providing bread.
The invisible power of the Creator and Lord of which the Psalm sings is revealed in the humble sign of the bread he gives us, with which he enables us to live. And so it is that this daily bread symbolizes and sums up the love of God as Father and opens us to the fulfilment of the New Testament, to that “Bread of Life”, the Eucharist, which accompanies us in our lives as believers, anticipating the definitive joy of the messianic banquet in Heaven.
Brothers and Sisters, the praise and blessing of Psalm 136, has made us review the most important stages in the history of salvation, to reach the Paschal Mystery in which God’s saving action reaches its culmination. Let us therefore celebrate with grateful joy the Creator, Saviour and faithful Father, who “so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). In the fullness of time, the Son of God became man to give life, for the salvation of each one of us, and gave himself as bread in the Eucharistic mystery to enable us to enter his Covenant which makes us his children. May both God’s merciful goodness and his sublime “steadfast love for ever” reach far afield.
I would therefore like to conclude this Catechesis by making my own the words that St John wrote in his First Letter and that we must always have in mind in our prayers: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 Jn 3:1). Many thanks.
BENEDICT XVI-GENERAL AUDIENCE
St. Peter's Square
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Psalm 119 (118)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In previous Catecheses we have meditated on several Psalms that are examples of typical forms of prayer: lamentation, trust and praise. In today’s Catechesis I would like to reflect on Psalm 119, according to the Hebrew tradition, Psalm 118 according to the Greco-Latin one.
It is a very special Psalm, unique of its kind. This is first of all because of its length. Indeed, it is composed of 176 verses divided into 22 stanzas of eight verses each. Moreover, its special feature is that it is an “acrostic in alphabetical order”, in other words it is structured in accordance with the Hebrew alphabet that consists of 22 letters. Each stanza begins with a letter of this alphabet and the first letter of the first word of each of the eight verses in the stanza begins with this letter. This is both original and indeed a demanding literary genre in which the author of the Psalm must have had to summon up all his skill.
However, what is most important for us is this Psalm’s central theme. In fact, it is an impressive, solemn canticle on the Torah of the Lord, that is, on his Law, a term which in its broadest and most comprehensive meaning should be understood as a teaching, an instruction, a rule of life. The Torah is a revelation, it is a word of God that challenges the human being and elicits his response of trusting obedience and generous love.
This Psalm is steeped in love for the word of God whose beauty, saving power and capacity for giving joy and life it celebrates; because the divine Law is not the heavy yoke of slavery but a liberating gift of grace that brings happiness. “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word”, the Psalmist declares (v. 16), and then: “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it” (v. 35). And further: “Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (v. 97).
The Law of the Lord, his word, is the centre of the praying person’s life; he finds comfort in it, he makes it the subject of meditation, he treasures it in his heart: “I have laid up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (v. 11), and this is the secret of the Psalmist’s happiness; and then, again, “the godless besmear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts” (v. 69).
The Psalmist’s faithfulness stems from listening to the word, from pondering on it in his inmost self, meditating on it and cherishing it, just as did Mary, who “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart”, the words that had been addressed to her and the marvellous events in which God revealed himself, asking her for the assent of her faith (cf. Lk 2:19, 51). And if the first verses of our Psalm begin by proclaiming “blessed” those “who walk in the law of the Lord” (v. 1b), and “who keep his testimonies” (v. 2a). It is once again the Virgin Mary who brings to completion the perfect figure of the believer, described by the Psalmist. It is she, in fact, who is the true “blessed”, proclaimed such by Elizabeth because “she... believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:45). Moreover it was to her and to her faith that Jesus himself bore witness when he answered the woman who had cried: “Blessed is the womb that bore you”, with “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Lk 11:27-28). Of course, Mary is blessed because she carried the Saviour in her womb, but especially because she accepted God’s announcement and because she was an attentive and loving custodian of his Word.
Psalm 119 is thus woven around this Word of life and blessedness. If its central theme is the “word” and “Law” of the Lord, next to these terms in almost all the verses such synonyms recur as “precepts”, “statutes”, “commandments”, “ordinances”, “promises”, “judgement”; and then so many verbs relating to them such as observe, keep, understand, learn, love, meditate and live.
The entire alphabet unfolds through the 22 stanzas of this Psalm and also the whole of the vocabulary of the believer’s trusting relationship with God; we find in it praise, thanksgiving and trust, but also supplication and lamentation. However they are always imbued with the certainty of divine grace and of the power of the word of God. Even the verses more heavily marked by grief and by a sense of darkness remain open to hope and are permeated by faith.
“My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to your word” (v. 25), the Psalmist trustingly prays. “I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes” (v. 83), is his cry as a believer. His fidelity, even when it is put to the test, finds strength in the Lord’s word: “then shall I have an answer for those who taunt me, for I trust in your word” (v. 42), he says firmly; and even when he faces the anguishing prospect of death, the Lord’s commandments are his reference point and his hope of victory: “they have almost made an end of me on earth; but I have not forsaken your precepts” (v. 87).
The Law of the Lord, the object of the passionate love of the Psalmist as well as of every believer, is a source of life. The desire to understand it, to observe it and to direct the whole of one’s being by it is the characteristic of every righteous person who is faithful to the Lord, and who “on his law... meditates day and night”, as Psalm 1 recites (v. 2). The law of God is a way to be kept “in the heart”, as the well known text of the Shema in Deuteronomy says: “Hear, O Israel: And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (6:4, 6-7).
The Law of God, at the centre of life, demands that the heart listen. It is a listening that does not consist of servile but rather of filial, trusting and aware obedience. Listening to the word is a personal encounter with the Lord of life, an encounter that must be expressed in concrete decisions and become a journey and a “sequela”. When Jesus is asked what one should do to inherit eternal life he points to the way of observance of the Law but indicates what should be done to bring it to completion: “but you lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me! (Mk 10: 21ff.). Fulfilment of the Law is the following of Jesus, travelling on the road that Jesus took, in the company of Jesus.
Psalm 119 thus brings us to the encounter with the Lord and orients us to the Gospel. There is a verse in it on which I would now like to reflect: it is verse 57: “the Lord is my portion; I promise to keep his words”. In other Psalms too the person praying affirms that the Lord is his “portion”, his inheritance: “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup”, Psalm 16 says. “God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever” is the protestation of faith of the faithful person in Psalm 73 : v. 26b, and again, in Psalm 142, the Psalmist cries to the Lord: “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living” (v. 5b).
This term “portion” calls to mind the event of the division of the promised land between the tribes of Israel, when no piece of land was assigned to the Levites because their “portion” was the Lord himself. Two texts of the Pentateuch, using the term in question, are explicit in this regard, the Lord said to Aaron: “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel”, as the Book of Numbers (18:20) declares and as Deuteronomy reaffirms “Therefore Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers; the Lord is his inheritance, as the Lord your God said to him” (Deut 10:9; cf. Deut 18:2; Josh 13:33; Ezek 44:28).
The Priests, who belong to the tribe of Levi cannot be landowners in the land that God was to bequeath as a legacy to his people, thus bringing to completion the promise he had made to Abraham (cf. Gen 12:1-7). The ownership of land, a fundamental element for permanence and for survival, was a sign of blessing because it presupposed the possibility of building a house, of raising children, of cultivating the fields and of living on the produce of the earth.
Well, the Levites, mediators of the sacred and of the divine blessing, unlike the other Israelites could not own possessions, this external sign of blessing and source of subsistence. Totally dedicated to the Lord, they had to live on him alone, reliant on his provident love and on the generosity of their brethren without any other inheritance since God was their portion, God was the land that enabled them to live to the full.
The person praying in Psalm 119 then applies this reality to himself: “the Lord is my portion”. His love for God and for his word leads him to make the radical decision to have the Lord as his one possession and also to treasure his words as a precious gift more valuable than any legacy or earthly possession. There are two different ways in which our verse may be translated and it could also be translated as “my portion Lord, as I have said, is to preserve your words”. The two translations are not contradictory but on the contrary complete each other: the Psalmist meant that his portion was the Lord but that preserving the divine words was also part of his inheritance, as he was to say later in v. 111: “your testimonies are my heritage for ever; yea, they are the joy of my heart”. This is the happiness of the Psalmist, like the Levites, he has been given the word of God as his portion, his inheritance.
Dear brothers and sisters, these verses are also of great importance for all of us. First of all for priests, who are called to live on the Lord and his word alone with no other means of security, with him as their one possession and as their only source of true life. In this light one understands the free choice of celibacy for the Kingdom of Heaven in order to rediscover it in its beauty and power.
Yet these verses are also important for all the faithful, the People of God that belong to him alone, “a kingdom and priests” for the Lord (cf. 1 Pet 2:9; Rev 1:6, 5:10), called to the radicalism of the Gospel, witnesses of the life brought by Christ, the new and definitive “High Priest” who gave himself as a sacrifice for the salvation of the world (cf. Heb 2:17; 4:14-16; 5:5-10; 9, 11ff.). The Lord and his word: these are our “land”, in which to live in communion and in joy.
Let us therefore permit the Lord to instil this love for his word in our hearts and to grant that we may always place him and his holy will at the centre of our life. Let us ask that our prayers and the whole of our life be illuminated by the word of God, the lamp to light our footsteps and a light on our path, as Psalm 119 (cf. 105) says, so that we may walk safely in the land of men. And may Mary, who generously welcomed the Word, be our guide and comfort, the polestar that indicates the way to happiness.
Then we too shall be able to rejoice in our prayers, like the praying person of Psalm 16, in the unexpected gifts of the Lord and in the undeserved legacy that fell to us: “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup... the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage” (Ps 16:5, 6).
BENEDICT XVI-GENERAL AUDIENCE
St. Peter's Square
Wednesday, 16 November 2011
Psalm 110 (109)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to end my catechesis on the prayer of the Book of Psalms by meditating on one of the most famous of the “royal Psalms”, a Psalm that Jesus himself cited and that the New Testament authors referred to extensively and interpreted as referring to the Messiah, to Christ. It is Psalm 110 according to the Hebrew tradition, 109 according to the Graeco-Latin one, a Psalm very dear to the ancient Church and to believers of all times. This prayer may at first have been linked to the enthronement of a Davidic king; yet its meaning exceeds the specific contingency of an historic event, opening to broader dimensions and thereby becoming a celebration of the victorious Messiah, glorified at God’s right hand.
The Psalm begins with a solemn declaration: “the Lord says to my lord ‘Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool’” (v. 1).
God himself enthrones the king in glory, seating him at his right, a sign of very great honour and of absolute privilege. The king is thus admitted to sharing in the divine kingship, of which he is mediator to the people. The king’s kingship is also brought into being in the victory over his adversaries whom God himself places at his feet. The victory over his enemies is the Lord’s, but the king is enabled to share in it and his triumph becomes a sign and testimony of divine power.
The royal glorification expressed at the beginning of the Psalm was adopted by the New Testament as a messianic prophecy. For this reason the verse is among those most frequently used by New Testament authors, either as an explicit quotation or as an allusion. With regard to the Messiah Jesus himself mentioned this verse in order to show that the Messiah, was greater than David, that he was David’s Lord (cf. Mt 22:41-45; Mk 12:35-37; Lk 20:41-44).
And Peter returned to it in his discourse at Pentecost, proclaiming that this enthronement of the king was brought about in the resurrection of Christ and that Christ was henceforth seated at the right hand of the Father, sharing in God’s kingship over the world (cf. Acts 2:29-35). Indeed, Christ is the enthroned Lord, the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God and coming on the clouds of heaven, as Jesus described himself during the trial before the Synedrin (cf. Mt 26:63-64; Mk 14:61-62; cf. also Lk 22:66-69).
He is the true King who, with the Resurrection, entered into glory at the right hand of the Father (Rom 8:34; Eph 2:5; Col 3:1; Heb 8:1; 12:2), was made superior to angels, and seated in heaven above every power with every adversary at his feet, until the time when the last enemy, death, to be defeated by him once and for all (cf. 1 Cor 15:24-26; Eph 1:20-23; Heb 1:3-4; 2:5-8; 10:12-13; 1 Pet 3:22).
And we immediately understand that this king, seated at the right hand of God, who shares in his kingship is not one of those who succeeded David, but is actually the new David, the Son of God who triumphed over death and truly shares in God’s glory. He is our king, who also gives us eternal life.
Hence an indissoluble relationship exists between the king celebrated by our Psalm and God. The two of them govern together as one, so that the Psalmist can say that it is God himself who extends the sovereign’s sceptre, giving him the task of ruling over his adversaries as verse 2 says: “The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty sceptre. Rule in the midst of your foes!”.
The exercise of power is an office that the king receives directly from the Lord, a responsibility which he must exercise in dependence and obedience, thereby becoming a sign, within the people, of God’s powerful and provident presence. Dominion over his foes, glory and victory are gifts received that make the sovereign a mediator of the Lord’s triumph over evil. He subjugates his enemies, transforming them, he wins them over with his love.
