Benedict XVI Wednesday Audience talks on Prayer 

 

On Prayer: 1st Audience in New Series
"Virtually Always and Everywhere, People Have Turned to God"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 4, 2011- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in St. Peter's Square. With his address the Pope began a new series of catecheses on the subject of prayer.

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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 school of Jesus to learn to pray with authenticity.

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 Egypt, 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 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 Greece we 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).

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).

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The new series of catecheses which we begin today are devoted to prayer and, in particular, the prayer proper to Christians. Christian prayer is grounded in the gift of new life brought by Christ; it is an "art" in which Christ, the Son of God, is our supreme teacher. At the same time, prayer is a part of the human experience, as we see from the ancient cultures of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome. There we find eloquent expressions of a desire to see God, to experience his mercy and forgiveness, to grow in virtue and to experience divine help in all that we do. In these cultures there is also a recognition that prayer opens man to a deeper understanding of our dependence on God and life's ultimate meaning. The pagan religions, however, remain a plea for divine help, an expression of that profound human yearning for God which finds its highest expression and fulfilment in the Old and New Testaments. Divine revelation, in fact, purifies and fulfils man's innate desire for God and offers us, through prayer, the possibility of a deeper relationship with our heavenly Father. With the disciples, then, let us ask the Lord: "[t]each us
to pray" (cf. Luke 11:1).

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2nd General Audience Talk On the Universal Religious Sense
"Man Bears Within Himself the Desire for God"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 11, 2011 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in St. Peter's Square. With his address the Pope continued the new series of catechesis on the subject of prayer.

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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!

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on Christian prayer, we have seen how prayer is part of the universal human experience. Our own age, marked by secularism, rationalism and an apparent eclipse of God, is showing signs of a renewed religious sense and a recognition of the inadequacy of a purely horizontal, material vision of life. Man is made in the image of God; a desire for God is present in every heart and man in some way knows that he is capable of speaking to God in prayer. Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us that prayer is the expression of our desire for God, a desire which is itself God's gift. Prayer is first and foremost a matter of the heart, where we experience God's call and our dependence on his help to transcend our limitations and sinfulness. The posture of kneeling at prayer expresses this acknowledgment of our need and our openness to God's gift of himself in a mysterious encounter of friendship. Let us resolve to pray more frequently, to listen in the silence of our hearts to God's voice, and to grow in union with the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, with the One who is infinite Love.

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On Abraham's Prayer
"It Is Forgiveness That Interrupts the Spiral of Sin"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 18, 2011 - 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 with his new series of catecheses on prayer, reflecting today on prayer in sacred Scripture, in particular in Abraham's life.

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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 all times. 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 Sodom and Gomorrah. 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.

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. 29.30.31.32). 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. 26.28.29.30.31.32).

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. Thank you.

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Continuing our catechesis on Christian prayer, we now turn to sacred Scripture and its witness to the dialogue between God and man in history, a dialogue culminating in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. We can begin with the prayer with which Abraham, the father of all believers (cf. Rom 4), implores God not to destroy the sinful city of Sodom (cf. Gen 18). Abraham's prayer of intercession appeals to God's justice, begging him not to destroy the innocent with the guilty. But it also appeals to God's mercy, which is capable of transforming evil into good through forgiveness and reconciliation. God does not desire the death of the sinner but his conversion and liberation from sin. In reply to Abraham's prayer, God is willing to spare Sodom if ten righteous men can be found there. Later, through the prophet Jeremiah, he promises to pardon Jerusalem if one just man can be found (cf. Jer 5:1). In the end, God himself becomes that Just Man, in the mystery of the Incarnation. Christ's prayer of intercession on the Cross brings salvation to the world. Through him, let us pray with unfailing trust in God's merciful love for all mankind, conscious that our prayers will be heard and answered.

I offer a warm welcome to the alumni of the Venerable English College on the occasion of their annual meeting in Rome. I also greet the members of the Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue in Sweden, with prayerful good wishes for their work for Christian unity. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Australia, the Republic of China, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the United States, I invoke the joy and peace of Christ our Risen Saviour.

[In Italian, he said:]

I greet, finally, young people, the sick and newlyweds. Dear young people, I hope you will be able to recognize, in the midst of the many voices of this world, the voice of Christ, who continues to address his invitation to the heart of the one who knows how to listen. Be generous in following him. Do not be afraid to put your energies and your enthusiasm at the service of his Gospel. And you, dear sick, open your hearts to him with trust; he will not fail to give you the consoling light of his presence. Finally, to you, dear newlyweds, I hope that your families will respond to the vocation to be transparency of the love of God. Thank you.

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On Jacob's Wrestling With God
"He Who Allows Himself to Be Blessed by God ... Renders the World Blessed"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 25, 2011 - 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 with his new series of catecheses on prayer, reflecting today on prayer in the Patriarch Jacob's life.

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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 [25]); 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 [28]). "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 [30]), 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.

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on Christian prayer, we now turn to the biblical account of the Patriarch Jacob's struggle with God at the ford of the Jabbok (cf. Gen 32:23-33). This mysterious encounter takes place at night, when Jacob is alone and unarmed; the identity of his assailant and the winner of the contest is not at first clear. Jacob is wounded and must reveal his name to his rival, suggesting his defeat, yet he receives a new name 'Israel' and is given a blessing. At daybreak Jacob recognizes that his opponent is God; limping from his wound, he now crosses the ford. The Church's spiritual tradition has seen in this story a symbol of prayer as a faith-filled struggle which takes place at times in darkness, calls for perseverance, and is crowned by interior renewal and God's blessing. This struggle demands our unremitting effort, yet ends by surrender to God's mercy and gift. At daybreak, Jacob called the place of his struggle Peniel, which means "face of God", for he said: "I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved" (Gen 32:30). In our prayers, let us ask the Lord to help us as we fight the good fight of faith, and to bless us as we long to see his face.

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On Moses' Intercessory Prayer
"A Man Stretched Between Two Loves"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 1, 2011 - 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 with his new series of catecheses on prayer, reflecting today on prayer in sacred Scripture, in particular on the prayer of Moses.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In reading the Old Testament, one figure stands out among others: that of Moses, the man of prayer. Moses, the great prophet and leader during the time of the Exodus, carried out his role as mediator between God and Israel by becoming, among the people, the bearer of the divine words and commandments, by guiding them toward the freedom of the Promised Land, and by teaching the Israelites to live in obedience and trust toward God during their long sojourn in the desert; but also, and I would say especially, by praying. He prays for Pharaoh when God, through the plagues, was trying to convert the Egyptians' hearts (cf. Exodus 8:10); he asks the Lord to heal his sister Miriam who was struck with leprosy (cf. Numbers 12:9-13); he intercedes for the people who had rebelled, fearful of the scouts' report (cf. Numbers 14:1-19); he prays when fire was about to devour the camp (cf. Numbers 11:1-2) and when poisonous serpents were killing the people (cf. Numbers 21:4-9); he addresses himself to the Lord and reacts by protesting when the burden of his mission had grown too heavy (cf. Numbers 11:10-15); he sees God and speaks with him "face to face, as a man speaks to his friend" (cf. Exodus 24:9-17; 33:7-23; 34:1-10,28-35).

Also at Sinai, when the people ask Aaron to fashion for them a golden calf, Moses prays, thus carrying out in an emblematic way the true role of an intercessor. The episode is narrated in Chapter 32 of the Book of Exodus and has a parallel account in Deuteronomy Chapter 9. It is this episode that I would like to dwell upon in today's catechesis; and in particular on the prayer of Moses that we find in the Exodus account.

The people of Israel were at the foot of Mount Sinai while Moses, on the mountain, was awaiting the gift of the tablets of the Law, fasting for forty days and forty nights (cf. Exodus 24:18; Deuteronomy 9:9). The number forty has symbolic value and signifies the totality of experience, while fasting points to the fact that life comes from God, that it is he who sustains it. The act of eating, in fact, involves taking in the nourishment that sustains us; therefore fasting, or the renunciation of food, acquires in this case a religious significance: It is a way of indicating that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord (cf. Deuteronomy 8:3). Fasting, Moses shows himself to be awaiting the gift of the divine Law as a source of life: It reveals the Will of God and nourishes the heart of man, enabling him to enter into a covenant with the Most High, who is the fount of life, who is life itself.

But while the Lord, upon the mountain, gives the Law to Moses, at the foot of the mountain the people transgress it. Unable to withstand the mediator's delay and absence, the Israelites ask Aaron: "Make us a god, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him" (Exodus 32:1). Tired of a journey with an invisible God, now that Moses, the mediator, has also disappeared, the people ask for a tangible, touchable presence of the Lord, and find in the molten calf made by Aaron, a god made accessible, maneuverable, within man's reach. It is a constant temptation on the journey of faith: to elude the divine mystery by constructing a comprehensible god, corresponding to one's own plans, to one's own projects. What occurs at Sinai demonstrates all the foolishness and the illusory vanity of this demand since, as Psalm 106 ironically affirms, "they exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox who eats grass" (Psalm 106:20).

Therefore the Lord responds and orders Moses to go down the mountain, revealing to him what the people were doing, and ending with these words: "Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them: but of you I will make a great nation" (Exodus 32:10). As with Abraham in regard to Sodom and Gomorrah, so also now God reveals to Moses what he intends to do, as though not wanting to act without his agreement (cf. Amos 3:7). He says: "Let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot." In reality, this "let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot" is said precisely so that Moses might intervene and ask him not to do it, thereby revealing that God's desire is always to save. As with the two cities in the time of Abraham, punishment and destruction, in which the wrath of God is expressed as the rejection of evil, point to the gravity of the sin committed; at the same time, the intercessor's request is meant to manifest the Lord's will to forgive. This is the salvation of God, which involves mercy but together with it also exposes the truth of the sin, of the evil that is present, so that the sinner, aware of and rejecting his own sin, can allow himself to be forgiven and transformed by God. Intercessory prayer makes divine mercy so active within the corrupted reality of the sinful man, that it finds a voice in the supplication of one who prays and through him becomes present where salvation is needed.

Moses' prayer is wholly centered on the Lord's fidelity and grace. He at first relates the history of the redemption that God initiated with Israel's departure from Egypt, in order then to recall the ancient promise given to the Fathers. The Lord wrought salvation by freeing his people from Egyptian slavery; why then -- Moses asks -- "should the Egyptians say: 'With evil intent did he bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth?'" (Exodus 32:12). The work of salvation begun must be brought to completion; if God were to allow his people to perish, this could be interpreted as a sign of a divine inability to bring to completion the project of salvation. God cannot permit this: He is the good Lord who saves, the guarantor of life, he is the God of mercy and forgiveness, of liberation from sin which kills. And so Moses appeals to God, to the interior life of God, against the exterior pronouncement. But then, Moses argues with the Lord, if his elect were to perish, even if they are guilty, he might appear incapable of conquering sin. And this is unacceptable. Moses had a concrete experience of the God of salvation; he was sent as a mediator of divine liberation, and now, with his prayer, he voices a twofold concern -- concern for the fate of his people, but alongside this, concern for the honor that is owed to the Lord, for the truth of his name. The intercessor, in fact, wants the people of Israel to be saved, because they are the flock that has been entrusted to him, but also because, in that salvation, the true reality of God is manifested. Love of the brothers and love of God interpenetrate in intercessory prayer; they are inseparable. Moses, the intercessor, is a man stretched between two loves, which in prayer overlap into but one desire for good.

Moses then appeals to God's faithfulness, reminding him of his promises: "Remember Abraham, Isaac and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou didst swear by thine own self, and didst say to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever'" (Exodus 32:13). Moses recalls the founding history of [Israel's] origins, of the fathers of the people, and of their wholly gratuitous election in which God alone had had the initiative. Not by reason of their merits did they receive the promise, but through the free choice of God and of his love (cf. Deuteronomy 10:15). And now, Moses asks that the Lord faithfully continue his history of election and salvation, by forgiving his people.

The intercessor does not make excuses for the sin of his people; he does not list presumed merits either of his people or of himself; rather, he appeals to the gratuitousness of God: a free God, who is total love, who never ceases to go in search of the one who has strayed, who always remains faithful to himself and offers the sinner the possibility of returning to him and of becoming, through forgiveness, just and capable of fidelity. Moses asks God to show himself stronger than sin and death, and by his prayer he brings about this divine self-revelation. A mediator of life, the intercessor shows solidarity with the people; desiring only the salvation that God himself desires, he renounces the prospect of becoming a new people pleasing to the Lord. The phrase that God had addressed to him, "but of you I will make a great nation," is not even taken into consideration by the "friend" of God, who instead is ready to take upon himself not only the guilt of his people, but also all of its consequences.

When, after the destruction of the golden calf, he will return to the mountain once again to ask for Israel's salvation, he will say to the Lord: "But now, if thou wilt forgive their sin -- and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written" (verse. 32). Through prayer, desiring God's desire, the intercessor enters ever more profoundly into the knowledge of the Lord and of his mercy, and becomes capable of a love that reaches even to the total gift of self.