For this reason the king’s greatness is celebrated in the following verse. In fact the interpretation of verse 3 presents some difficulty. In the original Hebrew text a reference was made to the mustering of the army to which the people generously responded, gathering round their sovereign on the day of his coronation. The Greek translation of The Septuagint that dates back to between the second and third centuries B.C. refers however to the divine sonship of the king, to his birth or begetting on the part of the Lord. This is the interpretation that has been chosen by the Church, which is why the verse reads like this: “Yours is princely power in the day of your birth, in holy splendour; before the daystar, like the dew, I have begotten you”.
This divine oracle concerning the king would thus assert a divine procreation, steeped in splendour and mystery, a secret and inscrutable origin linked to the arcane beauty of dawn and to the miracle of dew that sparkles in the fields in the early morning light and makes them fertile. In this way, the figure of the king, indissolubly bound to the heavenly reality, who really comes from God is outlined, the Messiah who brings divine life to the people and is the mediator of holiness and salvation. Here too we see that all this is not achieved by the figure of a Davidic king but by the Lord Jesus Christ, who really comes from God; he is the light that brings divine life to the world.
The first stanza of the Psalm ends with this evocative and enigmatic image. It is followed by another oracle, which unfolds a new perspective along the lines of a priestly dimension connected with kingship. Verse 4 says: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”.
Melchizedek was the priest-king of Salem who had blessed Abraham and offered him bread and wine after the victorious military campaign the patriarch led to rescue his nephew Lot from the hands of enemies who had captured him (cf. Gen 14).
Royal and priestly power converge in the figure of Melchizedek. They are then proclaimed by the Lord in a declaration that promises eternity: the king celebrated in the Psalm will be a priest for ever, the mediator of the Lord’s presence among his people, the intermediary of the blessing that comes from God who, in liturgical action, responds to it with the human answer of blessing.
The Letter to the Hebrews makes an explicit reference to this verse (cf. 5:5-6, 10; 6:19-20) focusing on it the whole of chapter seven and developing its reflection on Christ’s priesthood. Jesus, as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us in the light of Psalm 110, is the true and definitive priest who brings to fulfilment and perfects the features of Melchizedek’s priesthood
Melchizedek, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, was “without father or mother or genealogy” (7:3a), hence not a priest according to the dynastic rules of Levitical priesthood. Consequently he “continues a priest for ever” (7:3c), a prefiguration of Christ, the perfect High Priest who “has become a priest, not according to a legal requirement concerning bodily descent but by the power of an indestructible life” (7:16).
In the Risen Lord Jesus who had ascended into Heaven where he is seated at the right hand of the Father the prophecy of our Psalm is fulfilled and the priesthood of Melchizedek is brought to completion. This is because, rendered absolute and eternal, it became a reality that never fades (cf. 7:24). And the offering of bread and wine made by Melchizedek in Abraham’s time is fulfilled in the Eucharistic action of Jesus who offers himself in the bread and in the wine and, having conquered death, brings life to all believers. Since he is an eternal priest, “holy, blameless, unstained” (7:26), as the Letter to the Hebrews states further, “he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (7:25).
After this divine pronouncement in verse 4, with its solemn oath, the scene of the Psalm changes and the poet, addressing the king directly, proclaims: “The Lord is at your right hand” (Psalm 110:5a). If in verse 1 it was the king who was seated at God’s right hand as a sign of supreme prestige and honour, the Lord now takes his place at the right of the sovereign to protect him with this shield in battle and save him from every peril. The king was safe, God is his champion and they fight together and defeat every evil.
Thus the last verses of the Psalm open with the vision of the triumphant sovereign. Supported by the Lord, having received both power and glory from him (cf. v. 2), he opposes his foes, crushing his adversaries and judging the nations. The scene is painted in strong colours to signify the drama of the battle and the totality of the royal victory. The sovereign, protected by the Lord, demolishes every obstacle and moves ahead safely to victory. He tells us: “yes, there is widespread evil in the world, there is an ongoing battle between good and evil and it seems as though evil were the stronger. No, the Lord is stronger, Christ, our true King and Priest, for he fights with all God’s power and in spite of all the things that make us doubt the positive outcome of history, Christ wins and good wins, love wins rather than hatred.
The evocative image that concludes our Psalm fits in here; it is also an enigmatic word: “He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head” (v. 7).
The king’s figure stands out in the middle of the description of the battle. At a moment of respite and rest, he quenches his thirst at a stream, finding in it refreshment and fresh strength to continue on his triumphant way, holding his head high as a sign of definitive victory. It is clear that these deeply enigmatic words were a challenge for the Fathers of the Church because of the different interpretations they could be given.
Thus, for example, St Augustine said: this brook is the onward flow of the human being, of humanity, and Christ did not disdain to drink of this brook, becoming man; and so it was that on entering the humanity of the human being he lifted up his head and is now the Head of the mystical Body, he is our head, he is the definitive winner. (cf. Enarrationes in Psalmos CIX, 20: PL36, 1462).
Dear friends, following the lines of the New Testament translation, the Church’s Tradition has held this Psalm in high esteem as one of the most important messianic texts. And the Fathers continued eminently to refer to it in a Christological key. The king of whom the Psalmist sang is definitively Christ, the Messiah who establishes the Kingdom of God and overcomes the powers of evil. He is the Word, begotten by the Father before every creature, before the dawn, the Son incarnate who died and rose and is seated in Heaven, the eternal priest who through the mystery of the bread and wine bestows forgiveness of sins and gives reconciliation with God, the king who lifts up his head, triumphing over death with his resurrection.
It would suffice to remember a passage, once again in St Augustine’s commentary on this Psalm, where he writes: “it was necessary to know the Only-Begotten Son of God who was about to come among men, to adopt man and to become a man by taking on his nature; he died, rose and ascended into Heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father and fulfilled among the people all that he had promised.... All this, therefore, had to be prophesied, it had to be foretold, to be pointed out as destined to come about, so that by coming unexpectedly it would not give rise to fear but by having been foretold, would then be accepted with faith, joy and expectation. This Psalm fits into the context of these promises. It prophesies our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in such reliable and explicit terms that we cannot have the slightest doubt that it is really Christ who is proclaimed in it” (cf. Enarrationes in Psalmos CIX, 3: PL 36, 1447).
The paschal event of Christ thus becomes the reality to which the Psalm invites us to look, to look at Christ to understand the meaning of true kingship, to live in service and in the gift of self, in a journey of obedience and love “to the end” (cf. Jn 13:1 and 19:30).
In praying with this Psalm let us therefore ask the Lord to enable us to proceed on his paths, in the following of Christ, the Messiah King, ready to climb with him the mount of the cross to attain glory with him, and to contemplate him seated at the right hand of the Father, a victorious king and a merciful priest who gives forgiveness and salvation to all men and women.
And we too, by the grace of God made “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (cf. 1 Pet 2:9), will be able to draw joyfully from the wells of salvation (cf. Is 12:3) and proclaim to the whole world the marvels of the One who “called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (cf. 1 Pt 2:9).
Dear friends, in these recent catecheses I wanted to present to you certain Psalms, precious prayers that we find in the Bible and that reflect the various situations of life and the various states of mind that we may have with regard to God. I would then like to renew to you all the invitation to pray with the Psalms, even becoming accustomed to using the Liturgy of the Hours of the Church, Lauds in the morning, Vespers in the evening, and Compline before retiring.
Our relationship with God cannot but be enriched with greater joy and trust in the daily journey towards him. Many thanks.
BENEDICT XVI-GENERAL AUDIENCE
Paul VI Hall
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Prayer through the whole life of Jesus
Dear brothers and sisters,
In recent catecheses, we have reflected on several examples of prayer from the Old Testament. Today, I would like to begin to look to Jesus and to His prayer, which runs through the whole of His life like a secret channel irrigating His existence, His relationships and His acts -- and which guides Him with steady constancy to the total giving of Himself according to God the Father’s plan of love. Jesus is also the Master for our prayer; indeed, He is the fraternal and active support each and every time we turn to the Father. Truly, as a title from the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes it, “Prayer is fully revealed and realized in Jesus” (541-547). To Him we wish to look in the upcoming catecheses.
A particularly significant moment along His path is the prayer that follows the baptism He submitted to in the Jordan River. The Evangelist Luke notes that Jesus -- after having received baptism at the hands of John the Baptist together with all the people -- enters into an intensely personal and prolonged prayer: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him” (Luke 3:21-22). It is precisely this “praying” in conversation with the Father that illumines the action He accomplished together with so many from among His own people who had come to the banks of the Jordan. By praying, He gives to his baptism an exclusive and personal character.
The Baptist had issued a strong appeal to live truly as “sons of Abraham” by converting to the good and by bearing fruit worthy of such repentance (cf. Luke 3:7-9). And a great number of Israelites were moved -- as the Evangelist Mark records, who writes: “And there went out … [to John] all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by Him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5). The Baptist was bringing something truly new: submitting to baptism had to mark a decisive turning point -- a leaving behind of behavior tied to sin and the beginning of a new life.
Even Jesus welcomes this invitation -- He enters into the grey multitude of sinners who wait along the banks of the Jordan. However, as in the early Christians, so also in us the question arises: Why did Jesus voluntarily submit to this baptism of repentance and conversion? He had no need to confess sins -- He had no sin -- and therefore He had no need of conversion. Why then this act? The Evangelist Matthew reports the Baptist’s astonishment: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” and Jesus’ response: “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all justice” (Verse 15). In the biblical world, the word “justice” means to accept the Will of God fully. Jesus shows His closeness to that portion of His people who, following the Baptist, acknowledge the insufficiency of merely considering themselves children of Abraham -- but who want also to do God’s Will, who want to devote themselves to making their conduct a faithful response to the covenant God offered to Abraham.
Therefore, in descending into the river Jordan, Jesus -- who is without sin -- visibly manifests His solidarity with those who recognize their own sins, who choose to repent and to change their lives; He makes us understand that being part of God’s people means entering into a renewed perspective on life -- lived in accordance with God.
In this act, Jesus anticipates the Cross; He begins His activity by taking the place of sinners; by taking upon his shoulders the weight of the guilt of all mankind; by fulfilling the Father’s Will. By recollecting Himself in prayer, Jesus manifests the intimate bond He shares with the Father Who is in Heaven; He experiences His paternity; He welcomes the demanding beauty of His love -- and in conversation with the Father, He receives confirmation of His mission. In the words that resound from Heaven (cf. Luke 3:22), there is an early reference to the Paschal Mystery, to the Cross, and to the Resurrection. The divine voice calls Him “My Son, the Beloved” -- recalling Isaac, the well beloved son whom Abraham his father was ready to sacrifice in accordance with God’s command (cf. Genesis 22:1-14).
Jesus is not only the Son of David, the royal messianic descendent, or the Servant in whom God is well pleased -- He is also the Only-Begotten Son, the Beloved -- similar to Isaac -- whom God the Father gives for the salvation of the world. In the moment when, through prayer, Jesus profoundly lives His own Sonship and the experience of the Father’s Paternity (cf. Luke 3:22b), the Holy Spirit descends (cf. Luke 3:22a) -- [the Spirit] who guides Him in His mission and whom [Jesus] will pour forth once He has been lifted up upon the Cross (cf. John 1:32-34; 7:37-39), that He may illumine the Church’s work. In prayer, Jesus lives an uninterrupted contact with the Father in order to carry out to the end the plan of love for mankind.
The whole of Jesus’ life -- lived in a family profoundly tied to the religious tradition of the people of Israel -- stands against the backdrop of this extraordinary prayer. The references we find in the Gospels demonstrate this: His circumcision (cf. Luke 2:21) and His presentation in the temple (cf. Luke 2:22-24), as well as the education and formation He received at Nazareth in the holy house (cf. Luke 2:39-40 and 2:51-52). We are speaking here of “about thirty years” (Luke 3:23), a long period of hidden, daily life -- even if marked by experiences of participation in moments of communal religious expression, like the pilgrimage to Jerusalem (cf. Luke 2:41).
In narrating for us the episode of the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple, sitting among the teachers (cf. Luke 2:42-52), the Evangelist Luke emphasizes that Jesus, who prays after His baptism in the Jordan, has long been accustomed to intimate prayer with God the Father, [a prayer] rooted in the traditions and style of His family, and in the decisive experiences lived out within it. The 12-year-old’s response to Mary and Joseph already points to the divine Sonship that stands to be revealed by the heavenly voice following His baptism: “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). In coming up out of the waters of the Jordan, Jesus does not inaugurate His prayer; rather, He continues his constant, habitual relationship with the Father -- and it is in His intimate union with Him that He completes the transition from the hidden life of Nazareth to His public ministry.
Certainly, Jesus’ teaching on prayer comes from the way He learned to pray within His family, but it has its deep and essential origin in His being the Son of God, in His unique relationship with God the Father. The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church responds to the question: From whom did Jesus learn how to pray? in this way: “Jesus, with his human heart, learned how to pray from his mother and from the Jewish tradition. But his prayer sprang from a more secret source because he is the eternal Son of God who in His holy humanity offers His perfect filial prayer to His Father” (541).