In Moses, who stands upon the mountain height face to face with God, who becomes the intercessor for his people, and who offers himself -- "blot me out" -- the Fathers of the Church saw a prefiguration of Christ, who on the heights of the cross truly stands before God, not only as a friend but as Son. And not only does he offer himself -- "blot me out" -- but with his pierced heart he is blotted out, he becomes, as St. Paul himself says, sin; he takes our sins upon himself in order to spare us; his intercession is not only solidarity, but identification with us; he carries us all in his body. And in this way his whole existence as man and as Son is a cry to the heart of God, it is forgiveness, but a forgiveness that transforms and renews.

I think we should meditate upon this reality. Christ stands before the face of God and prays for me. His prayer on the cross is contemporaneous with all men, contemporaneous with me: He prays for me, he suffered and suffers for me, he identified himself with me by taking on our human body and soul. And he invites us to enter into his identity, making ourselves one body, one spirit with him, because from the heights of the cross he brought not new laws, tablets of stone, but rather he brought himself, his body and his blood, as the new covenant. He thereby makes us one blood with him, one body with him, identified with him. He invites us to enter into this identification, to be united with him in our desire to be one body, one spirit with him. Let us pray to the Lord that this identification may transform us, may renew us, since forgiveness is renewal -- it is transformation.

I would like to conclude this catechesis with the words of the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Rome: "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [ … ] neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities [ … ] nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:33-35, 38, 39).


[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Continuing our catechesis on Christian prayer, we now turn to the great prophetic figure of Moses. As the mediator between God and Israel, Moses is a model of intercessory prayer. We see this clearly in the episode of the golden calf (Ex 32). As Moses descends from Mount Sinai where he has spoken to God and received the gift of the Law, he confronts both the infidelity of the people, who now worship an idol of gold, and God’s wrath. Moses intercedes for his people, fully acknowledging the gravity of their sin. He also pleads with God to remember his mercy, to forgive their sin and thus to reveal his saving power. Moses’ prayer of petition is an expression of God’s own desire for the salvation of his people and his fidelity to the covenant. Through his intercessory prayer Moses grows in deeper knowledge of the Lord and his mercy, and becomes capable of a love which extends to the total gift of self. In this prayer Moses points beyond himself to that perfect intercessor who is Jesus, the Son of God, who brings about the new and eternal covenant in his blood, shed for the forgiveness of sin and the reconciliation of all God’s children.

[In Italian, he said:]

Finally I greet the youth, the sick and newlyweds. Today we begin the month of June, which is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Let us often pause to contemplate this profound mystery of divine Love. In the school of the Heart of Christ, may you, dear young people, learn to assume with serenity the responsibilities that await you. May you, dear sick, find in this infinite fount of mercy the courage and patience to fulfill God's will in every situation. And may you, dear newlyweds, remain faithful to the love of God, and may you witness to it by your married love.

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On Elijah's Lessons in Prayer
"True Adoration of God Does Not Destroy, But Renews"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 15, 2011 - 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 with his new series of catecheses on prayer, reflecting today on prayer in sacred Scripture, in particular on the prayer of the Prophet Elijah.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

In the religious history of ancient Israel, great importance was given to the prophets, to their teaching and their preaching. Among them, there emerges the figure of Elijah, who was raised up by God in order to lead the people to conversion. His name means "the Lord is my God," and it is in accord with this name that his life unfolds -- [a life] totally consecrated to bringing about in the people the acknowledgement of the Lord as the one God. Sirach says of Elijah: "Then the prophet Elijah arose like a fire, and his word burned like a torch" (Sirach 48:1). By this flame, Israel rediscovers its way to God.

In his ministry, Elijah prays: He asks the Lord to bring back to life the son of a widow who had given him lodging (cf. 1 Kings 17:17-24); he cries out to God in weariness and distress as he flees for his life into the desert, pursued by queen Jezebel (cf. 1 Kings 19:1-4); but it is above all on Mount Carmel that he shows himself in all his power as intercessor when, before all of Israel, he begs the Lord to reveal Himself and to convert the people's hearts. It is this episode, recounted in Chapter 18 of the First Book of Kings, that we pause to consider today.

We are in the Northern Kingdom, in the 9th century B.C., at the time of King Ahab, in a moment when, in Israel, a situation of open syncretism had developed. In addition to the Lord, the people also adored Baal, the reassuring idol from which they believed came the gift of rain, and to whom they therefore attributed the power of giving fruitfulness to the fields and life to men and livestock alike. Although they claimed to follow the Lord, the invisible and mysterious God, the people also sought security in a comprehensible and predictable god, from which they thought they could obtain fecundity and prosperity in exchange for sacrifice. Israel was yielding to the seduction of idolatry -- a continual temptation for the believer -- by fooling itself into thinking it could "serve two masters" (cf. Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13) and ease the impenetrable ways of faith in the Almighty by also placing its trust in a powerless god fashioned by man.

It is precisely in order to unmask the deceptive foolishness of such an attitude that Elijah has the people of Israel gather on Mount Carmel and puts before them the necessity of making a choice: "If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kings 18:21). And the prophet, the bearer of God's love, does not leave his people alone before this choice, but helps them by pointing out [to them] the sign that will reveal the truth: Both he and the prophets of Baal will prepare a sacrifice and will pray, and the true God will reveal himself by responding with the fire that will consume the offering. Thus begins the confrontation between the Prophet Elijah and the followers of Baal, which in reality is between the Lord of Israel, the God of salvation and of life, and a mute and empty idol that can do nothing, neither good nor evil (cf. Jeremiah 10:5). There also begins the confrontation between two completely different ways of turning to God and ways of prayer.

The prophets of Baal in fact cry aloud, stir themselves up, dance limping about, and enter into a state of excitement that culminates in them cutting their own bodies "with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them" (1 Kings 18:28). They turn to themselves in order to approach their god, relying on their own abilities to bring about a response. The idol's deceptive reality is thus revealed: Man thinks of it as something that can be regulated, [something] that can be managed with one's own strength, that can be accessed on the basis of oneself and one's own vital forces. The adoration of an idol, instead of opening the human heart to the Other, and to a freeing relationship that allows one to leave egoism's narrow confines in order to enter the dimensions of love and reciprocal gift, closes the human person up within the exclusive and desperate circle of self seeking. And the deception is such that, in adoring the idol, man finds himself forced to resort to extreme acts in the illusory attempt to subject it to his own will. For this reason, the prophets of Baal reach the point of even doing themselves harm, of inflicting themselves with wounds, in a dramatically ironic gesture: In order to get a response, some sign of life from their god, they cover themselves in blood, thereby symbolically covering themselves in death.

Elijah's attitude to prayer is quite other. He asks the people to come near, thereby involving them in his action and in his petition. The goal of the challenge he posed to the prophets of Baal was to bring back to God the people who had gone astray by following idols; he therefore wants Israel to unite itself to him, and to thereby become a participant and protagonist in his prayer and in all that is happening. Then the prophet erects an altar, making use of -- 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'" (verse 31). These stones represent all Israel and are the tangible memorial of its history of election, of predilection and of salvation of which the people were the object.

Elijah's liturgical action has a decisive impact: The altar is the sacred place that indicates the Lord's presence, but the stones that form it represent the people, who now, through the prophet's mediation, are symbolically placed before God, becoming an "altar," the place of offering and of sacrifice.

But it is necessary that the symbol become a reality, that Israel acknowledge the true God and rediscover its own identity as the Lord's own people. For this reason, Elijah asks the Lord to reveal Himself, and the twelve stones intended to remind Israel of its own truth also serve to remind the Lord of His fidelity, which the prophet appeals to in prayer. The words of his invocation are dense in meaning and in faith: "O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that thou, O Lord, art God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back" (verses 36-37; cf. Genesis 32:36-37).

Elijah turns to the Lord, calling Him God of the Fathers; he thus makes implicit reference to the divine promises and to the history of election and covenant that indissolubly united the Lord to His people. God's involvement in mankind's history is such that His Name is now inseparably connected with those of the Patriarchs, and the prophet pronounces that holy Name so that God might remember and reveal His fidelity; but he also does this in order that Israel might hear itself called by name and rediscover its own faithfulness. But Elijah's pronouncement of the divine title appears a bit surprising. Instead of using the usual formula, "God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob," he employs a less common appellative: "God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel." The substitution of the Name "Jacob" with "Israel" evokes Jacob's struggle at the ford of the Jabbok along with the name change to which the narrator makes explicit reference (cf. Genesis 32:21) and which I spoke about in one of the most recent catecheses. This substitution becomes pregnant with meaning within the context of Elijah's invocation. The prophet is praying for the people of the Northern Kingdom, which was called Israel, as distinct from Judah, which indicated the Southern Kingdom. And now, this people, who seem to have forgotten their own origins and their own privileged relationship with the Lord, hear themselves called by name, as the Name of God -- God of the Patriarch and God of the people -- is also pronounced: "Lord, God [ … ] of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel."

The people for whom Elijah prays is placed once again before its own truth, and the prophet asks that the Lord's truth also be revealed, and that He intervene in Israel's conversion by turning it away from the deception of idolatry, thus bringing it to salvation. His request is that the people finally know -- and know in fullness -- who truly is their God, and that they make the decisive choice to follow Him alone, the true God. For only in this way is God acknowledged as He truly is – Absolute and Transcendent -- without the possibility of putting him next to other gods, which would deny Him as the Absolute by relativizing Him. This is the faith that makes Israel God's people; it is the faith proclaimed in 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" (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). To God's absolute, the believer must respond with an absolute, total love that commits his entire life, his strength, his heart. And by his prayer, the prophet begs conversion precisely for his people's hearts: "that this people may know that thou, O Lord, art God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back!" (1 Kings 18:37). By his intercession, Elijah asks of God what God himself desires to do -- reveal Himself in all His mercy, faithful to His own reality as the Lord of life who forgives, converts and transforms.

And so it happens: "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'" (verses 38-39). Fire, this element at the same time so necessary and so terrible, which is tied to the divine manifestations of the burning bush and of Sinai, now serves to signal the love of God that responds to prayer and reveals itself to His people. Baal, the mute and powerless god, failed to respond to his prophets' invocations. It was the Lord who responded, and in an unequivocal way, not only by burning the holocaust, but even by drying up all of the water that had been poured out around the altar. Israel can no longer doubt; divine mercy has come to meet them in their weakness, in their doubt, in their lack of faith. Now, Baal the vain idol is conquered, and the people, who seemed lost, rediscover the path of truth and rediscover themselves.

Dear brothers and sisters, what does this history of the past have to say to us? What is this history's present? What is in question here first and foremost is the priority of the first commandment: to adore God alone. Where God disappears, man falls into the slavery of idolatry, as the totalitarian regimes of our own time have demonstrated, along with the various forms of nihilism that make man dependent upon idols, upon idolatry -- they enslave him. Second: the primary end of prayer is conversion: the fire of God transforms our hearts and makes us capable of seeing God, of living according to God and of living for the other. And the third point: The Fathers tell us that this history of a prophet is also prophetic, if -- they say -- it foreshadows the future, the future Christ, it is a step on the path to Christ. And they tell us that here we see the true fire of God: the love that leads the Lord all the way to the Cross, to the total gift of Himself. True adoration of God, then, is to give oneself to God and to men -- true adoration is love. And true adoration of God does not destroy, but renews. Certainly, the fire of God, the fire of love burns, transforms, purifies, but it is precisely in this way that it does not destroy but rather creates the truth of our being, recreates our hearts. And thus, truly alive by the grace of the fire of the Holy Spirit, of God's love, may we be adorers in spirit and in truth. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our continuing catechesis on Christian prayer, we now turn to the prophet Elijah as a model of intercessory prayer. At a time when the kingdom of Israel saw the spread of Baal-worship and syncretism, Elijah invited the people to renew their covenant with the Lord and to reject every form of idolatry. In the episode of his contest with the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel (cf. 1 Kg 18), he calls upon Israel to choose the Lord and prays for their conversion of heart. What is more, he urges the people themselves to draw near and share in his prayer. In response to Elijah’s prayer, God reveals his fidelity, mercy and saving power through the consuming fire sent down from heaven. He also enables the people to turn back to him and to reaffirm the covenant made with their fathers. As we look to Elijah’s example, let us be ever more convinced of the power of intercessory prayer, so that we can help all people to know the one true God, to turn away from every form of idolatry, and to receive the grace offered to us on the wood of the Cross and in the fire of the Holy Spirit.

I welcome the members of the Catholic-Pentecostal International Dialogue and I offer prayerful good wishes for the next phase of their work. I also welcome the Fiftieth Conference of the International Association of Schools and Institutes of Administration, now meeting in Rome. I thank the choirs, and particularly the University Choir from Indonesia, for their praise of God in song. Finally, I greet the delegates to the General Chapter of the Congregation of the Resurrection. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from the Philippines, Canada and the United States, I invoke the Lord’s blessings of joy and peace.

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On Learning to Pray With the Psalms
Addressing Him "With the Words That He Himself Gives Us"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 22, 2011 - 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 with his series of catecheses on prayer, turning today to a consideration of the Book of Psalms.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

In the preceding catecheses, we paused to consider a number of Old Testament figures who are particularly significant for our reflection on prayer. I spoke about Abraham, who intercedes for the foreign cities; about Jacob, who in his nighttime combat receives a blessing; about Moses, who begs for forgiveness for his people; and about Elijah, who prays for the conversion of Israel. With today's catechesis, I would like to begin down a new path: Rather than commenting on particular accounts of persons at prayer, we will enter into the "prayerbook" par excellence, the Book of Psalms. In the upcoming catecheses we will read and meditate on a number of the most beautiful psalms which are also dearest to the Church's tradition of prayer. Today I would like to introduce them by speaking about the Book of Psalms as a whole.

The Psalter presents itself as a "formulary" of prayers, a collection of 150 psalms that the biblical tradition gives to the people of believers in order that they may become their -- our prayer -- our way of addressing God and of relating to Him. In this book, the whole of human experience with its many facets finds expression, along with the entire range of emotions that accompany man's existence. In the Psalms, joy and suffering, desire for God and the perception of one's own unworthiness, delight and the sense of abandonment, trust in God and painful solitude, fullness of life and fear of death are all interwoven and expressed. The believer's whole reality flows into these prayers, which first the people of Israel and then the Church took up as a privileged meditation on the relationship with the one God, and the fitting response to His self-revelation in history.

As prayer, the Psalms are manifestations of the soul and of faith, in which everyone can recognize himself and in which there is communicated that experience of special closeness to God, to which each man is called. And it is the whole complexity of human existence that converges in the complexity of the different literary forms of the various psalms: hymns, lamentations, individual and collective supplication, songs of thanksgiving, penitential psalms, and other genre that are found in these poetic compositions.

Despite this wide range of expression, two great areas can be identified that synthesize the prayer of the Psalter: petition, which is connected with lament, and praise -- two interconnected and almost inseparable dimensions. For petition is animated by the certainty that God will respond, and this opens up to praise and thanksgiving; and praise and thanksgiving flow from the experience of salvation received, which assumes the need for the help expressed by the petition.

In petition, the one who prays laments and describes his situation of distress, of danger, of desolation; or, as in the penitential psalms, he confesses guilt and sin, and asks to be forgiven. He lays bare his neediness before the Lord, in the confidence of being heard, and this implies an acknowledgement of God as good, as desirous of the good, and as the "lover of life" (cf. Wisdom 11:26) who is ready to help, save and forgive. Thus, for example, the Psalmist in Psalm 31 prays: "In thee, 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 thou art my refuge (verses 2,5 [1,4]). Therefore, already in the lament something of praise may emerge, announcing itself in the hope of divine intervention, and becoming explicit once divine salvation has become a reality.
In an analogous way -- in the psalms of thanksgiving and of praise -- in remembering the gift received or in contemplating the greatness of God's mercy, one recognizes one's own littleness as well as one's need for salvation, which is at the foundation of petition. In this way, one confesses to God one's own condition as a creature, inevitably marked as it is by death, and yet the bearer of a radical desire for life. For this reason, in Psalm 86 the Psalmist exclaims: "I give thanks to thee, o Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify thy name forever. For great is thy steadfast love toward me; thou hast delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol" (verses 12, 13). In this way, in the prayer of the Psalms, petition and praise are interwoven and blend together into one unique song that celebrates the Lord's eternal grace that bends down to our frailty.

The book of the Psalter was given to Israel and to the Church precisely in order that the people of believers might be permitted to unite themselves to this song. The Psalms, in fact, teach us to pray. In them, the Word of God becomes the word of prayer -- and they are the Psalmists' inspired words -- which also become the word of the one who prays the Psalms. This is the beauty and the special nature of this biblical book: Unlike other prayers we find in sacred Scripture, the prayers contained [in the Book of Psalms] are not inserted into a narrative story which specifies either their meaning or their function. The Psalms are given to the believer precisely as a text of prayer, which has as its one end that of becoming the prayer of the one who takes them up and, with them, addresses himself to God. Since they are the Word of God, he who prays the Psalms speaks to God with the very words that God has given to us; he addresses Him with the words that He Himself gives us. Thus, in praying the Psalms we learn to pray. They are a school of prayer.

Something analogous happens when a child begins to talk; when he learns, that is, to express his feelings, emotions, and needs with words that do not belong to him naturally, but which he learns from his parents and from those who live around him. What the child wants to express is his own personal experience, but the means of expression belong to others; and little by little he appropriates them -- the words received from his parents become his words, and through those words he also learns a way of thinking and feeling; he enters into a whole world of concepts, and in this [world] he grows, relates with reality, with men and with God. At last, the language of his parents becomes his language; he speaks with the words received from others, which by now have become his words.

And so it is with the prayer of the Psalms. They are given to us so that we might learn to address ourselves to God, to communicate with Him, to talk to Him about ourselves with His words, to find language for an encounter with Him. And, through those words, it will also be possible to know and to receive the standards of his way of acting, to approach the mystery of his thoughts and of his ways (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9), so as to grow always more in faith and love. As our words are not only words, but also teach us about a real and conceptual world, so also these prayers teach us about the heart of God, for which reason are we able not only to speak with God, but also to learn who God is and -- in learning how to speak with Him -- we learn what is it to be man, to be ourselves.

In this regard, the title given to the Psaltery by the Jewish tradition appears significant. It is called Tehellim, an Hebraic term that means "songs of praise," [which comes] from the root word we find in the expression "Halleluiah" -- literally: "praise the Lord." Thus, even though this prayerbook is so multifaceted and complex -- with its various literary genre and with its connection between praise and petition – it is ultimately a book of praise, that teaches us to give thanks, to celebrate the greatness of the gift of God, to acknowledge the beauty of His words and to glorify His holy Name.

This is the most fitting response before God's self-revelation, and the experience of His goodness. By teaching us to pray, the Psalms teach us that, even in the midst of desolation, in suffering, God's presence remains and is the source of wonder and of consolation; we can cry, beg, intercede, lament, but [we do so] in the knowledge that we are walking toward the light, where praise can be definitive; "in thy light do we see light" (Psalm 36:10 [9]).
But beyond the book's general title, the Jewish tradition has also given specific titles to many of the psalms, attributing them in great part to King David. A figure of notable human and theological depth, David is a complex personality who passed through the most varied experiences fundamental to life. A young shepherd of his father's flock -- passing through the ups and downs and at times dramatic events of life -- he becomes king of Israel, the shepherd of God's people. Although a man of peace, he fought many wars; an untiring and tenacious seeker of God, yet he betrayed His love, and this is characteristic: He always remained a seeker of God, even though he sinned gravely many times; a humble penitent, he received divine forgiveness, even divine pity, and he accepted a fate marked by suffering. Thus, in all his weakness, David was a king "after God's own heart" (cf. 1 Samuel 13:14); that is, a passionate man of prayer, a man who knew what it meant to petition and to praise. The connection of the Psalms with this illustrious king of Israel is important, then, for he is a messianic figure, the Lord's Anointed, in whom the mystery of Christ is in some way foreshadowed.

Just as important and meaningful are the ways and frequency with which the words of the psalms are repeated in the New Testament, taking up and underscoring the prophetic value suggested by the Psalter's connection with the messianic figure of David. In the Lord Jesus, who during His earthly life prayed with the Psalms, they find their definitive fulfillment and reveal their fullest and most profound meaning. The prayers of the Psalter, with which we speak to God, speak to us of Him, they speak to us of the Son, the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), who fully reveals to us the Face of the Father. The Christian, therefore, in praying the Psalms, prays to the Father in Christ and with Christ, taking up those songs within a new perspective, which finds its ultimate interpretative key in the Paschal mystery. Thus do the horizons of the one who prays open up to unexpected realities -- each Psalm acquires a new light in Christ and the Psalter is able to shine in all its infinite richness.

Dearest brothers and sisters, let us take this holy book in hand; let us allow ourselves to be taught by God to address ourselves to Him; let us make the Psalter a guide that helps us and accompanies us daily along the way of prayer. And let us, like Jesus' disciples, also ask: "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1), opening our hearts to receive the Teacher's prayer, in which all prayers attain their fulfillment. Thus, made sons in the Son, will we be able to speak to God calling Him "Our Father." Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on Christian prayer, we have looked to a number of Old Testament figures who represent models of prayer. We now turn to the great "prayerbook" of sacred Scripture: the Book of Psalms. These inspired songs teach us how to speak to God, expressing ourselves and the whole range of our human experience with words that God himself has given us. Despite the diversity of their literary forms, the Psalms are generally marked by the two interconnected dimensions of humble petition and of praise addressed to a loving God who understands our human frailty. In Hebrew, the Psalms are called Tehellim or songs of praise; the prayer of praise is, in fact, our best response to the God who even at times of trial remains ever at our side. Many of the Psalms are attributed to David, the great King of Israel who, as the Lord’s Anointed, prefigured the Messiah. In Jesus Christ and in his paschal mystery the Psalms find their deepest meaning and prophetic fulfilment. Christ himself prayed in their words. As we take up these inspired songs of praise, let us ask the Lord to teach us to pray, with him and in him, to our heavenly Father.

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On the Prayer of Meditation
"Consistency in Giving Time to God Is a Fundamental Element for Spiritual Growth"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 17, 2011- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.

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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, and she it is -- the Gospel says -- "who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord" (Luke 1:45). Therefore, Mary believed; she entrusted herself to God; she entered with her own [will] into the Lord's will, and thus it was that she truly took the most direct route on the road to heaven. To believe, to entrust oneself to the Lord, to enter into His will: This is the essential course.

Today, I do not wish to speak about the whole journey of faith, but only about a small aspect of the life of prayer, which is a life of contact with God; namely, about meditation. And what is meditation? It means to "remember" all that God has done and not to forget all his benefits (cf. Psalm 103:2b). Often, we see only the negative things. We also need to hold in our memory the good things, the gifts that God has given us; we need to be attentive to the positive signs that come from God, and remember these. Therefore, we are speaking about a kind of prayer that the Christian tradition calls "mental prayer." We are more familiar with vocal prayer, and naturally the mind and heart must also be present in this prayer, but today we are speaking about a meditation that does not involve words, but that is rather a making contact of our mind with the heart of God.

And here Mary is a true model. The Evangelist Luke repeats numerous times that Mary, for her part, "kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (2:19; cf. 2:51). She keeps them; she does not forget. She is attentive to all that the Lord has said and done to her, and she ponders; that is, she makes contact with diverse things -- she dwells deeply upon them in her heart.

She, therefore, who "believed" the announcement of the angel and became an instrument so that the Eternal Word of the Most High might become incarnate, also welcomed in her heart the wonderful miracle of the human-divine birth; she pondered it, she dwelt deeply upon all that God was doing in her, so that she might welcome the divine will in her life and conform to it. The mystery of the incarnation of God's Son, and of the maternity of Mary, is so great [a mystery] that it requires a process of interiorization. It is not only something physical that God accomplishes in her; rather, it is something that demands an interiorization from Mary, who seeks to understand it more deeply, seeks to interpret its meaning, to understand its implications. Thus, day after day, in the silence of ordinary life, Mary continued to keep in her heart the subsequent wondrous events she witnessed, even to the extreme trial of the Cross and the glory of the Resurrection. Mary fully lived her existence, her daily duties, her mission as mother, but she knew how to preserve within herself an interior space for reflection on the word and the will of God, on all that was happening in her, on the mysteries of the life of her Son.

In our own time, we are absorbed with so many activities and commitments, concerns and problems. Often, we tend to fill up all the spaces of the day, without having a moment to stop and reflect and to nourish our spiritual life -- our contact with God. Mary teaches us how necessary it is to find in our days -- with all its activities -- moments to recollect ourselves in silence and to ponder all that the Lord wants to teach us, how He is present and acts in the world and in our life: to be able to stop for a moment and meditate. St. Augustine likens meditation on the mysteries of God to the assimilation of food, and he uses a word that recurs throughout the Christian tradition: "ruminate." The mysteries of God should continually resound within us so that they might become familiar to us, guide our life, and nourish us as happens with the food that is necessary to sustain us. And St. Bonaventure, referring to the words of sacred Scripture, says that they "should always be ruminated on so as to be kept in mind by the ardent application of the soul" (Coll. In Hex, ed. Quaracchi 1934, p. 218).

To meditate therefore means to create within ourselves an atmosphere of recollection, of interior silence, so as to reflect upon and assimilate the mysteries of our faith, and all that God is doing in us -- and not only the things that come and go. We can "ruminate" in many ways; for instance, by taking a short passage of sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostle's Letters, or a page from a spiritual author we are drawn to and which makes the reality of God in our today more present, perhaps taking advice from a confessor or spiritual director; by reading and reflecting on what we've just read, pausing to consider it, seeking to understand it, to understand what it says to me, what it says today -- to open our soul to all that the Lord wants to say to us and teach us.