In the Gospel narrative, the setting of Jesus’ prayer is found always at the crossroads between insertion into the tradition of His people and the newness of a unique personal relationship with God. “The lonely place” (cf. Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16) to which He often retires, “the mountain” He ascends in order to pray (cf. Luke 6:12; 9:28), “the night” that allows Him a time of solitude (cf. Mark 1:35; 6:46-47; Luke 6:12) all recall moments along the path of God’s revelation in the Old Testament, and indicate the continuity of His plan of salvation. But at the same time, they mark moments of particular importance for Jesus, who enters knowingly into this plan in utter faithfulness to the Father’s Will.
In our prayer also, we must learn increasingly to enter into this history of salvation whose summit is Jesus; [we must learn] to renew before God our personal decision to open ourselves to His Will, and to ask Him for the strength to conform our will to His -- in every aspect of our lives -- in obedience to His plan of love for us.
Jesus’ prayer touches all the phases of His ministry and all of His days. Hardships do not impede it. Indeed, the Gospels clearly show that it was a custom of Jesus’ to pass part of the night in prayer. The Evangelist Mark recounts one of these nights, after the hard day of the multiplication of the loaves, and he writes: “Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He dismissed the crowd. And after He had taken leave of them, He went into the hills to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and He was alone on the land” (Mark 6:45-47).
When decisions become urgent and complex, His prayer becomes more prolonged and intense. Faced with the imminent choice of the Twelve Apostles, for example, Luke emphasizes that Jesus’ prayer in preparation for this moment lasted the entire night: “In these days He went out into the hills to pray; and all night He continued in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles” (Luke 6:12-13).
In looking to the prayer of Jesus, a question should arise in us: How do I pray? How do we pray? What sort of time do I dedicate to my relationship with God? Does there exist today a sufficient education and formation in prayer? And who can be its teacher?
In the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini I spoke of the importance of the prayed reading of Sacred Scripture. Having gathered the findings of the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, I placed particular emphasis upon the specific form of lectio divina. To listen, to meditate, to fall silent before the Lord who speaks is an art that is learned by practicing it with constancy. Certainly, prayer is a gift that must first and foremost be welcomed -- it is the work of God -- but it demands commitment and continuity on our part; above all, continuity and constancy are important. The example of Jesus’ experience shows that His prayer, animated by the fatherhood of God and by the communion of the Spirit, deepened through prolonged and faithful exercise -- unto the Garden of Olives and the Cross.
Today, Christians are called to be witnesses to prayer because our world is often closed to divine horizons and to the hope that leads to an encounter with God. Through a deep friendship with Jesus -- and by living a filial relationship with the Father in Him and with Him -- by our faithful and constant prayer we can open the windows to God’s heaven. Indeed, in walking along the way of prayer --without regard for human concern -- we can help others to travel the same road: for it is true also of Christian prayer that, in travelling along its paths, paths are opened.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us form ourselves in an intense relationship with God, in prayer that is not occasional but constant, and full of trust, capable of illumining our lives, as Jesus teaches us. And let us ask Him that we may be able to communicate -- to the persons close to us and to those whom we meet on our streets -- the joy of encountering the Lord, Who is light for our lives. Thank you.
On Jesus' Cry of Exultation
"We Too, By the Gift of His Spirit, Can Turn to God in Prayer With the Confidence of Children"
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 7, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language address Benedict XVI gave during today's general audience. He continued with his reflection on Jesus' prayer.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
The Evangelists Matthew and Luke (cf. Matthew 11:25-30 and Luke 10:21-22) have bequeathed to us a “jewel” of Jesus’ prayer, which often is called the Cry of Exultation or the Cry of Messianic Exultation. It is a prayer of gratitude and of praise, as we just heard. In the original Greek of the Gospels, the word with which this hymn begins -- and which expresses Jesus’ attitude in addressing the Father -- is exomologoumai -- often translated as “I give praise” (Matthew 11:25 and Luke 10:21). But in the writings of the New Testament, this word indicates principally two things: the first is “to confess” -- as for example, John the Baptist asked those who went out to be baptized by him to confess their sins (cf. Matthew 3:6); and the second is “to be in agreement." Therefore, the expression with which Jesus begins His prayer contains His full confession of the Father’s action -- and with it, His being in total, conscious and joyous agreement with this way of acting -- with the Father’s plan. The Cry of Exultation is the apex of a journey of prayer in which Jesus’ profound and intimate communion with the life of the Father in the Holy Spirit clearly emerges and reveals His divine Sonship.
Jesus addresses God by calling Him “Father”. This word expresses Jesus’ awareness and certainty in being “the Son” in intimate and constant communion with Him, and this is the focus and source of all of Jesus’ prayer. We see this clearly in the hymn’s conclusion, which illumines the entire text. Jesus says: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Luke 10:22). Jesus affirms, therefore, that only “the Son” truly knows the Father.
Every knowing between persons -- we all experience this in our human relationships -- implies involvement, some interior bond between the one who knows and the one known, at a more or less profound level: We cannot know one another without a communion of being. In the Cry of Exultation -- as in all of His prayer -- Jesus shows that true knowledge of God presupposes communion with Him. It is only by being in communion with the other that I may begin to know him; and so it is with God: only if I am in true contact, if I am in communion with Him, may I also know Him. Therefore, true knowledge is reserved to the “Son,” the Only Begotten who is forever in the bosom of the Father (cf. John 1:18), in perfect unity with Him. Only the Son truly knows God, by being in an intimate communion of being -- only the Son can truly reveal who God is.
The name “Father” is followed by a second title, “Lord of heaven and earth.” With this expression, Jesus recapitulates the belief in Creation and echoes the first words of Sacred Scripture: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Praying, He recalls the great biblical narrative of the history of God’s love for man, which begins with the act of Creation. Jesus enters into this history of love -- He is its summit and fulfillment. In His experience of prayer, Sacred Scripture is illumined and comes alive in its fullest breadth: the announcement of the mystery of God and the response of man transformed. But in the expression “Lord of heaven and earth” we are able also to recognize how in Jesus -- the Revealer of the Father -- there is reopened to man the possibility of gaining access to God.
Let us now ask ourselves the question: To whom does the Son wish to reveal the mysteries of God? At the beginning of the hymn Jesus expresses His joy, for the Father’s Will is to keep these things hidden from the learned and the wise and to reveal them to the little ones (cf. Luke 10:21). In this expression of His prayer, Jesus reveals His communion with the decision of the Father, who reveals His mysteries to the simple of heart: the Son’s Will is one with the Father’s.
Divine revelation does not come to pass according to worldly logic, which says that it is the cultured and the powerful who possess important knowledge and who transmit it to simpler people, to the little ones. God used a wholly different way: The recipients of His communication were precisely the “little ones.” This is the Father’s Will, and the Son joyously shares it with Him. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “His exclamation, ‘Yes, Father!’ expresses the depth of His heart, His adherence to the Father's ‘good pleasure,’ echoing His mother's Fiat at the time of his conception and prefiguring what He will say to the Father in his agony. The whole prayer of Jesus is contained in this loving adherence of His human heart to the mystery of the will of the Father (Ephesians 1:9)” (2603).
Hence derives the invocation we address to God in the Our Father: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”: Together with Christ and in Christ, we also ask to enter into harmony with the Father’s Will, and in this way we also become His children. Therefore, in this Cry of Exultation, Jesus expresses His Will to draw into His own filial knowledge of God all those whom the Father wishes to share in it; and those who welcome this gift are the “little ones.”
But what does it mean “to be little,” to be simple? What is the “littleness” that opens man to filial intimacy with God and to the welcoming of His Will? What must the fundamental attitude of our prayer be? Let us look to “The Sermon on the Mount,” where Jesus affirms: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). It is purity of heart that allows us to recognize the face of God in Jesus Christ -- it is having a simple heart, like those of children -- free from the presumption of the one who is closed in on himself, who thinks he has no need of anyone -- not even God.
It is also interesting to note the circumstances in which Jesus breaks into this hymn to the Father. In Matthew’s Gospel narrative, it is joy in the fact that -- despite the opposition and refusal of many -- there are “little ones” who welcome His word and who open themselves to the gift of faith in Him. The Cry of Exultation, in fact, is preceded by the contrast between the praise of John the Baptist -- one of the “little ones” who recognized God acting in Christ Jesus (cf. Mathew 11:2-19) -- and the reproof for the incredulity of the lake cities “where most of His mighty works had been done” (cf. Matthew 11:20-24).
The exultation is seen by Matthew, therefore, in relation to the words with which Jesus notes the efficacy of His word and of His action: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me” (Matthew 11:4-6).
St. Luke also presents the Cry of Exultation in connection with a moment of development in the proclamation of the Gospel. Jesus sent out the “seventy-two disciples” (Luke 10:1), and they departed with a sense of fear over the possible failure of their mission. Luke also emphasizes the refusal encountered in the cities where the Lord had preached and accomplished mighty works. But the seventy-two disciples return full of joy, because their mission was successful; they witnessed that with the power of Jesus’ word, the evils of men are conquered. And Jesus shares their satisfaction: “in that same hour” -- in that moment -- He rejoiced.
There are still two elements I would like to emphasize. The Evangelist Luke introduces the prayer with the annotation: “Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21). Jesus rejoices from His inmost being, in what He holds most deeply: [His] unique communion of knowledge and love with the Father, the fullness of the Holy Spirit. In drawing us into His Sonship, Jesus invites us also to open ourselves to the light of the Holy Spirit, since -- as the Apostle Paul affirms -- “[We] do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words … according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27) and He reveals to us the Father’s love.
In Matthew’s Gospel -- following the Cry of Exultation -- we find one of Jesus’ most heartfelt appeals: “Come to me, all who are weary are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus asks us to go to Him, for He is true Wisdom -- to Him, for He is “gentle and humble of heart.” He offers us “His yoke” -- the road of the wisdom of the Gospel -- which is neither a doctrine to be learned nor an ethical system, but a Person to be followed: He Himself, the Only Begotten Son in perfect communion with the Father.
Dear brothers and sisters, we have experienced for a moment the riches of this prayer of Jesus. We too, by the gift of His Spirit, can turn to God in prayer with the confidence of children, calling upon Him with the name Father, “Abba.” But we must have the heart of the little ones, of the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) -- in order to recognize that we are not self-sufficient, that we are unable to build our lives alone, that we need God -- we need to encounter Him, to listen to Him, to speak to Him. Prayer opens us to receive the gift of God -- His Wisdom -- which is Jesus Himself, in order to accomplish the Father’s Will in our lives and thus to find rest amidst the hardships of our journey. Thank you.
On Jesus' Prayer as Love for God and Neighbor
"Petition, Praise and Thanksgiving Should Coalesce"
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 14, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope continued with his reflections on Jesus' prayer.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to reflect with you on Jesus’ prayer as it relates to His prodigious healing action. In the Gospels, various situations are presented in which Jesus prays before the beneficent and healing work of God the Father, who acts through Him. It is a prayer that manifests once again His unique relationship of knowledge and communion with the Father, as Jesus becomes involved in a deeply human way in the difficulties of His friends; for example, of Lazarus and his family, or of the many poor and sick whom He wills to help concretely.
One important instance is the healing of the deaf man (Mark 7:32-37). The Evangelist Mark’s account -- which we just heard -- shows that Jesus’ healing action is connected to His intense relationship both with His neighbor -- the man who is ill -- and with the Father. The scene of the miracle is carefully described in this way: “And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they besought Him to lay His hand upon him. And taking him aside from the multitude privately, He put His fingers into his ears and He spat and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him ‘Ephphata’, that is, ‘Be opened’.” (7:33-34).
Jesus wills that the healing occur “aside, [away] from the multitude”. This seems due not only to the fact that the miracle had to be kept hidden from the people to avoid their forming limited or distorted interpretations of the person of Jesus. The choice of taking the sick man aside causes Jesus and the deaf-mute to be alone -- close together in a unique relationship -- at the moment of the healing.
With a gesture, the Lord touches the ears and tongue of the man who is ill; i.e., the specific sites of his infirmity. The intensity of Jesus’ attention is revealed also in the unusual features of the healing: He uses His own fingers and even His own saliva. Also the fact that the Evangelist reports the original word pronounced by the Lord -- “Ephphata”, or “Be opened!” -- emphasizes the scene’s unique character.
But the central focus of this episode is the fact that Jesus -- at the moment He performs the healing -- looks directly to His relationship with the Father. The account says in fact that, “looking up to heaven, He sighed” (Verse 34). The attention given to the man who is ill, Jesus’ care for him, is tied to a profound attitude of prayer to God. And the sigh He emits is described with a word that, in the New Testament, indicates the aspiration to something good that is still lacking (cf. Romans 8:23).
The whole narrative, then, shows that human involvement with the man who is ill leads Jesus to prayer. Once again, His unique relationship with the Father re-emerges -- His identity as the Only Begotten Son. In Him, through His person, God’s healing and beneficent action is made present. It is not by chance that the people’s final comment following the miracle recalls the appraisal of creation found at the beginning of Genesis: “He has done all things well” (Mark 7:37).
Prayer enters clearly into Jesus’ healing action, with His gaze towards heaven. Certainly, the power that healed the deaf-mute was caused by [Jesus’] compassion for him, but it finds its origin in [His] recourse to the Father. The two relationships meet: the human relationship of compassion with the man, which enters into the relationship with God and thus becomes a healing.