The holy rosary is also a prayer of meditation: In repeating the Hail Mary we are invited to think back and to reflect upon the mystery we have announced. But we can also dwell upon some intense spiritual experience, on the words that have remained with us from our participation in the Sunday Eucharist. You see, therefore, there are many ways of meditating and of thereby making contact with God -- of drawing near to God, and in this way, of being on the road to heaven.

Dear friends, consistency in giving time to God is a fundamental element for spiritual growth; it will be the Lord Himself who gives us a taste for His mysteries, His words, His presence and action, to feel how beautiful it is when God speaks with us. He will make us understand in a more profound way what He wants of us. In the end, this is the goal of our meditation: to entrust ourselves ever more to the hands of God, with trust and love, certain that, in the end, it is only in doing His will that we are truly happy.

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On Beauty as a Way to God
Art "Is Like a Door Opened to the Infinite"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 31, 2011 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

On several occasions in recent months, I have recalled the need for every Christian to find time for God, for prayer, amidst our many daily activities.The Lord himself offers us many opportunities to remember Him. Today, I would like to consider briefly one of these channels that can lead us to God and also be helpful in our encounter with Him: It is the way of artistic expression, part of that "via pulchritudinis" -- "way of beauty" -- which I have spoken about on many occasions, and which modern man should recover in its most profound meaning.

Perhaps it has happened to you at one time or another -- before a sculpture, a painting, a few verses of poetry or a piece of music -- to have experienced deep emotion, a sense of joy, to have perceived clearly, that is, that before you there stood not only matter -- a piece of marble or bronze, a painted canvas, an ensemble of letters or a combination of sounds -- but something far greater, something that "speaks," something capable of touching the heart, of communicating a message, of elevating the soul.

A work of art is the fruit of the creative capacity of the human person who stands in wonder before the visible reality, who seeks to discover the depths of its meaning and to communicate it through the language of forms, colors and sounds. Art is capable of expressing, and of making visible, man's need to go beyond what he sees; it reveals his thirst and his search for the infinite. Indeed, it is like a door opened to the infinite, [opened] to a beauty and a truth beyond the every day. And a work of art can open the eyes of the mind and heart, urging us upward.

But there are artistic expressions that are true roads to God, the supreme Beauty -- indeed, they are a help [to us] in growing in our relationship with Him in prayer. We are referring to works of art that are born of faith, and that express the faith. We see an example of this whenever we visit a Gothic cathedral: We are ravished by the vertical lines that reach heavenward and draw our gaze and our spirit upward, while at the same time, we feel small and yet yearn to be filled. … Or when we enter a Romanesque church: We are invited quite naturally to recollection and prayer. We perceive that hidden within these splendid edifices is the faith of generations. Or again, when we listen to a piece of sacred music that makes the chords of our heart resound, our soul expands and is helped in turning to God. I remember a concert performance of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach -- in Munich in Bavaria -- conducted by Leonard Bernstein. At the conclusion of the final selection, one of the Cantate, I felt -- not through reasoning, but in the depths of my heart -- that what I had just heard had spoken truth to me, truth about the supreme composer, and it moved me to give thanks to God. Seated next to me was the Lutheran bishop of Munich. I spontaneously said to him: "Whoever has listened to this understands that faith is true" -- and the beauty that irresistibly expresses the presence of God's truth.

But how many times, paintings or frescos also, which are the fruit of the artist's faith -- in their forms, in their colors, and in their light -- move us to turn our thoughts to God, and increase our desire to draw from the Fount of all beauty. The words of the great artist, Marc Chagall, remain profoundly true -- that for centuries, painters dipped their brushes in that colored alphabet, which is the Bible.

How many times, then, can artistic expression be for us an occasion that reminds us of God, that assists us in our prayer or even in the conversion of our heart! In 1886, the famous French poet, playwright and diplomat Paul Claudel entered the Basilica of Notre Dame in Paris and there felt the presence of God precisely in listening to the singing of the Magnificat during the Christmas Mass. He had not entered the church for reasons of faith; indeed, he entered looking for arguments against Christianity, but instead the grace of God changed his heart.

Dear friends, I invite you to rediscover the importance of this way for prayer, for our living relationship with God. Cities and countries throughout the world house treasures of art that express the faith and call us to a relationship with God. Therefore, may our visits to places of art be not only an occasion for cultural enrichment -- also this -- but may they become, above all, a moment of grace that moves us to strengthen our bond and our conversation with the Lord, [that moves us] to stop and contemplate -- in passing from the simple external reality to the deeper reality expressed -- the ray of beauty that strikes us, that "wounds" us in the intimate recesses of our heart and invites us to ascend to God.

I will end with a prayer from one of the Psalms, 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 to inquire in his temple" (Verse 4). Let us hope that the Lord will help us to contemplate His beauty, both in nature as well as in works of art, so that we might be touched by the light of His face, and so also be light for our neighbor. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, especially those from Scotland and Malta. Today we reflect on the need to draw near to God through the experience and appreciation of artistic beauty. Art is capable of making visible our need to go beyond what we see and it reveals our thirst for infinite beauty, for God. Dear friends, I invite you to be open to beauty and to allow it to move you to prayer and praise of the Lord. May Almighty God bless all of you!

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On Psalm 3
"He Listens, He Responds and He Saves According to His Ways"

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 7, 2011 - 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 with a reflection on Psalm 3.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today we return to the audiences in St. Peter's square, and in the "school of prayer" that we are experiencing together in these Wednesday catecheses, I would like to begin to meditate on some of the psalms, which -- as I said last June -- form the "prayerbook" par excellence.

The first psalm I wish to consider is a psalm of lament and supplication imbued with profound trust, in which the certainty of God's presence forms the basis of a prayer arising from the condition of extreme difficulty in which the man praying finds himself. It is Psalm 3, attributed by the Hebrew tradition to David in the moment he fled from Absalom his son (cf. Verse 1): This is one of the most dramatic and anguished episodes in the king's life, when his son usurps his royal throne, forcing him to leave Jerusalem in order to save his life (cf. 2 Samuel 15ff). The perilous and anguished situation David experiences serves as the backdrop to this prayer, and it helps us to understand it, by presenting itself as the typical situation in which such a psalm might be recited. Every man can recognize in the psalmist's cry feelings of pain and bitterness together with a trust in God that -- according to the biblical account -- accompanied David as he fled the city.

The psalm begins 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!" (Verses 1-2)

The prayer's description of his situation is marked by strongly dramatic tones. Three times he repeats the idea of the multitude -- "numerous," "many," "how many" -- which in the original text is said with the same Hebrew root, in order to underline even more the immensity of the danger in a repeated, almost relentless way. This insistence on the number and greatness of the foe serves to express the psalmist's perception of the absolute disproportion there is between himself and his persecutors -- a disproportion that justifies and forms the basis of the urgency of his request for help; the aggressors are many; they have the upper hand, while the man praying is alone and defenseless, at the mercy of his assailants.

And yet, the first word the psalmist pronounces is "Lord"; his cry begins with an invocation to God. A multitude looms over and arises against him, producing a fear that magnifies the threat, making it appear even greater and more terrifying; but the man praying does not allow himself to be conquered by this vision of death; he remains steadfast in his relationship with the God of life, and the first thing he does is turn to Him for help.

However, his enemies also attempt to break this bond with God and to destroy their victim's faith. They insinuate that the Lord cannot intervene; they maintain that not even God can save him. The assault, then, is not only physical but also touches the spiritual dimension: "The Lord cannot save him" -- they say -- even the core of the psalmist's soul is attacked.

This is the great temptation to which the believer is subjected -- the temptation to lose faith, to lose trust in the nearness of God. The just man overcomes this ultimate test; he remains steadfast in the faith, in the certainty of the truth and in full confidence in God, and it is precisely in this way that he finds life and truth. It seems to me that here the psalm touches us very personally; in so many problems we are tempted to think that perhaps not even God can save me, that He doesn't know me, that perhaps it is not possible for Him; the temptation against faith is the enemy's final assault, and this we must resist -- in so doing, we find God and we find life.

The man praying our psalm is therefore called to respond with faith to the attacks of the impious: The enemy -- as I said -- denies that God is able to save him; but he instead calls out to Him, he calls on His name, "Lord"; he then turns to Him with an emphatic "You" that expresses an unshakeable, solid relationship, and within himself he holds on to the certainty of a divine response:

"But thou, O Lord, art 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 mountain" (Verses 4-5).

The vision of the enemy now disappears; they have not defeated him because he who believes in God is certain that God is his friend: There remains only the "You" of God -- the "many" are contrasted now by one alone, who is far greater and more powerful than many adversaries. The Lord is help, defense, salvation; as a shield He protects the one who entrusts himself to Him, and He raises up his head in a gesture of triumph and of victory. The man is no longer alone, his enemies are not as invincible as they once seemed, because the Lord hears the cry of the oppressed and responds from the place of His presence, from His holy mount. The man cries out in anguish, in danger, and in pain; the man asks for help, and God responds.

This interweaving of the human cry and the divine response is the dialectic of prayer and the key to reading the whole of salvation history. The cry expresses the need for help and it appeals to the faithfulness of the other; to cry out means to express faith in the nearness of God and in His readiness to listen. Prayer expresses certainty in a divine presence already experienced and believed in, [a presence] manifested most fully by God's saving response. This is significant: that in our prayer the certainty of God's presence be important, that it be present. Thus, the psalmist, who feels himself besieged by death, confesses his faith in the God of life who as a shield wraps him with invulnerable protection; he who thought himself already lost can now lift up his head, for the Lord saves him; the man who prays -- threatened and scorned -- is in glory, because God is his glory.

The divine response that receives his prayer gives the psalmist complete assurance; fear is also gone, and his cry calms and quiets in peace, in a deep interior 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" (Verses 5-6).

The man praying, even amid danger and battle, can lie tranquilly in an unequivocal attitude of trustful surrender. His adversaries encamp around him, they beleaguer him, they are many, they rise up against him, they deride him and attempt to make him fall; but he instead lies down and sleeps in tranquil serenity, assured of the presence of God. And when he awakes, he finds God still beside him, as a guardian who will neither slumber nor sleep (cf. Psalm 121:3-4), who sustains him, who holds his hand, who never abandons him. The fear of death is conquered by the presence of the One who never dies. And the night, filled with ancestral fears, the painful night of solitude and of anguished waiting, is now transformed: What evokes death becomes the presence of the Eternal One.

The enemy's visible, massive, imposing attack is contrasted by the invisible presence of God, with all His invincible power. And it is to Him that the psalmist once more -- following his two expressions of trust -- addresses this prayer: "Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God!" (Verse 8). The foes "rise up" (cf. Verse 2) against their victim, [but] he who will "rise up" is the Lord, in order to strike them down. God will save him by responding to his cry. For this reason, the psalmist can conclude with a vision of liberation from the danger that kills and from the temptation that can make him perish.

After turning to the Lord and asking Him to rise up and save him, the man praying describes the divine victory: The foes -- who with their unjust and cruel oppression, are symbolic of all that is opposed to God and to His plan for salvation -- are defeated. Struck in the mouth, they can no longer attack with their destructive violence, nor can they insinuate the evil of doubt in the presence and action of God: Their senseless and blasphemous talk is definitively denied and reduced to silence by the Lord's saving intervention (cf. Verse 7bc). Thus may the psalmist conclude his prayer with a phrase with liturgical connotations, which celebrates, in gratitude and in praise, the Lord of life: "Deliverance belongs to the Lord; thy blessing be upon thy people!" (Verse 8).

Dear brothers and sisters, Psalm 3 presents us with a prayer full of trust and consolation. In praying this psalm, we can make the psalmist's sentiments our own -- [the psalmist] who is a figure of the just man who is persecuted, and who finds his fulfillment in Jesus. In suffering, in danger, in the bitterness of misunderstanding and offense, the psalmist's words open our hearts to the comforting certainty of faith. God is always near -- even in difficulties, in problems, in the darkness of life -- He listens, He responds and He saves according to His ways. But we need to know how to recognize His presence and to accept His ways, like David in his crushing escape from Absalom his son; like the just man who is persecuted in the Book of Wisdom; and finally and fully, like the Lord Jesus on Golgotha. And, when to the eyes of the impious, God seems not to intervene and the Son dies, precisely then are true glory and salvation's definitive realization manifested to all who believe. May the Lord grant us faith; may He come to the help of our weakness; and may He enable us to believe and to pray in every anxiety, in the painful nights of doubt and in the long days of suffering, by trustfully abandoning ourselves to Him who is our "shield" and our "glory." Thank you.

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We return today to our series of catecheses on prayer with a consideration of Psalm Three, in which the psalmist cries out to God to rescue him from the enemies who surround him. Traditionally the psalm is attributed to King David as he flees from the armies of his rebellious son Absalom. Assailed on every side by foes who seek his life, the psalmist calls on the name of the Lord, filled with faith in the presence and the power of God who alone can save him from the evils that threaten him. We are reminded of the plight of the just man in the Book of Wisdom, condemned to a shameful death by the wicked, who taunt him by arguing that God will surely come to his rescue. Our thoughts move on to Calvary, where the passers-by mocked Jesus, saying that God would deliver him from death if he were really who he claimed to be. And yet, we know that God truly hears the prayers of those who call upon him in faith. He answers from his holy mountain. The unseen God responds with great power, and he becomes our shield and our glory. Even though Jesus appears to be abandoned by the Father as he dies on Calvary, yet for the eyes of faith this is the crowning moment of salvation, the triumph of the Cross, the hour of our Saviour's glorification.

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On the Prayer of Psalm 22
"Death and Life Have Met in an Inseparable Mystery, and Life Has Triumphed"

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 14, 2011 - 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 series of catecheses on prayer, with a reflection of Psalm 22.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

In today's catechesis I would like to talk about a psalm with strong Christological implications, which continually emerges in the accounts of the Passion of Jesus with its twofold dimension of humiliation and of glory, of death and of life. It is Psalm 22 according to the Hebrew tradition; [Psalm] 21 according to the Greek–Latin tradition. [It is] a heartfelt and touching prayer, of a human depth and theological richness that make it one of the most prayed and studied psalms in the Psalter. It is a lengthy poetic composition, and we will reflect in particular on its first part, which is focused on lament, in order to deepen our understanding of some of the significant dimensions of the prayer of supplication to God.

This psalm presents the figure of an innocent man who is persecuted and surrounded by enemies who want his death; and he turns to God in a painful lamentation, which in the certainty of faith opens mysteriously to praise. In his prayer, the distressing reality of the present and the consoling memory of the past alternate in an anguished awareness of his own desperate situation, yet this does not cause him to give up hope. His initial cry is an appeal addressed to an apparently distant God who does not respond and who seems to have abandoned him:

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Why art thou so far from helping me,
From the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer;
and by night, but find no rest" (Verses 1-2).

God remains silent, and this silence pierces the heart of the man who prays, who incessantly calls out, but who finds no response. The days and nights pass in an unwearied search for a word, for help that does not come. God seems so distant, so unmindful, so absent. Prayer asks for listening and for a response; it invites contact; it seeks a relationship that can give comfort and salvation. But if God does not respond, the cry for help vanishes into the void, and the solitude becomes unbearable. And yet, the man praying our psalm three times cries out, calling the Lord "my" God in an extraordinary act of trust and of faith. Despite all appearances, the psalmist cannot believe that his bond with the Lord has been completely broken; and while he asks the reason for his present incomprehensible abandonment, he affirms that "his" God cannot abandon him.

It is well known that the psalm's initial cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou abandoned me?" is reported in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark as the cry Jesus uttered as He was dying on the cross (cf. Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). This [cry] expresses all the desolation of the Messiah, the Son of God, as He faces the drama of death -- a reality utterly opposed to the Lord of life. Abandoned by nearly all those who were His own, betrayed and denied by His disciples, surrounded by those who insult Him, Jesus is placed under the crushing weight of a mission that must pass through humiliation and abnegation. He therefore cries out to the Father, and His suffering takes on the painful words of the psalm.

But His is not a desperate cry, nor was that of the psalmist, who in his supplication journeys along a path of torment that nonetheless opens to a vista of praise and trust in the divine victory. And since according to Jewish use, to cite the beginning of a psalm implied a reference to the whole poem, Jesus' heartrending prayer -- while full of unspeakable suffering -- opens to the certainty of glory. "Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" (Luke 24:26) the Risen One will say to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. During His passion, in obedience to the Father, the Lord Jesus passes through abandonment and death in order to attain life and to grant it to those who believe.

In painful contrast, Psalm 22's initial cry of supplication is followed by the memory of the past:

"In thee our fathers trusted;
They trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
To thee they cried, and were saved;
In thee they trusted, and were not disappointed" (Verses 4-5).

The God who today appears so distant to the psalmist, is nevertheless the merciful Lord who Israel knew and experienced throughout her history. The one who prays belongs to a people that was the object of God's love and that can witness to His fidelity to that love. Beginning with the patriarchs, then in Egypt and in their long sojourn in the desert, in their stay in the promised land in contact with aggressive and hostile peoples, to the darkness of exile, the whole of biblical history was a story of the people crying out for help, and of God's saving responses. And the psalmist here makes reference to the unwavering faith of his fathers, who "trusted" -- this word is repeated three times -- without ever being disappointed. Now however, it appears that this chain of trustful invocation and divine response has been broken; the psalmist's situation appears to contradict the whole history of salvation, making the present reality all the more painful.

But God cannot contradict Himself, and so we find the prayer begin to describe the painful situation of the one praying, in order to persuade God to have mercy and to intervene, as He had always done in times past. The psalmist calls himself "a worm and not a man; scorned by men, and despised by the people" (Verse 6); he is mocked and scoffed at (Verse 7) and wounded precisely for his faith: "He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!" (Verse 8), they say. Under the mocking blows of irony and contempt, it seems as though the persecuted one has lost all human semblance, like the suffering servant described in the Book of Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 52:14; 53:2b-3). And like the just one oppressed in the Book of Wisdom (cf. 2:12-20), like Jesus on Calvary (cf. Matthew 27:39-43), the psalmist sees his relationship with the Lord called into question, in the cruel and sarcastic emphasis on what is making him suffer: the silence of God, His apparent absence.

And yet, God was present in the life of the one praying with an undeniable closeness and tenderness. The psalmist reminds God of this: "Yet thou art He who took me from the womb; thou didst keep me safe upon my mother's breasts. Upon thee was I cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me thou hast been my God" (Verses 9-10). The Lord is the God of life who brings to birth and welcomes the newborn, caring for him with a father's love. And if he previously remembered God's fidelity throughout the course of his people's history, now the man praying calls to mind his own personal history and relationship with the Lord, tracing it back to the particularly significant moment of the beginning of his life. And there, despite his current desolation, the psalmist recognizes a closeness and a divine love so radical that he can now exclaim, in a confession full of faith and hope: "Since my mother bore me, thou hast been my God" (Verse 10b).

The prayer of lament now becomes an anguished plea: "Be not far from me, for trouble is near and there is none to help" (Verse 11). The only closeness the psalmist perceives -- and which frightens him -- is that of his enemies. It is necessary, then, that God draw near and help, because the enemies of the man praying surround him, they encompass him like strong bulls that open wide their mouths to roar and tear him to pieces (cf. Verses 12-13). Anguish changes the perception of the danger, magnifying it. His adversaries seem invincible; they have become ferocious and dangerous animals, while the psalmist is like a little worm, powerless and utterly without defense.

But these images used by the psalmist also serve to illustrate [the truth] that when man becomes brutal and attacks his brother, something animal-like takes over in him, and he seems to lose every human semblance; violence always carries within itself something beastly, and only God's saving intervention can restore man to his humanity. For the psalmist, who has become the object of such fierce aggression, there now seems to be no escape, and death begins to take hold 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" (Verses 14-15; 18). With dramatic images that we find again in the accounts of Christ's passion, the breaking of the body of the condemned is described, along with the unbearable burning thirst that torments the dying, and which is echoed in Jesus' request "I thirst" (cf. John 19:28), culminating finally in the definitive gesture of the torturers who, like the soldiers beneath the cross, divide the garments of the victim, who is looked upon as already dead (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:23-24).

Then once again, we hear an urgent cry for help: "But thou, O Lord, be not far off! O thou my help, hasten to my aid […] Save me" (Verses 19, 21a). This is a cry that opens the heavens, because it proclaims a faith and a certainty that surpasses every doubt, every darkness and every experience of desolation. And the lamentation is transformed; it gives way to praise in the welcoming of salvation: "You have answered me. I will tell of thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee" (Verses 21c-22). Thus, the psalm breaks forth into thanksgiving, into the great final hymn that involves the whole people, the Lord's faithful, the liturgical assembly, the future generations (cf. Verses 23-21). The Lord has come to his help. He has saved the poor one and has shown him His merciful Face. Death and life have met in an inseparable mystery, and life has triumphed. The God of salvation has shown Himself to be the uncontested Lord, whom all the ends of the earth will celebrate, and before whom all the families of peoples will bow down in worship. It is the victory of faith, which is able to transform death into a gift of life -- the abyss of suffering into a source of hope.

Beloved brothers and sisters, this psalm has taken us to Golgotha, to the foot of Jesus' cross, in order to relive His passion and to share the fruitful joy of the resurrection. Let us allow ourselves to be flooded by the light of the paschal mystery, even in [times] of God's seeming absence, even in God's silence, and like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, let us learn to discern the true reality that surpasses all appearances, by recognizing the path of exaltation precisely in humiliation and the full revelation of life in death, in the cross. By thus placing all of our trust and hope in God the Father, in every anxiety we too will be able to pray to Him in faith, and our cry for help will be transformed into a hymn of praise. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we reflect on Psalm Twenty-two, a heartfelt prayer of lamentation from one who feels abandoned by God. Surrounded by enemies who are persecuting him, the psalmist cries out by day and by night for help, and yet God seems to remain silent. In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, the opening line of this psalm is placed on the lips of Jesus as he calls upon the Father from the Cross. He too seems to have been abandoned to a cruel fate, while his enemies mock him, attacking him like ravenous and roaring lions, dividing his clothing among them as if he were already dead. The psalmist recalls how, in the past, the people of Israel called trustingly upon the Lord in times of trial, and he answered their prayer. He remembers the tenderness with which the Lord cared for him personally in his earlier life, as a child in his mother's womb, as an infant in his mother's arms, and yet now God seems strangely distant. Despite such adverse circumstances, though, the psalmist's faith and trust in the Lord remains. The psalm ends on a note of confidence, as God's name is praised before all the nations. The shadow of the Cross gives way to the bright hope of the Resurrection. We too, when we call upon him in times of trial, must place our trust in the God who brings salvation, who conquers death with the gift of eternal life.

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© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On Psalm 23
"The Nearness of God Transforms Reality, the Dark Valley Loses Its Danger"

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 5, 2011 - 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 with a reflection on Psalm 23.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Turning to Lord in prayer involves 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" (Exodus 34:6-7; Psalm 86:15; cf. Joel 2:13; Genesis 4:2; Psalm 103:8; 145:8; Nehemiah 9:17). For this reason, today I would like to reflect with you on a Psalm that is wholly imbued with trust, in which the psalmist expresses the serene certainty that he is guided and protected, and kept safe from every danger, because the Lord is his shepherd. It is Psalm 23 -- according to the Graeco-Latin tradition [Psalm] 22 -- it is a text familiar to all and much-beloved by all.

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want": thus begins this beautiful prayer, calling to mind the nomadic environment of sheep-rearing and the experience of a mutual knowledge that is established between the shepherd and the sheep that make up his little flock. The image evokes an atmosphere of confidence, intimacy and tenderness: the shepherd knows his young sheep one by one; he calls them by name and they follow him, because they know him and they trust him (cf. John 10:2-4). He cares for them; he guards them as precious possessions, ready to defend them, to assure their well-being, and to establish them in peace. Nothing can be lacking if the shepherd is with them. The psalmist makes reference to this experience, by calling God his shepherd and by allowing himself to be guided by Him towards 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" (verses 2-3).

The vision that opens before our eyes is one of green meadows and springs of limpid waters, a haven of peace towards which the shepherd accompanies the flock -- symbols of the places in life towards which the Lord leads the psalmist, who feels like the sheep lying on the grass beside a spring, in restful repose -- neither tense nor in a state of alarm, but trusting and still -- for his place is secure, the water is fresh, and the shepherd is watching over them.

And let us not forget that the scene the psalmist here recalls is set in a largely desert land beaten by the burning sun, where the middle-eastern semi-nomadic shepherd lives with his flock in the arid steppes extending around the villages. But the shepherd knows where to find grass and fresh water, the essentials of life; he knows how to bring them to the oasis where the soul "is restored" and where it is possible to renew one's strength and to gain new energy in order to continue on along the path.

As the psalmist says, God guides him towards "green pastures" and "still waters", where everything is found in abundance, where all is copiously given. If the Lord is the shepherd, even in the desert -- a place of absence and of death -- his certainty in a radical presence of life is not lessened, so much so that he can say: "I shall not want".

The shepherd in fact has the good of his flock at heart; he adjusts his own rhythms and his own needs to those of his sheep, he walks and lives with them, guiding them along "right" paths -- that is, along paths suitable for them -- attentive to their needs rather than to his own. The safety of his flock is his priority, and he is obedient to this in guiding them.