In the Joannine account of the raising of Lazarus, this same dynamic is attested to with still greater evidence (cf. John 11:1-44). Here also are interwoven -- on one hand -- Jesus’ bond with a friend and his suffering -- and on the other -- His filial relationship with the Father.
Jesus’ human participation in the story of Lazarus has several special features. His friendship with him, as well as with his sisters Martha and Mary, is recalled repeatedly throughout the account. Jesus Himself affirms: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep” (John 11:11). His sincere affection for His friend is emphasized also by the sisters of Lazarus, as well as by the Jews (cf. John 11:3; 11:36); it manifests itself in Jesus’ being deeply moved at the sight of Martha's and Mary’s sorrow and of all of Lazarus’ friends, and it leads Him to weep -- so deeply human -- as He approaches the tomb: “When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept (John 11:33-35).
This bond of friendship, Jesus’ involvement and emotion before the suffering of Lazarus’ relatives and acquaintances, is interlinked throughout the narrative with a continual and intense relationship with the Father. From the outset, Jesus interprets the event in relation to His very identity and mission, and to the glorification that awaits Him. When he hears of Lazarus’ illness, in fact, He comments: “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it” (John 11:4).
The announcement of His friend’s death is also received by Jesus with profound human pain, but always with clear reference to His relationship with God and to the mission entrusted to Him; He says: “Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe” (John 11:14-15). The moment of Jesus’ explicit prayer to the Father before the tomb is the natural climax of the entire episode, which reaches across this double register of friendship with Lazarus and of filial relationship with God. Here also the two relationships go together. “Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.” (John 11:41): it is a Eucharist.
The phrase reveals that Jesus did not retreat -- even for an instant -- from His prayer of petition for Lazarus’ life. His prayer continued; indeed, it strengthened the bond with His friend, and at the same time, it confirmed Jesus’ decision to remain in communion with the Father’s Will, with His plan of love, in which Lazarus’ illness and death are regarded as a place where the glory of God is made manifest.
Dear brothers and sisters, in reading this narrative each one of us is called to understand that in the prayer of petition to the Lord, we must not expect an immediate fulfillment of our requests, of our will; rather, we must entrust ourselves to the Father’s Will, interpreting each event within the perspective of His glory, of His design of love, which is often mysterious to our eyes.
This is why -- in our prayer -- petition, praise and thanksgiving should coalesce, even when it seems to us that God is not responding to our concrete expectations. Abandonment to God’s love, which precedes and accompanies us always, is one of the attitudes at the heart of our conversation with Him. The Catechism of the Catholic Church comments in this way on Jesus’ prayer in the account of the raising of Lazarus: “Jesus’ prayer, characterized by thanksgiving, reveals to us how to ask: before the gift is given, Jesus commits Himself to the One who in giving gives Himself. The Giver is more precious than the gift; He is the ‘treasure’; in Him abides His Son’s heart; the gift is given ‘as well’”(Matthew 6:21 and 6:33) (2604).
This seems to me to be very important: before the gift is given, to adhere to Him who gives; the Giver is more precious than the gift. Also for us, then, beyond what God gives us when we call upon Him, the greatest gift He can give us is His friendship, His presence, His love. He is the precious treasure we should ask for and treasure always.
The prayer Jesus utters as the stone is rolled from the entrance to Lazarus’ tomb also presents a singular and unexpected development. In fact, after having given thanks to God the Father, He adds: “I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me” (John 11:42). With His prayer, Jesus wills to lead [us] to faith, to total trust in God and in His Will, and He wants to show that this God who so loved man and the world as to send His Only Begotten Son (cf. John 3:16), is the God of Life, the God who brings hope and who is able to reverse situations that are humanly impossible. The trustful prayer of a believer is therefore a living witness of this presence of God in the world, of His interest in man, of His action in realizing His plan of salvation.
The two prayers of Jesus that we have meditated upon -- which accompany the curing of the deaf-mute and the raising of Lazarus -- reveal that the deep bond between the love of God and the love of neighbor must enter into our prayer also. In Jesus, true God and true man, attention to the other -- especially to the needy and the suffering -- being moved before the sorrow of a beloved family, leads Him to turn to the Father, in that fundamental relationship that guides the whole of His life. But the opposite is also true: communion with the Father, constant dialogue with Him, drives Jesus to be uniquely attentive to the concrete situations of men in order to bring to them the consolation and love of God. The relationship with our fellow men leads us to the relationship with God, and [our relationship] with God leads us anew to our neighbor.
Dear brothers and sisters, our prayer opens the door to God, who teaches us to go out of ourselves constantly so that we might be able to become close to others, especially in moments of trial, to bring them consolation, hope and light. May the Lord grant that we be capable of prayer that is ever more intense, so that our personal relationship with God the Father may be strengthened. May He open our hearts to the needs of those around us and enable us to feel the beauty of being “sons in the Son” together with so many brothers and sisters. Thank you.
Dec. 28: On the Holy Family's Prayer
"Learn More and More to Say With Your Whole Existence: 'Father'"
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 1, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave Dec. 28 during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope continued with his series of catecheses on prayer, reflecting on prayer in the life of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Today's meeting takes place within the Christmas atmosphere, imbued with intimate joy in the Savior's birth. We have just celebrated this mystery, and its echo resounds in the liturgies throughout these days. It is a mystery of light that men of every age may relive in faith and prayer. It is precisely through prayer that we are enabled to draw near to God with intimacy and depth. For this reason, bearing in mind the theme of prayer that I am developing at this time in the catecheses, today I would like to invite you to reflect on the place of prayer in the life of the Holy Family of Nazareth. The home of Nazareth, in fact, is a school of prayer where we learn to listen, to ponder and to penetrate the profound meaning of the manifestation of the Son of God, drawing our example from Mary, Joseph and Jesus.
The address of the Servant of God Paul VI during his visit to Nazareth remains memorable [in this regard]. The Pope said that, in the school of the Holy Family, "we come to understand the need for a spiritual discipline, if we wish to follow the teaching of the Gospel and become disciples of Christ." And he added: "First, it teaches us silence. Oh! That there would be reborn in us the esteem for silence, that wonderful and indispensable atmosphere of the spirit: while we are deafened by so many noises, sounds and clamorous voices in the frantic and tumultuous times of modern life. Oh! Silence of Nazareth, teach us to be resolute in good thoughts, intent upon the interior life, ready to listen well to the secret inspirations of God and the exhortations of the true masters" (Address at Nazareth, Jan. 5, 1964).
We can glean several insights on the Holy Family's prayer and relationship with God from the Gospel accounts of Jesus' childhood. We may begin with the Presentation of Jesus in the temple. St. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph, "when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, brought the child up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord" (2:22). Like every observant Jewish family, Jesus' parents go up to the temple to consecrate the firstborn son to God and to offer sacrifice. Moved by fidelity to the law's prescriptions, they set off from Bethlehem and go up to Jerusalem with Jesus, who is now forty days old. Instead of a one-year-old lamb, they present the offering of simple families; that is, two young pigeons. The Holy Family's pilgrimage is one of faith, of the offering of gifts, a symbol of prayer, and of encounter with the Lord, whom Mary and Joseph already see in the son Jesus.
The contemplation of Christ has in Mary its matchless model. The face of the Son belongs to her in a special way, since it was in her womb that He was formed, taking from her also a human resemblance. No one has dedicated himself to the contemplation of Jesus as devotedly as did Mary. Her heart's gaze focuses upon Him already at the moment of the Annunciation, when she conceived Him through the power of the Holy Spirit; in the months that follow, little by little she feels His presence, until the day of His birth, when her eyes are able to gaze with maternal tenderness upon the face of her Son, while she wraps Him in swaddling clothes and lays Him in the manger.
The memories of Jesus -- fixed in her mind and in her heart -- marked every moment of Mary's life. She lives with her eyes on Christ and she treasures His every word. St. Luke says: "For her part [Mary] kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (2:19) and in this way he describes Mary's attitude before the Mystery of the Incarnation, an attitude that will extend throughout her entire life: to keep all these things, pondering them in her heart. Luke is the evangelist who makes Mary's heart known to us, her faith (cf. 1:45), her hope and obedience (cf. 1:38), above all her interiority and prayer (cf. 1:46-56) and her free adherence to Christ (cf. 1:55). And all this proceeds from the gift of the Holy Spirit who descends upon her (cf. 1:35) as He will descend upon the Apostles according to Christ's promise (cf. Acts 1:8).
The image of Mary given us by St. Luke presents Our Lady as a model for every believer who keeps and confronts Jesus' words and actions, a confrontation that always involves a growth in the knowledge of Jesus. In the wake of Blessed Pope John Paul II (cf. Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae) we may say that the prayer of the rosary draws its model from Mary, since it consists in contemplating Christ's Mysteries in spiritual union with the Mother of the Lord.
Mary's ability to live by the gaze of God is, as it were, contagious. The first to experience this was St. Joseph. His humble and sincere love for his betrothed, and the decision to unite his life to Mary's, also attracted and introduced him who was already a "just man" (Matthew 1:19) into unique intimacy with God. In fact, with Mary -- and above all, with Jesus -- he enters into a new way of relating to God, of welcoming Him into his own life, of entering into His plan of salvation, by fulfilling His will. After having trustingly followed the Angel's instructions -- "do not fear to take Mary your wife" (Matthew 1:20) -- he took Mary to himself and shared his life with her; he truly gave himself totally to Mary and to Jesus, and this led him toward the perfect response to the vocation he had received.
The Gospel, as we know, has not preserved any of Joseph's words: His is a silent but faithful, constant and active presence. We may imagine that he also, like his spouse, and in intimate harmony with her, lived the years of Jesus' childhood and adolescence savoring, as it were, His presence in their family. Joseph completely fulfilled his paternal role in every respect. Certainly, he educated Jesus in prayer, together with Mary. He, in a particular way, would have taken [Jesus] with him to the synagogue for the Sabbath rituals, as well as to Jerusalem, for the great feasts of the people of Israel. Joseph -- according to Hebrew tradition -- would have guided family prayer both in daily life -- in the morning, in the evening, at meals -- as well as in the major religious celebrations. Thus, in the rhythm of the days spent in Nazareth, between their simple dwelling and Joseph's workshop, Jesus learned to alternate prayer and work, and also to offer to God the struggle of earning the bread the family needed.
And lastly, another episode that sees the Holy Family of Nazareth gathered together in prayer: Jesus, we heard -- at the age of 12 -- went with his parents to the temple in Jerusalem. As St. Luke emphasizes, this episode occurs within the context of the pilgrimage: "His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom" (2:41-42).
The pilgrimage is a religious expression that is at once nourished by prayer, and [in turn] nourishes it. Here we are speaking of the Passover pilgrimage, and the Evangelist has us observe that Jesus' family takes part in it each year so that they might participate in the rituals in the Holy City. The Hebrew family, like the Christian family, prays in the intimacy of the home, but also prays together with the community -- seeing themselves as part of the pilgrim people of God -- and the pilgrimage expresses precisely the People of God being on a journey. The Passover is the center and summit of it all, and involves the family dimension as well as that of the liturgical and public cult.
In the episode of the 12-year-old Jesus, Jesus' first words are also recorded: "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (2:49). After searching for three days, His parents find him in the temple sitting in the midst of the teachers while he listens to them and asks them questions (cf. 2:46). When asked why He did this to His father and mother, He responds that He only did what a Son should do: that is, be near the Father. In this way, He indicates who the true Father is, what the true home is, that He did nothing strange or disobedient. He remained where the Son had to be, that is, close to the Father, and He emphasizes who His Father is.
The word "Father" dominates the focus of this response and the whole Christological mystery appears. This word, therefore, opens the mystery; it is the key to the mystery of Christ, who is the Son, and it also opens the key to our mystery as Christians -- we who are sons in the Son. At the same time, Jesus teaches us how to be sons -- precisely by being with the Father in prayer. The Christological mystery, the mystery of Christian existence, is intimately bound to, and founded upon prayer. Jesus will one day teach His disciples to pray, telling them: when you pray, say "Father." And, naturally, do not say it only with a word, say it with your lives, learn more and more to say with your whole existence: "Father" -- thus will you be true sons in the Son, true Christians.
Here, when Jesus is still fully a part of the life of the Family of Nazareth, it is important to note the resonance that hearing the word "Father" from Jesus' mouth would have had in the hearts of Mary and Joseph, [to hear Him] reveal and emphasize who the Father is, and to hear this word spoken from His mouth in the awareness of the Only Begotten Son, who on this account willed to remain for three days in the temple, which is the "Father's house."
From then on, we may imagine, life in the Holy Family was filled even more with prayer, since from the heart of the Child Jesus -- and then from the adolescent and young man -- this profound sense of relationship with God the Father unceasingly poured forth and was reflected in the hearts of Mary and Joseph. This episode shows us the true situation, the atmosphere of being with the Father. Thus, the Family of Nazareth is the first model of the Church, in which -- gathered around the presence of Jesus and thanks to His mediation -- everyone lives the filial relation with God the Father, which also transforms human interpersonal relationships.