Dear brothers and sisters, we also like the psalmist, if we walk behind the "Good Shepherd" -- however difficult, winding or long the paths of our life may appear, often taking us also through spiritually desert regions, waterless and with a sun of scorching rationalism -- under the guidance of the Good Shepherd, Christ, we can be sure of travelling along "right" paths and [we can be sure] that the Lord guides us, that He is always close to us -- and that we will want for nothing.

For this reason, the psalmist speaks of his stillness and security with neither uncertainty nor fear:

"Even though I walk through a dark valley,

I fear no evil, for thou art with me.

They rod and they staff,

They comfort me" (verse 4).

He who goes with the Lord even into the dark valleys of suffering, of uncertainty and of every human problem feels secure. You are with me: this is our certainty, this is what sustains us. The darkness of night frightens us with its moving shadows, with the difficulty it brings in distinguishing dangers, with its silence filled with indecipherable sounds. If the flock moves after sunset, when visibility is lessened, it is normal for the sheep to become restless, since there is a risk of stumbling or of going astray and becoming lost -- and there is the added fear of possible aggressors, who conceal themselves under the cover of night.

In speaking of the "dark" valley, the psalmist uses a Hebrew expression that evokes the shadows of death. The valley to be crossed is therefore a place of anguish, of awful threat and of mortal danger. And yet the man who prays proceeds securely and without fear, for he knows that the Lord is with him. His "you are with me" is a proclamation of unwavering trust and sums up the experience of radical faith; the nearness of God transforms reality, the dark valley loses its danger -- it is emptied of every threat. Now the flock can walk in peace, accompanied by the familiar sound of the staff hitting the ground -- the sign of the reassuring presence of the Shepherd.

This comforting image concludes 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 now we are transported to his tent, which is opened in order to provide hospitality:

"Thou preparest a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

Thou anointest my head with oil.

My cup overflows" (verse 5).

The Lord is now presented as He who welcomes the man who prays with signs of a hospitality that is generous and full of attention. The divine host prepares the food on the "table," a word that in Hebrew signifies -- in its primitive meaning -- the animal skin that was laid out upon the ground, and upon which the dishes for a common meal were placed. It is a gesture and an act of sharing not only food, but also life, in an offering of communion and friendship that creates bonds and expresses solidarity.

Then there is the bounteous gift of perfumed oil upon the head, which gives relief from the drying effects of the desert sun; which refreshes and soothes the skin and enlivens the spirit with its fragrance. Lastly, the overflowing chalice adds a note of festivity, with its exquisite wine shared with lavish generosity. Food, oil, wine: they are gifts that enliven and give joy, because they surpass what is strictly necessary and express the gratuity and the lavishness of love. Celebrating the Lord's provident goodness, Psalm 104 proclaims: "Thou dost 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" (verses 14-15).

The psalmist has been made the object of so many attentions; he therefore sees himself as a wayfarer who finds rest in a welcoming tent, while his enemies must stop and watch without being able to intervene, for he whom they looked upon as their prey has been placed in safety, has become an untouchable, sacred guest. And we are the psalmist if we are truly believers in communion with Christ. When God opens His tent to welcome us, nothing can harm us.

Once the wayfarer sets off again, the divine protection continues 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 forever" (verse 6).

The goodness and fidelity of God are the escort that accompanies the psalmist as he leaves the tent and returns to the road. However, it is a journey that acquires a new meaning and becomes a pilgrimage to the God's Temple, the holy place where the man who prays wants "to dwell" forever and to which he wishes "to return." The Hebrew word employed here has a sense of "return," but, with a slight change in vowels, it can also be understood as "dwell" -- and so it has been rendered in older versions as well as in the majority of modern translations. Both senses can be maintained: to return to the Temple and to dwell therein is every Israelite's desire, and to dwell close to God in His nearness and goodness is the longing and nostalgia of ever believer: to be able truly to abide where God is, close to God.

The following of the Shepherd takes us to His home -- it is the destination of every journey, the desired oasis in the desert, the tent of refuge in the flight from one's enemies, the place of peace where one can experience God's goodness and His faithful love, day after day, in the serene joy without end.

This Psalm's imagery, with its richness and depth, has accompanied the whole history and religious experience of the people of Israel, and it accompanies Christians. The figure of the shepherd in particular recalls the beginnings of the Exodus, the long journey in the desert, like a flock under the guidance of the divine Shepherd (cf. Isaiah 63:11-14; Psalm 77:20-21; 78:52-54). And in the Promised Land, it was the king whose task it was to pasture the Lord's flock, like David, the shepherd chosen by God and the figure of the Messiah (cf. 2 Samuel 5:1-2; 7:8; Psalm 78:70-72). Then, after the Babylonian exile, as though in a new Exodus (cf. Isaiah 40:3-5,9-11; 43:16-21), Israel was returned to their homeland like scattered sheep that were found and led back by the Lord to luxuriant pastures and to places of repose (cf. Exodus 34:11-16, 23-31).

But it is in the Lord Jesus that all the evocative power of our Psalm attains completeness and finds its fulfillment: Jesus is the "Good Shepherd" who goes in search of His lost sheep, who knows His sheep and gives His life for them (cf. Matthew 18:12-14; Luke 15:4-7; John 10:2-4,11-18). He is the way, the right path that leads us to life (cf. John 14:6); the light that illumines the dark valley and conquers our every fear (cf. John 1:9; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46). He is the generous host who welcomes us and saves us from our enemies, preparing for us the table of His body and His blood (cf. Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19-20), and that definitive table in Heaven's messianic banquet (cf. Luke 14:15ff; Revelation 3:20; 19:9). He is the regal Shepherd, the King of meekness and of pardon, enthroned on the glorious wood of the Cross (cf. John 3:13-15; 12:32; 17:4-5).

Dear brothers and sisters, Psalm 23 invites us to renew our trust in God, by abandoning ourselves totally into His hands. With faith, let us therefore ask the Lord to grant us -- along the difficult roads of our times as well -- to walk always on His paths as a docile and obedient flock. [Let us ask] that He welcome us into His home, to His table, and that He lead us to "still waters", so that in receiving the gift of His Spirit, we may drink from His springs, from the fount of that living water "welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14; cf. 7:37-39). Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Continuing our catechesis on Christian prayer, we now turn to Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want". With its exquisite pastoral imagery this much-beloved Psalm speaks of the radical trust in God's loving care which is an essential aspect of prayer. The Psalmist begins by presenting God as a good shepherd who guides him to green pastures, standing at his side and protecting him from every danger. "He leads me beside still waters; he refreshes my soul" (vv. 2-3). The scene then passes to the shepherd's tent, where the Lord welcomes him as a guest, gracing him with the gifts of food, oil and wine. "You prepare a table before me … you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows" (v. 5). God's protection continues to accompany the Psalmist with goodness and mercy along his way, a way which leads to length of days in the Lord's Temple (v. 6). The powerful image of God as the Shepherd of Israel accompanied the whole religious history of the Chosen People, from the Exodus to the return to the Promised Land. It finds its ultimate expression and fulfilment in the coming of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who gave his life for his sheep, preparing for us the table of his Body and Blood as a foretaste of the definitive messianic banquet which awaits us in heaven.

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On Psalm 126
"It Is Important Not to Lose the Memory of God's Presence in Our Lives"

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 12, 2011 (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 today continued his catecheses on prayer with a reflection on Psalm 126.

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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.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our continuing catechesis on Christian prayer, we now turn to Psalm 126. This Psalm is a joyful prayer of thanksgiving for God's fidelity to his promises in bringing about Israel's return from the Babylonian Exile: "The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced" (v. 3). A similar spirit of joy and thanksgiving should mark our own prayer as we recall the care which God has shown to us in the events of our lives, even those which seem dark and bitter. The Psalmist implores God to continue to grant Israel his saving help: "May those who sow in tears, reap with shouts of joy" (v. 5). This imagery of the seed which silently grows to maturity reminds us that God's salvation is at once a gift already received and the object of our hope, a promise whose fulfilment remains in the future. Jesus will use this same imagery to express the passage from death to life, from darkness to light, which must take place in the lives of all who put their faith in him and share in his paschal mystery (cf. Jn 12:24). As we pray this Psalm, may we echo the song of the Virgin Mary by rejoicing in the great things which the Almighty has done for us (cf. Lk 1:49) and by awaiting in hope the fulfilment of God's promises.

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On Psalm 136 (135)
"God Is; God Is Good, and His Mercy Is Eternal"

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 19, 2011 - 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 today continued his catecheses on prayer with a reflection on Psalm 136 (135).

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like to meditate with you on a psalm that summarizes the whole of salvation history as recounted for us in the Old Testament. It is a great hymn of praise that extols the Lord in the manifold, repeated manifestations of His goodness throughout the course of 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 Hebrew Passover meal, and was probably also prayed by Jesus during the final Passover celebrated with the disciples; the Evangelists seem in fact to allude to it in their annotations: "And when they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives" (cf. Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26). The horizon of praise thus illumines the difficult road to Golgotha. The whole of Psalm 136 takes the form of a litany marked by the refrain "for His steadfast love endures forever."

Throughout this poetic composition, God's many mighty deeds in human history are enumerated, as are His continual interventions on behalf of His people; and to each proclamation of the Lord's saving action the antiphon responds with the fundamental motivation for praise: God's eternal love, a love that, according to the Hebrew word employed, involves fidelity, mercy, goodness, grace and tenderness. This is the unifying reason for the entire psalm; it is always repeated in the same way, while His prompt and paradigmatic manifestations change: creation, the liberation of the exodus, the gift of land, the Lord's constant and providential help for His people and for every creature.

After a threefold invitation to give thanks to the sovereign God (Verses 1-3), the Lord is extolled as He who alone does great wonders (Verse 4), the first of which is creation: the heavens, the earth and the great lights (Verses 5-9). The created world is not merely a set onto which God's saving action enters; it is rather the very beginning of that marvelous action. With creation, the Lord reveals Himself in all His goodness and beauty; He involves Himself with life, revealing the good will from which every other saving action flows. And our psalm, echoing the first chapter of Genesis, summarizes the created world in its principle elements, laying particular stress upon the great lights: the sun, the moon, the stars -- those magnificent creatures that govern the day and the night. The creation of the human being is not spoken of here, but he is always present; the sun and the moon are for him -- for man -- they are to mark time for man, putting him in relation with the Creator especially through the indication of liturgical times.

And, in fact, it is the feast of Passover that is recalled immediately after this when, passing on to God's self-revelation in history, it begins with the great event of liberation from Egyptian slavery, of the Exodus -- traced out in its most important elements: the liberation from Egypt by the plague that smote the Egyptians' first-born; the departure from Egypt; the passage through the Red Sea, the journey through the desert and the entrance into the Promised Land (Verses 10-20). We are in the first moments of Israel's history. God powerfully intervenes in order to bring His people into freedom; through Moses, His envoy, He makes Himself known to Pharaoh, revealing Himself in all his greatness and, in the end, He bends the Egyptians' resistance with the terrible scourge of the death of their firstborn sons. Thus is Israel able to leave the land of slavery, with the gold of their oppressors (cf. Exodus 12:35-36) and "with raised hands" (Exodus 14:8) in the exultant sign of victory.

The Lord acts with merciful power also at the Red Sea. Faced by an Israel who stands afraid at the sight of the Egyptians who pursue them, so much so that they regret having left Egypt (cf. Exodus 14:10-12), God, our psalm says, "divided the Red Sea in sunder […] made Israel pass through the midst of it […] and overthrew Pharaoh and his host" (Verses 13-15). The image of the Red Sea "divided" in two seems to evoke the idea of the sea as a great monster cut in two and thus rendered harmless.

The Lord's power conquers the peril of the forces of nature as well as that of the military forces set up by men: the sea, which seemed to block the way for God's people, allows Israel to pass on dry ground -- and then closes in upon the Egyptians, sweeping them away. The Lord's "mighty hand and outstretched arm" (cf. Deuteronomy 5:15; 7:19; 26:8) are thus revealed in all their saving power: The unjust oppressor is conquered, swallowed up by the waters, while the People of God "pass through the midst of it" to continue on their journey toward freedom.

Our psalm now makes reference to this journey by calling to mind Israel's long pilgrimage toward the Promised Land with a very brief phrase: "He led His people through the wilderness, for His steadfast love endures forever" (Verse 16). These few words summarize an experience that lasted 40 years -- a decisive time for Israel, who in allowing itself to be guided by the Lord, learns to live by faith, in obedience and in docility to God's law. They are difficult years marked by the harshness of life in the desert, but they are also happy ones -- years of confidence in the Lord, of filial trust; it is the time of "youth" as the prophet Jeremiah defines it when speaking to Israel in the name of the Lord, with expressions 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" (Jeremiah 2:2). The Lord, like the shepherd in Psalm 23 that we contemplated in another catechesis, guided His People for 40 years; He educated and loved them, leading them to the Promised Land and conquering even the resistance and hostility of enemy peoples who wanted to obstruct them on the way of salvation (cf. Verses 17-20).