Dear friends, on account of the various aspects I have briefly traced out in the light of the Gospel, the Holy Family is the icon of the domestic Church, which is called to pray together. The family is the domestic Church and must be the first school of prayer. In the family, children -- from the most tender age -- can learn to perceive the sense of God, thanks to their parents' teaching and example: to live in an atmosphere marked by the presence of God. An authentically Christian education cannot prescind from the experience of prayer. If we do not learn how to pray within the family, it will be difficult to fill this void. And for this reason, I would like to address to you the invitation to rediscover the beauty of praying together as a family in the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth. In this way, will you truly become but one heart and mind, a true family. Thank you.
On Our Lord's Prayer at the Last Supper
"When Trial Comes Upon the Disciples, Jesus' Prayer Sustains Their Weakness"
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 11, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope continued with his catecheses on prayer, reflecting today on Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
On our journey of reflection on the prayer of Jesus as presented in the Gospels, I would like to meditate today on the particularly solemn moment of His prayer at the Last Supper.
The temporal and emotional backdrop to the banquet in which Jesus takes leave of His friends is the imminence of His death, which He feels is now close at hand. For a long time, Jesus had spoken about His Passion and had sought to increasingly draw His disciples into this perspective. The Gospel according to Mark states that from the time of their departure on the journey to Jerusalem -- in the villages of the far-off Caesarea Philippi -- Jesus had begun “to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (8:31). Moreover, on the very day He was preparing to bid the disciples farewell, the life of the people of Israel was marked by the approaching feast of Passover; i.e. of the memorial of Israel’s liberation from Egypt. This liberation -- experienced in the past, and awaited anew in the present and for the future -- was relived in the family celebrations of the Passover.
The Last Supper takes place within this context, but with a fundamental newness. Jesus looks to His Passion, Death and Resurrection fully aware of them. He wills to experience this Supper with His disciples, but with a wholly unique character, different from all other banquets: It is His Supper, in which He gives Something totally new: Himself. Thus it is that Jesus celebrates His Passover and anticipates His Cross and Resurrection.
This newness is emphasized for us by the chronology of the Last Supper account in John’s Gospel, which does not describe it as the Passover meal precisely because Jesus intends to inaugurate something new, to celebrate His Passover -- certainly linked to the events of the Exodus. And for John, Jesus died on the Cross at the very moment when, in the temple of Jerusalem, the Passover lambs were being immolated.
What, then, is the heart of this Supper? The actions of the breaking of bread, of distributing it to those who are His own, and of sharing the chalice of wine -- with the words that accompany them and within the context of prayer in which they occur: It is the institution of the Eucharist; it is the great prayer of Jesus and the Church. But let us look more closely at this moment.
First of all, the New Testament tradition of the institution of the Eucharist (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-25; Luke 22:14-20; Mark 14:22-25; Matthew 26:26-29), pointing to the prayer that introduces the actions and words of Jesus over the bread and wine, uses two parallel and complementary words. Paul and Luke speak of eucharistía/thanksgiving: “He took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave it to them” (Luke 22:19). Mark and Matthew, on the other hand, emphasize the aspect of eulogia/blessing: “He took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them” (Mark 14:22). Both of the Greek words eucaristeìn and eulogein indicate the Jewish berakah; that is, the Jewish tradition’s great prayer of thanksgiving that inaugurated the major feasts.
The two different Greek words indicate the two intrinsic and complementary directions of this prayer. The berakah, in fact, is first and foremost thanksgiving and praise that ascends to God for the gift received: In Jesus’ Last Supper, it is bread made from the wheat that God brings forth from the earth, and wine produced from the mature fruit of the vine. This prayer of praise and thanksgiving raised to God returns as a blessing that descends from God on the gift and enriches it. Thus, thanksgiving and praise of God become blessing, and the offering given to God returns to man blessed by the Almighty. The words of the institution of the Eucharist belong within this context of prayer; in them, the praise and blessing of the berakah become the blessing and transformation of the bread and wine into Jesus’ Body and Blood.
Before the words of institution come the actions: the breaking of bread and the offering of wine. The breaking of bread and the passing of the chalice are in the first instance the function of the head of the family, who welcomes the members of his family to his meal; but these are also gestures of hospitality, of welcoming the stranger who is not part of the household to table fellowship and communion. These very gestures, in the meal with which Jesus takes leave of those who are his own, acquire an entirely new depth: He gives a visible sign of welcome to the meal in which God gives Himself. Jesus offers and communicates Himself in the form of bread and wine.
But how can this be? How can Jesus, in that moment, give Himself? Jesus knows that His life is about to be taken from Him through the torture of the Cross, the death penalty of men who are not free, what Cicero defined as the mors turpissima crucis -- [the most shameful death of the cross]. With the gift of the bread and wine that He offers at the Last Supper, Jesus anticipates His Death and Resurrection by bringing to fulfillment what he had said in the Good Shepherd discourse: “I lay down my life, that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17-18). He therefore offers in anticipation the life that will be taken from Him, and in this way He transforms His violent death into a free act of self-giving for others and to others. The violence suffered is transformed into an active, free and redemptive sacrifice.
Once again, in prayer -- begun in accordance with the ritual forms of the biblical tradition -- Jesus reveals His identity and His determination to accomplish unto the end His mission of total love, of offering in obedience to the Father’s Will. The profound originality of His gift of Himself to those who are His own through the memorial of the Eucharist is the summit of the prayer that marks the farewell supper with His disciples.
In contemplating Jesus’ actions and words on that night, we see clearly that His intimate and constant relationship with the Father is the locus where He accomplishes the act of leaving to His disciples, and to each one of us, the Sacrament of love, the “Sacramentum caritatis”. Twice in the Cenacle do the words resound: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). He celebrates His Passover by giving Himself, by becoming the true Lamb that brings to fulfillment the whole of ancient worship. For this reason St. Paul, speaking to the Christians in Corinth, affirms: “Christ, our paschal Lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival … with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
The Evangelist Luke has preserved another precious element of the events of the Last Supper that allows us to see the moving depth of Jesus’ prayer on that night for those who are His own, His attentiveness to each one. Beginning with the prayer of thanksgiving and blessing, Jesus comes to the Eucharistic gift -- the gift of Himself -- and as He bestows the decisive sacramental reality, he turns to Peter. At the end of the supper, He says to him: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).
When trial comes upon the disciples, Jesus’ prayer sustains their weakness, their struggle to comprehend that God’s way passes through the Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection, anticipated in the offering of the bread and wine. The Eucharist is the food of pilgrims that becomes strength also for whoever is tired, exhausted and disoriented. And the prayer is especially for Peter, so that once converted, he might confirm his brothers in faith. The Evangelist Luke records that it was Jesus’ gaze that sought out Peter’s face at the very moment he consummated his triple denial, in order to give him the strength to continue on his journey after Him: “Immediately, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. And the Lord turned and fixed his gaze upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word that the Lord had spoken to him” (Luke 22:60-61).
Dear brothers and sisters, in participating in the Eucharist we experience in an extraordinary way the prayer that Jesus offered, and continually offers, for each one of us in order that evil -- which we all encounter in life -- may not have the power to overcome us, and so that the transforming power of Christ’s Death and Resurrection may act in us. In the Eucharist, the Church responds to Jesus’ command: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:24-26); she repeats the prayer of thanksgiving and blessing and, with this, the words of the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Lord’s Body and Blood.
Our celebrations of the Eucharist are a being drawn into that moment of prayer, a uniting ourselves again and again to Jesus’ prayer. From her earliest days, the Church has understood the words of consecration as part of her praying together with Jesus; as a central part of the praise filled with thanksgiving through which the fruit of the earth and of men’s hands are given to us anew by God in the form of Jesus’ Body and Blood, as God’s gift of Himself in His Son’s self-emptying love (cf. Jesus of Nazareth, II, pg. 128). In participating in the Eucharist, in nourishing ourselves on the Flesh and Blood of the Son of God, we unite our prayer to that of the paschal Lamb on His last night, so that our lives might not be lost, despite our weakness and infidelity, but might be transformed.
Dear friends, let us ask the Lord that, after having worthily prepared ourselves, also through the Sacrament of Penance, our participation in His Eucharist, which is indispensible for Christian life, might always be the summit of our prayer. Let us ask that, by being united deeply to His own offering to the Father, we too may transform our crosses into a free and responsible sacrifice of love to God and to our brothers and sisters. Thank you.
ON THE PRIESTLY PRAYER OF JESUS
"Love Is True Glory, Divine Glory"
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 25, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope reflected on the priestly prayer of Jesus presented in Chapter 17 of St. John’s Gospel.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
In today’s Catechesis we will focus our attention on the prayer that Jesus addresses to the Father in the “Hour” of his exaltation and of his glorification (cf. John 1:26). As the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “Christian Tradition rightly calls this prayer the ‘priestly’ prayer of Jesus. It is the prayer of our High Priest, inseparable from his sacrifice, from his passing over (Passover) to the Father to whom he is wholly ‘consecrated’” (No. 2747).
Jesus’ prayer can be understood in its extraordinary depth of richness if we consider it against the backdrop of the Jewish feast of expiation, Yom Kippur. On that day, the High Priest makes expiation first for himself, then for the priestly class and lastly for the entire community of the people. The purpose is to restore to the people of Israel, after the transgressions of one year, the awareness of reconciliation with God, the awareness of being the chosen people, a “holy people” among the other nations. Jesus’ prayer, presented in Chapter 17 of the Gospel according to John, adopts the structure of this feast. Jesus on that night turns to the Father as he is offering himself. He, priest and victim, prays for himself, for the apostles and for all those who will believe in Him, for the Church throughout the ages (cf. John 17:20).
The prayer that Jesus offers for himself is the request for his own glorification, for his “exaltation” in this, his “Hour.” In reality, it is more than a request and declaration of his full availability to enter freely and generously into God the Father’s plan, which is to be accomplished in his being handed over in death and resurrection. This “Hour” begins with Judas’ betrayal (cf. John 13:31) and will culminate in the Risen Jesus’ ascension to the Father (John 20:17). Jesus comments on Judas’ departure from the cenacle with these words: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and in him God is glorified” (John 13:31). Not by chance does He begin the priestly prayer, saying: “Father, the hour has come: glorify the Son that the Son may glorify thee” (John 17:1). The glorification that Jesus asks for himself as High Priest is an entrance into the fullness of obedience to the Father, an obedience that leads him into the fullness of His Sonship: “And now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made” (John 17:5). This availability and this request form the first act of Jesus’ new priesthood, which is a total self-giving on the Cross, and it is precisely on the Cross -- in the supreme act of love -- that he is glorified, because love is true glory, divine glory.
The second moment of this prayer is the intercession Jesus makes for the disciples who were with Him. They are those of whom Jesus can say to the Father: “I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me, and they have kept thy word” (John 17:6). “To manifest God’s name to men” is the realization of a new presence of the Father among His people, among humanity. This “manifestation” is not only a word; in Jesus, it is reality; God is with us, and thus the name -- His presence with us, his being one with us -- is “realized.” Therefore, this manifestation finds its fulfillment in the Incarnation of the Word. In Jesus, God enters into human flesh: He makes himself close in a unique and new way. And this presence has its summit in the sacrifice that Jesus offers in His Passover of death and resurrection.
At the center of this prayer of intercession and expiation for the disciples, is the request for consecration; Jesus says to the Father: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth” (John 17:16-19). I ask: what does it mean to “consecrate” in this case? First and foremost, it needs to be said that, strictly speaking, only God is “Consecrated” or “Holy.” To consecrate therefore means to transfer a reality -- a person or a thing -- to God’s ownership. And in this, two complementary aspects are present: on the one hand, the removal from common things, a segregation, a “setting apart” from the realm of man’s personal life, in order to be given totally to God; and on the other hand, this segregation, this transfer to the sphere of God, signifies “sending,” mission: precisely on account of its being given to God, the reality, the consecrated person exists “for” others; he is given to others.
To give oneself to God means no longer existing for oneself, but for all. He is consecrated who, like Jesus, is separated from the world and set apart for God in view of a task, and this is precisely why he is fully available to all. For the disciples, [the task] will be to continue the mission of Jesus, to be given to God so as to be on mission for all. On Easter evening, the Risen One appearing to his disciples will say to them: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21).
The third act of this priestly prayer extends our gaze to the end of time. In it, Jesus turns to the Father in order to intercede on behalf of all those who will be brought to faith through the mission inaugurated by the apostles and continued throughout history: “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in Me through their word.” Jesus prays for the Church throughout the ages, he prays also for us (John 17:20). The Catechism of the Catholic Church comments: “Jesus fulfilled the word of the Father completely; his prayer, like his sacrifice, extends until the end of time. The prayer of this hour fills the end-times and carries them toward their consummation” (No. 2749).
The central petition of Jesus’ priestly prayer dedicated to his disciples throughout the ages is for the future unity of all those who will believe in Him. This unity is not a product of the world. It comes exclusively from the divine unity and arrives to us from the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. Jesus invokes a gift that comes from Heaven, and that has its real and perceptible effect on earth. He prays “that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21).