In unfolding the "great wonders" enumerated by our psalm, we reach the moment of the decisive gift, through the fulfillment of the divine promise made to the Fathers: "He gave their land as a heritage, for His love endures forever; a heritage to Israel his servant, for His steadfast love endures forever" (Verses 21-22). In extolling God's eternal love, the gift of land is now remembered, a gift which the people must receive without ever claiming it as their own possession -- by living continually in an attitude of grateful acceptance. Israel received the land in which they live as an "inheritance" -- a word that generally designates the possession of a good received from another; a right of propriety that refers specifically to a paternal inheritance. One of the prerogatives of God is that of "giving"; and now, at the end of the Exodus journey, Israel, the receiver of the gift, enters as a son into the Land of the promise fulfilled. The time of wandering -- under tents, in a life marked by danger -- is over. Now the blessed time of stability has begun -- of joy in building their homes and in planting their vineyards, of living in security (cf. Deuteronomy 8:7-13). But it is also the time of temptation to idol-worship; of contamination with the pagans; of a self-sufficiency that makes them forget the Origin of the gift. For this reason, the psalmist mentions humiliation and the foe, a mortal reality in which the Lord, yet again, reveals Himself as Savior: "It is He who remembered us in our low estate, for His steadfast love endures forever; and rescued us from our foes, for His steadfast love endures forever" (Verses 23-24).

At this point the question arises: How can we make this psalm our own, how can we make this psalm a part of our own prayer? What frames this psalm at its beginning and its end is important: and this is Creation. Let us return to this point: Creation as God's great gift from which we live, in which He reveals Himself in his goodness and greatness. Therefore, to regard creation as a gift of God is of interest to us all.

Then follows salvation history. Naturally we can say: The liberation from Egypt, the time in the desert, the entrance into the Promised Land and then the other problems are very distant from us; they are not part of our history. But we must be attentive to the fundamental structure of this prayer. The fundamental structure is that Israel remembers the Lord's goodness. In its history, there are so many dark valleys, so many passages through difficulty and death, but Israel remembers that God is good, and they can overcome in the dark valley -- in the valley of death -- because they remember. Israel remembers the Lord's goodness and His power; that His mercy endures forever.

And this is also important for us: remembering the Lord's goodness. Remembering becomes the strength of hope. Remembering tells us: God is; God is good, and His mercy is eternal. And thus, remembering opens the road to the future -- even in the darkness of a day, of a moment in time, it is the light and star that guides us. Let us, too, remember the good; let us remember God's eternal, merciful love. Israel's history is already part of our memory as well, of how God revealed Himself, of how He created for Himself a people to be His own. Then God became man, one of us: he lived with us, suffered with us, died for us. He remains with us in the Blessed Sacrament and in the Word. It is a history, a remembrance of God's goodness that assures us of His goodness: His love is eternal.

And then also, in these 2,000 years of the Church's history, there is always -- once again -- the goodness of the Lord. After the dark period of the Nazi and Communist persecutions, God freed us. He showed us that He is good, that He has power and that His mercy endures forever.

And, just as the presence of the memory of God's goodness helps us and becomes a star of hope for us in our common, collective history, so also each of us has his own personal history of salvation, and we must truly treasure this history, keeping always in mind the great things He has also done in my life, so that we might trust: His mercy is eternal. And if today I am in the dark night, tomorrow He will free me, for His mercy is eternal.

Let us return to the psalm, for at the end, it returns to creation. The Lord, it says, "gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures forever" (Verse 25). The prayer of the Psalm concludes with an invitation to praise: "O give thanks to the God of heaven, for His steadfast love endures forever." The Lord is a good and provident Father, who gives the inheritance to His children and bestows food upon all. The God who created the heavens and the earth and the great celestial lights, who enters into human history in order to bring salvation to all of His children, is the God who fills the universe with His good presence, taking care of life and giving us bread. The invisible power of the Creator and Lord, which the psalm extols, is revealed in the littleness and visibility of the bread that He gives us, and by which He makes us live. And thus, this daily bread symbolizes and summarizes God's love as Father, and opens before us the New Testament fulfillment of that "bread of life," the Eucharist, which accompanies us in our existence as believers, and anticipates the definitive joy of the messianic banquet of Heaven.

Brothers and sisters, the blessing and praise of Psalm 136 has led us to retrace the most important stages in the history of salvation, reaching all the way to the paschal mystery in which God's saving action reaches its culmination. With grateful joy, let us therefore extol the Creator, Savior 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" (John 3:16). In the fullness of time, the Son of God was made man in order to give His life, to give salvation to each one of us, and He gives Himself as bread in the mystery of the Eucharist in order to make us enter into His covenant, which makes us His children. To such great heights do God's merciful goodness and the sublimity of "His eternal love" attain.

I therefore wish to conclude this catechesis by making my own the words St. John writes in his First Letter, and which we must always keep present in our prayer: "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are" (1 John 3:1). Thank you.



Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our continuing catechesis on Christian prayer, we now turn to Psalm 136. Known as the Great Hallel, this Psalm is a great hymn of praise which was traditionally sung at the conclusion of the Passover meal. As such, it was probably sung by Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper (cf. Mt 26:30). The Psalm takes the form of a litany praising God's mighty deeds in the creation of the world and in the history of Israel; each reference to God's saving work is followed by the refrain: "For his steadfast love endures for ever". It is God's faithful love, in fact, which is revealed in the ordered beauty of the universe and in the great events of Israel's liberation from slavery and the pilgrimage of the Chosen People to the land of promise. As we sing this great litany of God's mighty works, we give thanks that the depth of his steadfast and merciful love was fully revealed in the coming of his only-begotten Son. In Christ, we see clearly "what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God, for that is what we are" (1 Jn 3:1).

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© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On Psalm 119, the Acrostic Psalm
"Wholly Pervaded by Love for God's Word"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 9, 2011 .- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at today's general audience.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

In previous catecheses, we meditated on several of the psalms that exemplify the typical kinds of prayer: lament, trust and praise. In today's catechesis, I would like to turn to a consideration of Psalm 119 according to the Hebrew tradition, 118 according to the Greco-Latin: It is a very special psalm, the only one of its kind. First, it is unique for its length: It is composed of 176 verses, divided into 22 stanzas of eight verses each. Then, it has the peculiar characteristic of being an "acrostic alphabet": It is constructed, that is, according to the Hebrew alphabet, which is made up of 22 letters. Each stanza corresponds to a letter of that alphabet, and with this letter the first word of the stanza's eight verses begins. It is an original and very demanding literary construction in which the psalm's author had to employ all his skill.

But what is more important for us is this psalm's central theme: It is, in fact, an imposing and solemn hymn about the Lord's Torah; i.e., about His Law -- a term which in its broadest and most complete acceptation is understood as teaching, instruction, as a directive for life. The Torah is revelation; it is the Word of God that questions man and calls forth from him a response of trusting obedience and of generous love.

And this psalm is wholly pervaded by love for God's Word -- it extols its beauty, its saving power, and its capacity to bestow joy and life. For the divine Law is not a heavy yoke of slavery but a gift of grace that liberates and leads to happiness. "I will delight in thy statues; I will not forget thy word" (Verse 16); and again: "Lead me in the path of thy commandments, for I delight in it" (Verse 35), and yet again: "Oh, how I love thy law! It is my meditation all the day" (Verse 97). The Lord's Law, His Word, is the center of the life of the one praying; in it he finds consolation, he makes it the object of his meditation, he keeps it in his heart: "I have laid up thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against thee" (Verse 11), and this is the secret of the psalmist's happiness; and again: "The godless besmear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep thy precepts" (Verse 69).

The psalmist's faithfulness is born of listening to the Word, of keeping it in his inmost heart, of meditating on it and loving it -- like Mary, who "kept all these things, pondering ... in her heart" the words that had been spoken to her and the wondrous events wherein God revealed Himself and asked her assent of faith (cf. Luke 2:19,51). And if our psalm begins in its first verses by proclaiming "blessed" "those who walk in the law of the Lord" (Verse 1b) and "who keep His testimonies" (Verse 2a), it is again the Virgin Mary who brings to completion the perfect figure of the believer described by the psalmist. She, in fact, is the truly "blessed" one, and was declared so by Elizabeth, for she "believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord" (Luke 1:45). And it is to her and to her faith that Jesus Himself gives testimony when, to the woman who cried out "blessed is the womb that bore you," He responds: "Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!" (Luke 11:27-28). Certainly, Mary is blessed because she carried the Savior in her womb, but she is blessed above all for having welcomed the announcement of God, for having been the attentive and loving keeper of His Word.

Psalm 119 is therefore wholly woven around this Word of life and blessedness. If its central theme is the "Word" and the "Law" of the Lord, alongside these words there also recur, in nearly all of the verses, the synonyms "precepts," "decrees," "commands," "teachings," "promise," "judgments"; and then also many related verbs such as to observe, to keep, to understand, to know, to love, to meditate upon, to live. The entire alphabet unfolds through the 22 stanzas of this psalm, as does the whole vocabulary of the believer's trusting relationship with God; therein we find praise, thanksgiving and trust, but also supplication and lament -- always pervaded, however, by the certainty of divine grace and of the power of God's Word. Even the stanzas most notably marked by suffering and a sense of darkness remain open to hope and permeated by faith. "My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to thy word" (Verse 25), the psalmist trustingly prays; "For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten thy statutes" (Verse 83) is the cry of the believer. His fidelity, even though 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 thy word" (Verse 42), he resolutely affirms; and even before the agonizing prospect of death, the Lord's commands are his point of reference and his hope for victory: "They have almost made an end of me on earth; but I have not forsaken thy precepts" (Verse 87).

The divine law -- the object of the Psalmist's ardent love and that of every believer -- is a fount of life. The desire to understand it, to observe it, to orient one's whole being toward it is the defining characteristic of the just man who is faithful to the Lord, who "meditates on it day and night" as Psalm 1 states (Verse 2); it is a law -- God's Law -- which is to be held "upon the heart," as the well known text of the Shema in Deuteronomy states:

"Hear, O Israel … 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).

As the center of life, God's Law asks for the heart's listening -- a listening carried out in an obedience that is not servile but filial, trusting and mindful. Hearing the Word is a personal encounter with the Lord of life, an encounter that must be translated into concrete choices and become a path and a sequela. When asked what must be done to have eternal life, Jesus points to the path of the observance of the Law, but He does so by indicating how it is to be brought to completion: "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" (Mark 10:21). The fulfillment of the Law is to follow Jesus, to take the path of Jesus, in company with Jesus.

Psalm 119 leads us therefore to an encounter with the Lord, and it orients us toward the Gospel. In it, there is a particular verse which I would now like to pause to consider: It is verse 57: "The Lord is my portion; I promise to keep thy words." In other psalms also, the one praying affirms that the Lord is his "portion," his inheritance: "The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup" (Verse 5a), Psalm 16 states; "God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever" (Verse 26), proclaims the faithful one in Psalm 73; and again, in Psalm 142 the psalmist cries to the Lord: "Thou art my refuge, my portion in the land of the living" (Verse 5b).

The word "portion" evokes the event of the apportionment of the Promised Land among the tribes of Israel, when the Levites were assigned no portion of the territory, because their "portion" was the Lord Himself. Two texts from the Pentateuch are explicit in this regard, and employ the word in question: "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 inheritance among the people of Israel" declares the Book of Numbers (18:20), and Deuteronomy reasserts: "Therefore Levi has no portion of inheritance with his brothers; the Lord is his inheritance, as the Lord your God said to him" (Deuteronomy 10:9; cf. Deuteronomy 18:2; Joshua 13:33; Ezekiel 44:28).

The priests, who belonged to the tribe of Levi, could not be proprietors of land in the Land that God was giving as an inheritance to His people, thus bringing to fulfillment the promise made to Abram (cf. Genesis 12: 1-7). The possession of land, a fundamental element of stability and of the possibility of survival, was a sign of blessing, since it implied the possibility of building a home, of raising children, of cultivating the land and of living from the fruits of the earth. The Levites, as mediators of the sacred and divine benediction, cannot possess -- as the other Israelites -- this exterior sign of blessing and this source of sustenance. Wholly given to the Lord, they must live from Him alone, abandoned to His provident love and to the generosity of the brethren, without having an inheritance -- since God is their portion of the inheritance, God is their land, who makes them live in fullness.

And now, the one praying Psalm 119 applies this reality to himself: "The Lord is my portion." His love for God and for His Word leads him to the radical choice of having the Lord as his only good and also of keeping His words as a precious gift, more highly valued than every inheritance, than every earthly possession. Our verse, in fact, has the possibility of a double translation and may be rendered also in this manner: "My portion, O Lord, I said, is to keep thy words." The two translations do not contradict one another but indeed complete one another: The psalmist is affirming that his portion is the Lord, but also that keeping the divine words is his inheritance, as he will go on to say in Verse 111: "Thy testimonies are my heritage forever; yea, they are the joy of my heart." This is the psalmist's happiness: To him, as to the Levites, the Word of God was given as his portion of the inheritance.