On the one hand, Christian unity is a hidden reality present in the hearts of believers. But at the same time, it must become visible in history with complete clarity; it must become visible, so that the world may believe; it has a very practical and concrete end -- it must become visible so that all may truly be one. The unity of the future disciples, being a unity with Jesus -- whom the Father sent into the world -- is also the original source of the Christian mission’s efficacy in the world.
We can say that the founding of the Church is accomplished in Jesus’ priestly prayer … it is precisely here, in the act of the Last Supper, that Jesus creates the Church. “For what else is the Church, if not the community of disciples who receive their unity through faith in Jesus Christ as the one sent by the Father and are drawn into Jesus’ mission to lead the world toward the recognition of God -- and in this way to save it?” Here we find a true definition of the Church. “The Church is born from Jesus’ prayer. But this prayer is more than words; it is the act by which he ‘sanctifies’ himself, that is to say, he ‘sacrifices’ himself for the life of the world” (cf. Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. II p. 101ff).
Jesus prays that his disciples may be one. It is in virtue of such unity, received and cherished, that the Church can journey “in the world” without being “of the world” (cf. John 17:6) and live out the mission entrusted to her, so that the world may believe in the Son and in the Father who sent him. The Church becomes, then, the place where the very mission of Christ continues: to lead the “world” out of alienation from God and itself, out of sin, in order that it may return to being God’s world.
Dear brothers and sisters, we have taken in a portion of the great richness of Jesus’ priestly prayer, which I invite you to read and to ponder, so that it may guide us in conversation with the Lord, that it may teach us to pray. Then we, too, in our prayer may ask God to help us to enter more fully into the plan that He has for each one of us. Let us ask Him to grant that we may be “consecrated” to Him, that we may increasingly belong to Him, so that we may love others more and more -- those who are close to us and those who are far away; let us ask Him to grant that we may always be able to open our prayer to the dimensions of the world, not closing it in to the request for help for our own problems, but remembering our neighbor before the Lord and learning the beauty of interceding for others. Let us ask Him for the gift of visible unity among all believers in Christ -- we have earnestly invoked this during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity -- let us pray that we may always be ready to respond to whomever asks us the reason for the hope that is in us (cf. 1 Peter 3:15). Thank you.
ON THE PRAYER OF JESUS IN GETHSEMANE
"Nowhere Else in Sacred Scripture Do We Gain So Deep an Insight Into the Inner Mystery of Jesus"
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 1, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope reflected today on the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to speak about the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane, in the Garden of Olives. The setting of the gospel account of this prayer is particularly significant. Jesus sets out for the Mount of Olives after the Last Supper, while he is praying together with his disciples. The Evangelist Mark relates: “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (14:26). This likely alludes to the singing of some of the Hallel Psalms. These are hymns of thanksgiving to God for the liberation of the people of Israel from slavery, and a plea for help in the face of ever new and present tribulations and threats. The path to Gethsemane is strewn with expressions of Jesus, which make us feel the impending fate of his death and foretell the imminent scattering of the disciples.
Having reached the grove on the Mount of Olives, also on this night Jesus prepares himself for personal prayer. But this time something new occurs: He seems not to want to be alone. On many occasions, Jesus withdrew apart from the crowds and from his own disciples, remaining in “a lonely place” (cf. Mark 1:35) or going up into the hills, as St. Mark says (cf. Mark 6:46). At Gethsemane, however, he invites Peter, James and John to remain closer to him. They are the disciples whom he called to be with him on the Mount of the Transfiguration (cf. Mark 9:2-13).
This closeness of the three during the prayer in Gethsemane is significant. On that night also, Jesus will pray to the Father “alone,” since his relationship with Him is wholly unique and singular: it is the relationship of the Only Begotten Son. Indeed, it could be said that especially on that night no one can truly draw near to the Son, who presents himself to the Father in his absolutely unique, exclusive identity.
Jesus, however, though arriving “alone” at the place where he will stop to pray, wills that at least three of his disciples remain nearby, in a closer relationship with him. It is a spatial closeness, a request for solidarity in the moment when he feels death approaching. But above all, it is a closeness in prayer that in some way expresses their being with him at the time he is preparing to accomplish the Father’s will unto the end; and it is an invitation to every disciple to follow him on the way of the Cross. The Evangelist Mark relates: “And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch’” (14:33-34).
In the word he addresses to the three, Jesus once again expresses himself in the language of the Psalms: “My soul is very sorrowful” is an expression from Psalm 43 (cf. Psalm 43:5). Steadfast determination “unto death” further recalls a situation that many of those who were sent by God in the Old Testament experienced and expressed in their prayer. Not infrequently, in fact, following the mission God entrusted to them meant encountering hostility, rejection and persecution. Moses feels in a dramatic way the trial he undergoes as he guides the people of Israel in the desert, and he says to God: “I am not able to carry the weight of this people alone, the burden is too heavy for me; If you deal with me thus, kill me at once if I find favor in your sight” (Numbers 11:14-15). Nor is it easy for the Prophet Elijah to carry out his service to God and to His people. The First Book of Kings relates: “He himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree; and he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers’”(19:4).
Jesus’ words to the three disciples he wills to remain close by during the prayer in Gethsemane reveal the fear and anguish he feels in that “Hour”; they reveal his experience of an ultimate, profound solitude precisely at the time God’s plan is being realized. And in Jesus’ fear and anguish, all of man’s horror in the face of his own death, the certainty of its relentlessness and the perception of the weight of evil that laps against our lives are recapitulated.
After the invitation addressed to the three to remain and watch in prayer, Jesus “alone” turns to the Father. The Evangelist Mark tells us that, “going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him” (14:35). Jesus falls face to the ground: It is the prayer posture that expresses obedience to the Father’s will -- a total, trusting abandonment to Him. It is a gesture that is repeated at the beginning of the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday, as well as at monastic professions and diaconal, priestly and episcopal ordinations in order to express in prayer, and also in a bodily way, the complete entrustment of oneself to God, and reliance on Him. Jesus continues by asking the Father that, if it were possible, this hour might pass from him. This is not only the fear and anguish of a man faced with death; it is the inner turmoil of the Son of God, who sees the terrible flood of evil that he must take upon himself in order to overcome it, to deprive it of its power.
Dear friends, in prayer we too must be capable of bringing before God our struggles, the suffering of certain situations, of certain days, the daily undertaking of following him, of being Christians, and also the weight of evil that we see within ourselves and around us, so that he may give us hope, that he may make us feel his closeness and give us a little light on the path of life.
Jesus continues his prayer: “Abba! Father! All things are possible to thee; remove this chalice from me; yet not what I will, but what you will” (14:36). In this appeal, there are three revealing passages. At the beginning, we have the double use of the word that Jesus uses to address himself to God: “Abba! Father!” (Mark 14:36a). We are well aware that the Aramaic word Abbawas used by a child to address his father, and that it therefore expresses Jesus’ relationship with God the Father, a relationship of tenderness, affection, trust and abandonment. In the central part of the appeal there is a second element: the awareness of the Father’s omnipotence -- “All things are possible to thee” -- that introduces a request in which the drama of Jesus’ human will in the face of death and evil again appears: “Remove this chalice from me.” But there is a third expression in Jesus’ prayer, and it is the decisive one in which his human will adheres fully to the divine will. Jesus, in fact, concludes by saying forcefully: “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36c).
In the unity of the divine Person of the Son, the human will attains fulfillment in the total abandonment of the “I” to the “You” of the Father, who is called Abba. St. Maximus the Confessor affirms that, from the moment of the creation of man and woman, the human will was ordered to the divine will, and that it is precisely in its “yes” to God that the human will is made fully free and attains fulfillment.
Unfortunately, due to sin, this “yes” to God was transformed into opposition: Adam and Eve thought that “no” to God was the pinnacle of freedom, their being fully themselves. On the Mount of Olives, Jesus draws the human will back to its full “yes” to God; in Him the natural will is fully integrated in the orientation the Divine Person gives to it. Jesus lives his life in accordance with the center of his Person: his being the Son of God. His human will is drawn into the “I” of the Son, who abandons Himself totally to the Father.
Thus, Jesus tells us that it is only in conforming one’s own will to the divine will that the human being attains his true greatness, that he becomes “divine”; it is only by going out of himself -- only in his “yes” to God -- that the desire of Adam and of us all is fulfilled -- that of being completely free. This is what Jesus accomplishes in Gethsemane: by placing the human will within the divine will the true man is born, and we are redeemed.
The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church concisely teaches: “The prayer of Jesus during his agony in the garden of Gethsemane and his last words on the Cross reveal the depth of his filial prayer. Jesus brings to completion the loving plan of the Father and takes upon himself all the anguish of humanity and all the petitions and intercessions of the history of salvation. He presents them to the Father who accepts them and answers them beyond all hope by raising his Son from the dead” (n. 543). Truly, “nowhere else in sacred Scripture do we gain so deep an insight into the inner mystery of Jesus as in the prayer on the Mount of Olives” (Jesus of Nazareth II, 157).
Dear brothers and sisters, every day in the prayer of the Our Father we ask the Lord: “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). We recognize, that is, that there is a will of God with us and for us, a will of God for our lives, which more and more each day must become the reference point for our will and for our being. Furthermore, we recognize that “heaven” is where the will of God is done, and that “earth” becomes “heaven” -- i.e., the place of the presence of love, of goodness, of truth and of divine beauty -- only if on earth the will of God is done.
In Jesus’ prayer to the Father on that terrible and wondrous night of Gethsemane, “earth” became “heaven”; the “earth” of his human will, shaken by fear and anguish, was assumed by the divine will, so that the will of God might be accomplished on earth. And this is important for our prayer as well: We must learn to entrust ourselves more and more to divine Providence, to ask God to conform our wills to His. It is a prayer that we must make daily, because it is not always easy to entrust ourselves to God’s will, to repeat the “yes” of Jesus, the “yes” of Mary.
The Gospel accounts of Gethsemane painfully reveal that the three disciples chosen by Jesus to remain close to him were unable to keep watch with Him, to share in His prayer, in His adherence to the Father, and that they were overcome by sleep. Dear friends, let us ask the Lord to grant us the ability to keep watch with Him in prayer; to follow the will of God each day, even if it speaks of the Cross; and to experience an ever greater intimacy with the Lord -- in order that a little of God's "heaven" might be brought to this "earth.” Thank you.
ON THE PRAYER OF JESUS
DYING ON THE CROSS
"In Extreme Anguish, Prayer Becomes a Cry"
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 8, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope reflected today on the prayer of Jesus dying on the Cross.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to reflect with you on the prayer of Jesus as death was imminent, by considering what St. Mark and St. Matthew tell us. The two Evangelists give an account of the prayer of the dying Jesus not only in Greek, the language in which their accounts were written, but also -- on account of the importance of those words -- in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic. In this way, they have handed down not only the substance but even the sound this prayer had on the lips of Jesus: We truly listen to the words of Jesus as they were. At the same time, they described for us the attitude of the bystanders present at the Crucifixion, who failed to understand -- or who did not will to understand -- this prayer.
St. Mark, as we just heard, writes: “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloì, Eloì, lamà sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”(15:34). In the structure of the narrative, the prayer -- the cry of Jesus -- is raised at the climax of the three hours of darkness that fell upon the whole land from midday until 3:00 in the afternoon. These three hours of darkness are the continuation of an earlier span of time, also of three hours, which began with Jesus’ Crucifixion. The Evangelist Mark informs us, in fact, that “it was the third hour when they crucified Him” (cf. 15:25). Taken as a whole, the account’s temporal indications reveal that Jesus’ six hours on the cross are divided into two chronologically equal parts.
In the first three hours, from 9:00 until midday, we find the mockery of various groups of persons, who demonstrate their skepticism and affirm their unbelief. St. Mark writes: “Those who passed by derided Him” (15:29); “so also the chief priests mocked Him to one another with the scribes (15:31); “those who were crucified with Him also reviled Him” (15:32). In the three hours that follow thereafter -- from noon “until three in the afternoon” -- the Evangelist speaks only of the darkness that has descended over the whole land; darkness alone occupies the scene, without any reference to the movement of persons or to words. As Jesus draws closer to death, there is only darkness that falls “over the whole land.”
Even the cosmos takes part in this event: Darkness envelops persons and things, but even in this moment of darkness, God is present; He does not abandon. In the biblical tradition, darkness has an ambivalent meaning: It is a sign of the presence and action of evil, but also of a mysterious presence and action of God, who is capable of vanquishing all darkness. In the Book of Exodus, for example, we read: “And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Lo, I am coming to you in a thick cloud’” (19:9); and again: “The people stood afar off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (20:21). And in the discourses of Deuteronomy, Moses recounts: “The mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud and gloom” (4:11); you “heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire” (5:23). In the scene of Jesus’ Crucifixion, darkness covers the earth, and it is into the darkness of death that the Son of God is plunged in order to bring life by His act of love.
Returning to the narrative of St. Mark, in the face of the insults hurled by the various classes of persons, in the face of the darkness that descends over all things, in the moment when He faces death, Jesus -- by the cry of His prayer -- reveals that together with the weight of the suffering and death in which there is seeming abandonment and the absence of God, He has utter certainty of the closeness of the Father, who approves this supreme act of love, the total gift of Himself, even though He does not hear His voice from on high, as He had in other moments. In reading the Gospels, we become aware that in other important moments of His earthly life, Jesus had seen signs joined to the Father’s presence and approval of His path of love -- even the clarifying voice of God.
Thus, in the event that follows after the Baptism in the Jordan, as the heavens were rent, the word of the Father was heard: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Then, in the Transfiguration, the sign of the cloud was joined by the word: “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him” (Mark 9:7). Instead, as death approaches the Crucified One, silence descends, no voice is heard, but the Father’s loving gaze remains fixed upon the Son’s gift of love.
But what meaning does the prayer of Jesus have, the cry He sends forth to the Father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” -- doubt regarding His mission or the Father’s presence? Does this prayer perhaps not contain the keen awareness of having been abandoned? The words Jesus addresses to the Father are the beginning of Psalm 22, in which the psalmist manifests before God the tension between feeling left alone, and the sure awareness of God’s presence among His people. The psalmist prays: “O my God, I cry by day, but thou does not answer; and by night, but find no rest. Yet thou art holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel” (Verses 2,3). The psalmist speaks of a “cry” in order to express all the suffering of his prayer before a seemingly absent God: In extreme anguish, prayer becomes a cry.
And this also happens in our relationship with the Lord: When faced with the most difficult and painful situations, when it seems that God is not listening, we need not fear entrusting to Him the entire weight of what we carry in our hearts; we need not fear crying out to Him in our suffering; we must be convinced that God is near, even when He appears to be silent.
In repeating from the Cross the opening words of the psalm: “Eloì, Eloì, lamà sabachthani?” -- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46); in crying out in the words of the psalm, Jesus is praying in the moment of man’s final rejection, in the moment of abandonment. However, He is praying the psalm in the awareness that God the Father is present, even in this hour when He feels the human drama of death. But a question arises in us: How is it possible that so powerful a God does not intervene to rescue His Son from this terrible trial?
It is important to understand that Jesus’ prayer is not the cry of one who goes to meet death in despair, nor is it the cry of one who knows he has been abandoned. In that moment, Jesus makes His own the whole of Psalm 22, the great psalm of the suffering people of Israel, and so He is taking upon Himself not only the tribulation of His people, but also of all people who suffer under the oppression of evil -- and, at the same time, He brings all of this before the heart of God Himself, in the certainty that His cry will be heard in the Resurrection: “The cry of extreme anguish is at the same time the certainty of an answer from God, the certainty of salvation -- not only for Jesus Himself, but for ‘many’” (Jesus of Nazareth II, p. 214).
The prayer of Jesus contains the utmost confidence and abandonment into God’s hands, even in His apparent absence, even when He seemingly remains in silence, in accordance with a plan incomprehensible to us. Thus, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read: “In the redeeming love that always united Him to the Father, He assumed us in the state of our waywardness of sin, to the point that He could say in our name from the Cross: ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’” (n. 603). His is a suffering in communion with us and for us that is born of love and already includes redemption, the victory of love.
The persons present under the Cross of Jesus fail to understand this, and they take His cry to be a plea addressed to Elijah. In a frenzied scene, they seek to quench His thirst in order to prolong His life and verify whether Elijah will truly come to His assistance. But a loud cry brings the earthy life of Jesus, and their desire, to an end. In the final moment, Jesus allows His heart to express its suffering; and yet, at the same time, He allows the sense of the Father’s presence to emerge together with His consent to His plan of salvation for mankind.
We too find ourselves again and again faced with the “here and now” of suffering, of the silence of God --we so often express it in our prayer -- and yet, we also find ourselves before the “here and now” of the Resurrection, of the response of a God who took our sufferings upon Himself, so that He might carry them together with us, and give us the sure hope that they will be overcome (cf. Encyclical Letter, Spe salvi, 35-40).
Dear friends, in prayer let us bring our daily crosses to God, in the certainty that He is present and listens to us. The cry of Jesus reminds us that in prayer we must overcome the barriers of our “I” and of our problems in order to open ourselves to the needs and sufferings of others. The prayer of the dying Jesus on the Cross teaches us to pray with love for all our brothers and sisters who are feeling the burden of daily life, who are living through difficult moments, who are in pain, who receive no word of comfort; let us bring all of this before the heart of God, so that they may feel the love of God, who never abandons us. Thank you.
ON THE 3 LAST WORDS OF JESUS DYING ON THE CROSS
"We Shall Never Fall Outside the Hands of God, Those Hands That Created Us"
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 15, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope continued his reflection on the prayer of Jesus dying on the Cross, today focusing on the three last words of Jesus as recounted in the Gospel of St. Luke.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
In our school of prayer last Wednesday, I spoke about the prayer of Jesus on the Cross taken from Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Now I would like to continue to meditate upon the prayer of Jesus on the Cross as death was imminent, and today I wish to consider the narrative we find in the Gospel of St. Luke. The Evangelist has handed down to us three words of Jesus on the Cross, two of which -- the first and the third -- are prayers addressed explicitly to the Father. The second, on the other hand, consists in the promise made to the so-called good thief crucified with Him; in fact, in responding to the robber’s plea, Jesus reassures him: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). In Luke’s account, the two prayers that the dying Jesus addresses to the Father and His welcome of the plea addressed to Him by the repentant sinner are thus evocatively interwoven. Jesus calls upon the Father and harkens to the prayer of this man who is often called latro poenitens, the “repentant robber."
Let us consider Jesus’ three prayers. He pronounces the first immediately after being nailed to the Cross, while the soldiers are dividing His garments as a sad recompense for their service. In a certain sense, the process of crucifixion is brought to a conclusion by this act. St. Luke writes: “And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide His garments” (23:33-34). The first prayer Jesus addresses to the Father is one of intercession: He begs forgiveness for his executioners. Jesus puts into practice what He had taught in the Sermon on the Mount, when He said: “But I say to you that hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27), and He had also promised to all those who learn to forgive: “Your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High” (v. 35). Now from the Cross, He not only forgives His executioners but also addresses Himself to the Father directly, interceding on their behalf.
The attitude of Jesus finds a moving “imitation” in the account of the stoning of St. Stephen, the first martyr. Stephen, in fact, already near the end, “knelt down and cried with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he died” (Acts 7:60): This was his last word. The comparison between Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness and that of the proto-martyr is significant. St. Stephen addresses himself to the Risen Lord and asks that his murder -- an act clearly defined by the expression “this sin” -- not be held against those who were stoning him. On the Cross, Jesus turns to the Father and not only begs forgiveness for those who crucified Him but also offers an interpretation of what is happening. According to His words, in fact, the men who are crucifying Him “know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He makes their ignorance -- their “not knowing” -- the motive for His plea for forgiveness to the Father, since this ignorance leaves open the path to conversion, as is the case with the words the centurion will pronounce at Jesus’ death: “Truly, this man was just” (v. 47); He was the Son of God. “It remains a source of comfort for all times and for all people that both in the case of those who genuinely did not know (His executioners) and in the case of those who did know (the people who condemned Him), the Lord makes their ignorance the motive for His plea for forgiveness: He sees it as a door that can open us to conversion” (Jesus of Nazareth, II, p. 208).
The second word of Jesus on the Cross reported by St. Luke is a word of hope; it is the response to the prayer of one of the two men crucified with Him. The good thief, in the presence of Jesus, returns to himself and repents; he realizes that he stands before the Son of God who truly makes the face of God visible, and he begs: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingly power” (v. 42). Jesus’ response goes well beyond what was asked of Him; indeed, He says: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (v. 43). Jesus knows He will enter directly into fellowship with the Father and reopen to man the way to paradise with God. Thus, through this response, He gives the firm hope that God’s mercy can reach us even in our final moments and that, even after a misspent life, sincere prayer will encounter the open arms of the good Father who awaits the return of His son.
But let us pause to consider the last words of the dying Jesus. The Evangelist recounts: “It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ And having said this He breathed his last” (vv. 44-46). Several aspects of this narrative differ as compared with the scene offered by Mark and Matthew. The three hours of darkness in Mark are not described, while in Matthew they are connected to a series of varying apocalyptic events: the earth quakes, tombs are opened, the dead are raised (cf. Matthew 27:51-53). In Luke, the hours of darkness are caused by the sun’s eclipse, but in that moment the veil of the temple is also torn in two. Thus, the Lucan account presents two somewhat parallel signs, one in the heavens and the other in the temple. The heavens are dimmed and the earth crumbles, while in the temple -- the place of the presence of God -- the veil that protects the sanctuary is torn in two. The death of Jesus is explicitly portrayed as a cosmic and liturgical event; in particular, it marks the beginning of a new worship, in a temple not built by men, for it is the very Body of the dead and risen Jesus that gathers the peoples together and unites them in the Sacrament of His Body of Blood.
The prayer of Jesus in this moment of suffering -- “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” -- is a loud cry of extreme and total trust in God. This prayer expresses His full awareness that He has not been abandoned. The initial invocation -- “Father” -- recalls His first recorded words at the age of twelve. At that time, He had remained for three days in the temple of Jerusalem, whose veil is now torn in two. And when His parents had shown Him their concern, He responded: “How is it that you sought me?” Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). From beginning to end, what completely determines Jesus’ feelings, His words, His actions, is His unique relationship with the Father. On the Cross, He fully lives in love His filial relationship with God -- this is what inspires His prayer.
The words pronounced by Jesus after the invocation “Father” take up an expression from Psalm 31: “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31:6). These words, however, are not a simple quotation; rather, they reveal a firm decision: Jesus “delivers Himself over” to the Father in an act of total surrender. These words are a prayer of “entrustment” filled with trust in God’s love. The prayer of Jesus as He faces death is dramatic, as it is for every man, but at the same time, it is imbued by that profound serenity that is born of His trust in the Father and His will to deliver Himself up entirely to Him. In Gethsemane, when He had entered into the final struggle, and into more intense prayer, and was about to be “delivered into the hands of men” (Luke 9:44), His sweat became “like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground”(Luke 22:44). But His heart was fully obedient to the Father’s will, and for this reason “an angel from heaven” came to comfort Him (cf. Luke 22:42-43). Now, in His final moments, Jesus addresses the Father by speaking of the hands into which He truly delivers over His entire life. Prior to their departure on their journey toward Jerusalem, Jesus had insisted with His disciples: “Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men” (Luke 9:44). Now, as life is about to leave Him, He seals His final decision in prayer: Jesus allowed Himself to be “delivered into the hands of men,” but it is into the hands of the Father that He commits His spirit; thus -- as the Evangelist John affirms -- it is finished, the supreme act of love is taken to the end, to the very limit and even beyond that limit.
Dear brothers and sisters, the words of Jesus on the Cross in the final moments of His earthly life offer challenging pointers for our prayer, but they also open it to a serene confidence and to a steadfast hope. Jesus, who asks the Father to forgive those who are crucifying Him, invites us to the difficult act of praying even for those who wrong us, who have harmed us, by learning how to forgive always, so that God’s light might illumine their hearts; and He invites us in our prayer to live in the same attitude of mercy and of love that God shows in our regard: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us,” as we daily say in the “Our Father.” At the same time, Jesus who in the final moment of death entrusts Himself entirely into the hands of God the Father, communicates to us the certainty that, however difficult our trials may be, however difficult our problems, however burdensome our suffering, we shall never fall outside the hands of God, those hands that created us, that sustain us and that accompany us on the path of life, for they are guided by an infinite and faithful love. Thank you.
ON THE SILENCE OF JESUS
An Attentive, Silent, Open Heart Is More Important Than Many Words
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 7, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in St. Peter’s Square. The Pope concluded his series of reflections on the prayer of Jesus by today considering His silence.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
In a previous series of catecheses I spoke about the prayer of Jesus, and I would not wish to conclude this reflection without briefly pausing to consider the theme of Jesus’ silence, which is so important in our relationship with God.
In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, I made reference to the role that silence assumes in the life of Jesus, especially on Golgotha: “Here we find ourselves before the "word of the cross" (1 Corinthians 1:18). The word is muted; it becomes mortal silence, for it has "spoken" exhaustively, holding back nothing of what it had to tell us (n. 12). Faced with this silence of the cross, St. Maximus the Confessor places upon the lips of the Mother of God this touching phrase: "Wordless is the Word of the Father, who made every creature which speaks; lifeless are the eyes of the one at whose word and whose nod all living things move". (The Life of Mary, no. 89: Marian texts of the first millennium, 2, Rome 1989, p. 253).
The cross of Christ not only portrays the silence of Jesus as His final word to the Father; it also reveals that God speaks through the silence: “The silence of God, the experience of the distance of the almighty Father, is a decisive stage in the earthly journey of the Son of God, the incarnate Word. Hanging from the wood of the cross, he lamented the suffering caused by that silence: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46). Advancing in obedience to his very last breath, in the obscurity of death, Jesus called upon the Father. He commended himself to him at the moment of passage, through death, to eternal life: ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’ (Luke 23:46)” (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, 21). The experience of Jesus on the cross speaks deeply of the situation of the man who prays and of the culmination of prayer: after having heard and acknowledged God’s Word, we must also measure ourselves by God’s silence, which is an important expression of the same divine Word.
The interplay of word and silence that marks the prayer of Jesus during his entire earthly life -- especially on the cross -- also touches our own lives of prayer, in two ways. The first concerns our welcoming of God’s Word. Interior and exterior silence are necessary in order that this word may be heard. And this is especially difficult in our own day. In fact, ours is not an age which fosters recollection; indeed, at times one has the impression that people have a fear of detaching themselves, even for a moment, from the barrage of words and images that mark and fill our days. For this reason, in the already mentioned Exhortation Verbum Domini, I recalled the necessity of our being educated in the value of silence: “Rediscovering the centrality of God's word in the life of the Church also means rediscovering a sense of recollection and inner repose. The great patristic tradition teaches us that the mysteries of Christ all involve silence. Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence” (n. 21).
This principle – that without silence we neither hear nor listen nor receive the word – applies above all to personal prayer, but it also pertains to our liturgies: in order to facilitate an authentic listening, they must also be rich in moments of silence and unspoken receptivity. St. Augustine’s observation forever holds true: Verbo crescente, verba deficient -- “When the Word of God increases, the words of men fail” (cf. Sermon 288; 5: PL 38, 1307; Sermon 120,2: PL 38,677). The Gospels often present Jesus -- especially at times of crucial decisions -- withdrawing alone to a place set apart from the crowds and from his own disciples, in order to pray in the silence and to abide in his filial relationship with God. Silence is capable of excavating an interior space in our inmost depths so that God may abide there, so that his Word may remain in us, so that love for him may be rooted in our minds and in our hearts and animate our lives. The first way, then: to learn silence, [to learn] the openness to listening that opens us to the other, to the Word of God.
However, there is a second important element in the relation of silence with prayer. For in fact there exists not only our silence, which disposes us to listening to God’s Word; often in our prayer, we find ourselves before the silence of God; we experience a sense of abandonment; it seems to us that God is not listening and that He does not respond. But this silence of God - as Jesus also experienced - is not a sign of His absence. The Christian knows well that the Lord is present and that he is listening, even in the darkness of suffering, rejection and solitude. Jesus reassures the disciples and each one of us that God knows well our needs at every moment of life. He teaches the disciples: “In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:7-8): an attentive, silent, open heart is more important than many words.
God knows us intimately, more deeply than we know ourselves, and He loves us: and knowing this should suffice. In the Bible, Job’s experience is particularly significant in this regard. This man quickly loses everything: family, wealth, friends, health; it seems that God’s attitude towards him is precisely one of abandonment, of total silence. And yet Job, in his relationship with God, speaks with God, cries out to God; in his prayer, despite everything, he preserves his faith intact and, in the end, he discovers the value of his experience and of God’s silence. And thus, in the end, turning to his Creator, he is able to conclude: “I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee” (Job 42:5): nearly all of us know God only through hearsay, and the more we are open to His silence and to our silence, the more we begin to know Him truly. This supreme confidence, which opens way to a profound encounter with God, matures in silence. St Francis Severio prayed, saying to the Lord: I love you, not because you can give me heaven or condemn me to hell, but because you are my God. I love You, because You are You.
As we approach the conclusion of our reflections on the prayer of Jesus, a number of the teachings from the Catechism of the Catholic Church come to mind: “The drama of prayer is fully revealed to us in the Word who became flesh and dwells among us. To seek to understand his prayer through what his witnesses proclaim to us in the Gospel is to approach the holy Lord Jesus as Moses approached the burning bush: first to contemplate him in prayer, then to hear how he teaches us to pray in order to know how he hears our prayer” (n. 2598).
And how does Jesus teach us to pray? In the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church we find a clear answer: “Jesus teaches us to pray not only with the Our Father” -- certainly the central act in his teaching on how we are to pray -- “but also when [He himself] prays. In this way he teaches us, in addition to the content, the dispositions necessary for every true prayer: purity of heart that seeks the Kingdom and forgives one’s enemies, bold and filial faith that goes beyond what we feel and understand, and watchfulness that protects the disciple from temptation” (n. 544).
In surveying the Gospels, we saw how the Lord is the interlocutor, friend, witness and teacher of our prayer. In Jesus the newness of our dialogue with God is revealed: filial prayer, which the Father awaits from His children. And we learn from Jesus how constant prayer helps us to interpret our lives, to make decisions, to recognize and accept our vocation, to discover the talents that God had given us, to daily fulfill His Will, which is the only path to attaining fulfillment in our lives.
The prayer of Jesus indicates to us who are often preoccupied by the efficiency of our work and the concrete results we achieve that we need to stop and to experience moments of intimacy with God, “detaching ourselves” from the daily din in order to listen, to go to the “root” that supports and nourishes life. One of the most beautiful moments in the prayer of Jesus is precisely the moment when he -- in order to face the disease, distress and limitations of his interlocutors -- turns to his Father in prayer, thus teaching those around him where the source of hope and salvation is to be sought.
I already recalled the moving example of Jesus’ prayer at the tomb of Lazarus. The Evangelist John recounts: “So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” (John 11:41-43).
But Jesus reaches the heights of the depth of his prayer to the Father during his Passion and Death, when he pronounces his supreme “yes” to the plan of God and reveals how the human will finds its fulfillment precisely in adhering fully to the divine will, rather than the opposite. In Jesus’ prayer, in his cry to the Father on the Cross, “all the troubles, for all time, of humanity enslaved by sin and death, all the petitions and intercessions of salvation history are summed up … Here the Father accepts them and, beyond all hope, answers them beyond all hope, answers them by raising his Son. Thus is fulfilled and brought to completion the drama of prayer in the economy of creation and salvation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2606).
Dear brothers and sisters, with trust let us ask the Lord to enable to live out the journey of our filial prayer, by learning day by day from the Only Begotten Son made man for us how to turn to God. The words of St. Paul on the Christian life apply also to our own prayer: “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
ON THE PRAYING PRESENCE OF MARY
"Mary prays in and with the Church at every decisive moment of salvation history"
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 14, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in St. Peter’s Square. The Pope continued his series of catecheses on prayer, today beginning a series of reflections on prayer in the Acts of the Apostles.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
With today’s catechesis, I would like to begin to speak about prayer in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Letters of St. Paul. St. Luke, as we know, has given us one of the four Gospels, dedicated to the earthly life of Jesus; but he has also left us what has been called the first book on the history of the Church; i.e., the Acts of the Apostles. In both of these books, one of the recurring elements is prayer, from that of Jesus to that of Mary, the disciples, the women and the Christian community.
The beginning of the Church’s journey is rhythmically marked by the action of the Holy Spirit, who transforms the Apostles into witnesses of the Risen One to the shedding of their blood, and also by the rapid spread of the Word of God to the East and to the West. However, before the proclamation of the Gospel is spread abroad, Luke recounts the episode of the Ascension of the Risen One (cf. Acts 1:6-9). The Lord delivers to the disciples the program of their lives, which are devoted to evangelization. He says: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8) In Jerusalem, the Apostles who were now eleven due to the betrayal of Judas Iscariot, were gathered together at home in prayer, and it is precisely in prayer that they await the gift promised by the Risen Christ, the Holy Spirit.
Within this context of expectancy -- between the Ascension and Pentecost -- St. Luke mentions for the last time Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and His brethren (verse 14). He had dedicated the beginning of His Gospel to Mary, from the announcement of the Angel to the birth and infancy of the Son of God made man. With Mary the earthly life of Jesus begins, and with Mary the Church’s first steps are also taken; in both instances, the atmosphere is one of listening to God and of recollection. Today, therefore, I would like to consider this praying presence of the Virgin in the midst of the disciples who would become the first nascent Church.
Mary quietly followed her Son’s entire journey during His public life, even to the foot of the Cross; and now she continues in silent prayer to follow along the Church’s path. At the Annunciation in the home of Nazareth, Mary welcomes the angel of God; she is attentive to his words; she welcomes them and responds to the divine plan, thereby revealing her complete availability: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (cf. Luke 1:38). Because of her inner attitude of listening, Mary is able to interpret her own history, and to humbly acknowledge that it is the Lord who is acting.
In visiting her relative Elizabeth, she breaks forth into a prayer of praise and joy, and of celebration of the divine grace that filled her heart and her life, making her the Mother of the Lord (Luke 1:46-55). Praise, thanksgiving, joy: in the canticle of the Magnificat, Mary looks not only to what God has wrought in her, but also to what he has accomplished and continually accomplishes throughout history. In a famous commentary on the Magnificat, St. Ambrose summons us to have the same spirit of prayer. He writes: “May the soul of Mary be in us to magnify the Lord; may the spirit of Mary be in us to exult in God” (Expositio Evangelii secundum Lucam 2, 26: PL 15, 1561).
Also in the Cenacle in Jerusalem, in the “upper room where [the disciples of Jesus] were staying” (cf. Acts 1:13), in an atmosphere of listening and prayer, she is present, before the doors are thrown open and they begin to announce the Risen Lord to all peoples, teaching them to observe all that Lord had commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). The stages in Mary’s journey -- from the home of Nazareth to that in Jerusalem, through the Cross where her Son entrusts to her the Apostle John -- are marked by her ability to maintain a persevering atmosphere of recollection, so that she might ponder each event in the silence of her heart before God (cf. Luke 2:19-51) and in meditation before God, also see the will of God therein and be able to accept it interiorly.
The presence of the Mother of God with the Eleven following the Ascension is not, then, a simple historical annotation regarding a thing of the past; rather, it assumes a meaning of great value, for she shares with them what is most precious: the living memory of Jesus, in prayer; and she shares this mission of Jesus: to preserve the memory of Jesus and thereby to preserve His presence.
The final mention of Mary in the two writings of St. Luke is made on the sabbath day: the day of God’s rest after Creation, the day of silence after the Death of Jesus and of expectation of His Resurrection. The tradition of remembering Holy Mary on Saturday is rooted in this event. Between the Ascension of the Risen One and the first Christian Pentecost, the Apostles and the Church gather together with Mary to await with her the gift of the Holy Spirit, without whom one cannot become a witness. She who already received Him in order that she might give birth to the incarnate Word, shares with the whole Church in awaiting the same gift, so that “Christ may be formed” (Galatians 4:19) in the heart of every believer.
If the Church does not exist without Pentecost, neither does Pentecost exist without the Mother of Jesus, since she lived in a wholly unique way what the Church experiences each day under the action of the Holy Spirit. St. Chromatius of Aquilea comments on the annotation found in the Acts of the Apostles in this way: “The Church was united in the upper room with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and with His brethren. One, therefore, cannot speak of the Church unless Mary, the Mother of the Lord, is present … The Church of Christ is there where the Incarnation of Christ from the Virgin is preached, and where the Apostles who are the brothers of the Lord preach, there one hears the Gospel” (Sermon 30, 1: SC 164, 135).
The Second Vatican Council wished to emphasize in a particular way the bond that is visibly manifest in Mary and the Apostles praying together, in the same place, in expectation of the Holy Spirit. The Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium affirms: “since it has pleased God not to manifest solemnly the mystery of the salvation of the human race before He would pour forth the Spirit promised by Christ, we see the apostles before the day of Pentecost ‘persevering with one mind in prayer with the women and Mary the Mother of Jesus, and with His brethren’ (Acts 1:14) and Mary by her prayers imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her in the Annunciation” (n. 59). The privileged place of Mary is the Church, where “she is hailed as a pre-eminent and singular member of the Church, and as its type and excellent exemplar in faith and charity” (Ibid, n. 53).
Venerating the Mother of Jesus in the Church therefore means learning from her to become a community that prays: this is one of the essential marks in the first description of the Christian community as delineated in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 2:42). Often, prayer is dictated by difficult situations, by personal problems that lead us to turn to the Lord for light, comfort and help. Mary invites us to expand the dimensions of prayer, to turn to God not only in times of need and not only for ourselves, but also in an undivided, persevering, faithful way, with “one heart and soul” (cf. Acts 4:32).
Dear friends, human life passes through various phases of transition, which are often difficult and demanding and which require binding choices, renunciation and sacrifice. The Mother of Jesus was placed by the Lord in the decisive moments of salvation history, and she always knew how to respond with complete availability -- the fruit of a profound bond with God that had matured through assiduous and intense prayer. Between the Friday of the Passion and the Sunday of the Resurrection, the beloved disciple, and with him the entire community of disciples, was entrusted to her (cf. John 19:26). Between Ascension and Pentecost, she is found with and in the Church in prayer (cf. Acts 1:14). As Mother of God and Mother of the Church, Mary exercises her maternity until the end of history. Let us entrust every phase of our personal and ecclesial lives to her, not the least of which is our final passing. Mary teaches us the necessity of prayer, and she shows us that it is only through a constant, intimate, loving bond with her Son that we may courageously leave “our home,” ourselves, in order to reach the ends of the earth and everywhere announce the Lord Jesus, the Savior of the world. Thank you.