Beloved brothers and sisters, these verses are of great importance also today for us all. First and foremost for priests, who are called to live only from the Lord and from His Word, without other securities, having Him as their only good and only source of true life. It is in this light that we understand the free choice of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven, which merits rediscovering in its beauty and strength. But these verses are also important for all the faithful, the People of God who belong to Him alone, "a kingdom of priests" for the Lord (cf. 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6; 5:10), who are called to the radicality of the Gospel, to be witnesses to the life brought by Christ, the new and definitive "High Priest" who offered Himself in sacrifice for the salvation of the world (cf. Hebrews 2:17; 4:14-16; 5:5-10; 9:11ff). The Lord and His Word: these are the "land" we live in, in communion and in joy.

Let us therefore allow the Lord to place within our hearts this love for His Word, and may He grant us always to have Him and His will as the center of our lives. Let us ask that our prayer and our entire lives be enlightened by God’s Word, that it be a lamp for our feet and a light to our path, as Psalm 119 states (cf. Verse 105), so that our way may be secure, in the land of men. And may Mary, who welcomed and gave birth to the Word, be for us a guide and comfort, the star who points out the way of happiness.

Then we, too, in our prayer -- like the author of Psalm 16 -- shall rejoice in the Lord’s unexpected gifts and in the unmerited inheritance that falls 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" (Psalm 16:5-6).

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on Christian prayer, we now turn to Psalm 119, a solemn celebration of the Torah, the Law of the Lord. In twenty-two stanzas, each beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the Psalmist proclaims his love for God's Law, which brings light, life and salvation. His song voices the range of sentiments which fill the hearts of those who pray: praise, thanksgiving, trust, supplication and lament, all within the context of a heartfelt openness to the Lord's word. In praying this Psalm, Christians see in the Blessed Virgin Mary the model of this loving docility to God's will, and in Jesus the fulfilment of the Law. A striking example of the Psalmist's devotion is seen in his words: "The Lord is my portion" (v. 57). We can apply these words in a special way to priests, whose lives of celibacy testify to their call to complete devotion to the Lord and his Kingdom. But they can also be applied to all the faithful, who share in Christ's royal priesthood and are called daily to bear witness to the Gospel. May the Lord grant us a deeper love for him, so that, like the Psalmist, we may always make his word "a lamp to our feet and a light to our path".

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On Psalm 110, to Christ the King
"We Are Invited to Look to Christ in Order to Understand the Meaning of True Royalty"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 16, 2011 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catecheses Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in St. Peter's Square. The Pope continued with his series of catecheses on prayer, concluding today his reflection on the prayer of the Psalter.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like to conclude my catecheses on the prayer of the Psalter by meditating on one of the most famous "royal psalms" -- a psalm that Jesus Himself quoted and that the authors of the New Testament have amply taken up and read with reference to the Messiah, to Christ. It is Psalm 110 according to the Hebrew tradition, 109 according to the Greco-Latin. It is a psalm much beloved by the ancient Church and by believers in every age. Initially, perhaps, this prayer was linked to the enthronement of a Davidic monarch; yet its meaning extends beyond the specific circumstances of the historical event and opens up to broader dimensions, thus becoming the celebration of the victorious Messiah, glorified at God's right hand.

The psalm begins with a solemn declaration:

"The Lord said to my lord:

"Sit at my right hand, until I make thy enemies thy footstool" (Verse 1).

God Himself enthrones the king in glory, seating him at His right hand, a sign of highest honor and of absolute privilege. The king is thus admitted to share in the divine lordship, and becomes its mediator for the people. The king's lordship is also realized in his victory over his adversaries who are placed at his feet by God Himself. The victory over the enemy is the Lord's, but the king is made a sharer in it, and his triumph becomes a witness and sign of the divine power.

The kingly glorification expressed at the beginning of the psalm was understood in the New Testament as a messianic prophecy. The verse is therefore among the most used by the New Testament authors -- both as an explicit reference and as an allusion. Jesus Himself quotes this verse in speaking of the Messiah, in order to show that the Messiah is more than David, that he is David's Lord (cf. Matthew 22:41-45; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44). And Peter employs it in his speech on the day of Pentecost, announcing that the enthronement of the king has been realized in Christ's Resurrection, and that henceforth Christ stands at the right hand of the Father, as a sharer in God's Lordship over the world (cf. Acts 2:29-35).

It is in fact the Christ, the Lord enthroned, the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God who comes on the clouds of heaven, as Jesus Himself says of Himself during the trial before the Sanhedrin (cf. Matthew 26:63-64; Mark 14:61-62; cf. also Luke 22:66-69). He is the true king who by His Resurrection entered into glory at the Father's right hand (cf. Romans 8:34; Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 8:1, 12:2), made superior to the angels, seated in the heavens above every power with every adversary at His feet, until the last enemy -- death -- is definitively destroyed (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24-26; Ephesians 1:20-23; Hebrews 1:3-4, 13; 2:5-8; 10:12-13; 1 Peter 3:22). And immediately we understand that this king who is at the right hand of God and who shares in His Lordship, is not one of David's successors, but rather the new David -- the Son of God who conquered death and who truly shares in the glory of God. He is our king who also gives us eternal life.

Between the king whom our psalm extols and God, there exists, then, an indissoluble relationship; the two together rule a single government, so much so that the psalmist is able to affirm that it is God Himself who extends the king’s scepter, giving him the task of ruling over his enemies, as Verse 2 says:

"The scepter of thy power the Lord sends forth from Sion: Rule thou in the midst of thy enemies!"

The exercise of power is a duty the king receives directly from the Lord, a responsibility he must live out in dependence and obedience -- thereby becoming a sign, in the midst of the people, of the powerful and provident presence of God. Dominion over his enemies, glory and victory are gifts received that make of the king a mediator of divine triumph over evil. He rules over his enemies by transforming them -- he conquers them by his love.

Therefore in the verse that follows, the greatness of the king is extolled. Actually, Verse 3 presents several difficulties for interpretation. In the original Hebrew text, reference is made to the summoning of the armies -- to which the people generously respond, rallying around their king on the day of his coronation. The Greek translation of the Septuagint (LXX), which goes back to the third or second century before Christ, makes reference instead to the king's divine sonship, to his birth or generation from the Lord, and this is the interpretive choice of the Church's entire tradition, for which reason the verse is expressed in the following way:

"Thine is princely rule in the day of thy power

in holy splendor:

From the womb before the daystar have I begotten thee."

This divine oracle concerning the king therefore affirms a divine generation suffused with splendor and mystery, a secret and mysterious origin bound to the arcane beauty of the dawn and to the marvel of the dew that in the day’s first light shines upon the fields and makes them fruitful. Thus is there sketched -- in a way indissolubly bound to heavenly realities -- the figure of the king who truly comes from God, the Messiah who brings divine life to His people and who is the mediator of holiness and salvation.

Here also we see that this is not realized by the figure of a Davidic king, but by the Lord Jesus Christ, who truly comes from God -- He is the light who brings divine life to the world.

With this evocative and enigmatic image the first stanza of the psalm ends, and another oracle follows that opens to a new perspective of a priestly dimension related with royalty. Verse 4 reads:

"The Lord has sworn and will not repent:

Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek."

Melchizedek was the kingly priest of Salem who blessed Abram and offered bread and wine following the victorious military campaign conducted by the patriarch to save his nephew Lot from the hands of his enemies who had captured him (cf. Genesis 14). In the figure of Melchizedek, kingly and priestly power converge and now are proclaimed by the Lord in a declaration that promises eternity: The king whom the psalm extols will be a priest forever and the mediator of the divine presence among the people, by means of the blessing which comes from God and which -- in the liturgical action -- meets with man's response of blessing.

The Letter to the Hebrews makes explicit reference to this verse (cf. 5:5-6, 10; 6:19-20), and all of Chapter 7 focuses on it by developing its reflection on the priesthood of Christ. Jesus -- the Letter to the Hebrews thus tells us in light of Psalm 110 (109) -- Jesus is the true and definitive priest, who brings to fulfillment the features of the priesthood of Melchizedek by rendering them perfect.

Melchizedek, as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, was "without father or mother or genealogy" (7:3a), a priest therefore not according to the dynastic rules of the Levitical priesthood. For this reason, he "continues a priest for ever" (7:3c), prefiguring 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 Lord Jesus -- risen and ascended into heaven where He sits at the Father's right hand -- the prophecy of our psalm is fulfilled and the priesthood of Melchizedek is brought to completion, for it is made absolute and eternal and becomes a reality that never fades (cf. 7:24).

And the offering of bread and wine, accomplished by Melchizedek in the time of Abram, finds its fulfillment in the Eucharistic act of Jesus, who in the bread and wine offers Himself and who, having conquered death, brings life to all believers. A priest forever, "holy, blameless, unstained" (7:26): He -- the Letter to the Hebrews tells us -- "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 the divine oracle in Verse 4 -- with solemn judgment the setting of the psalm changes, and the poet -- addressing himself directly to the king -- proclaims: "The Lord is at thy right hand!" (Verse 5a). If in Verse 1, it was the king who was seated at the right hand of God as a sign of highest prestige and honor, now it is the Lord who places Himself at the king’s right to protect him with His shield in battle and to save him from every danger. The king remains in safety, for God is his defender and together they fight and conquer every evil.

Thus, the final verses of the psalm open with the vision of the triumphant king who, supported by the Lord -- and having received from Him power and glory (cf. Verse 2) -- thwarts the enemy by destroying his adversaries and by executing judgment over the nations. The scene is painted with striking colors in order to signify the drama of the combat and the fullness of the royal victory. The king, protected by the Lord, tears down every obstacle and proceeds securely toward victory. He tells us: yes, in the world there is great evil; there is a perennial battle between good and evil, and it appears that evil is stronger. No -- it is the Lord who is mightier -- Christ our true king and priest -- for He battles with all the strength of God, and despite all the things that cause us to doubt history's positive outcome, Christ conquers and the good conquers -- love conquers, not hatred.

And here enter the evocative image and the mysterious word that bring our psalm to a close.

"He will drink from the brook by the way;

Therefore he will lift up his head" (Verse 7).

Amid a description of battle, we see the figure of the king who stands in a moment of truce and rest quenching his thirst at a brook of water -- finding in it relief and renewed vigor in order to resume his triumphant journey with head raised as a sign of definitive victory.

It is obvious that such a mysterious word was a challenge for the Fathers of the Church, on account of the different interpretations that might be given. Thus, for example, St. Augustine says: this brook is the human being -- humanity -- and Christ drank from this brook by becoming man; and thus, by entering into the humanity of the human being, He lifted up His head and now is the Head of the Mystical Body -- He is our head; He is definitively victorious (cf. Ennarratio in Psalmum CIX, 20: PL 36, 1462).

Dear friends, following the New Testament's line of interpretation, the Church’s tradition has held this psalm in high regard as one of the most significant messianic texts. And in an eminent way, the Fathers made continual reference to it as a Christological key: the king of whom the psalmist sings is Christ, the Messiah who establishes the Kingdom of God and who conquers the powers of the world. He is the Word generated by the Father before every creature -- before the dawn -- the Son who was made incarnate, who died, rose and ascended into heaven, the eternal priest who in the mystery of bread and wine, grants the remission of sins and reconciliation with God, the king who lifts up His head by triumphing over death with His Resurrection.

It is enough to remember again a passage of St. Augustine in his commentary on this psalm, where he writes: "It was necessary to know the only Son of God, who was to come among men, who was to assume human nature and who was to become man through the nature He assumed: He died, rose, ascended into heaven, and is seated at the Father's right hand, and He has fulfilled what He promised among all peoples … All this, therefore, had to be prophesied; it had to be announced in advance; it had to be signaled as destined to come, for occurring suddenly it may have caused fear, but rather, having been preannounced, it could be accepted with faith, joy and anticipation. This Psalm is one of those promises, surely and openly prophesying our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; so that we are utterly unable to doubt that Christ is announced in this Psalm" (cf. Enarratio in Psalmum CIX, 3: PL 36, 1447).

The paschal event of Christ is therefore the reality the psalm invites us to consider; [and we are invited] to look to Christ in order to understand the meaning of true royalty, which is to be lived in service and in the gift of oneself, on a path of obedience and love "to the end" (cf. John 13:1 and 19:30). As we pray this psalm, let us therefore ask the Lord to enable us also to proceed along His paths in the following of Christ, the Messiah king -- ready to ascend with Him the mountain of the Cross so that with Him we might attain to glory and contemplate Him seated at the Father's right hand, the victorious king and merciful priest who grants pardon and salvation to all people. And may we, made by God’s grace "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9), be able to draw joyfully from the waters of salvation (cf. Isaiah 12:3) and proclaim to all the world the marvels of Him who has "called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

Dear friends, in these last catecheses I have wanted to introduce several of the psalms to you -- these precious prayers that we find in the Bible, that reflect life's various situations and the various states of soul that we can have in relation to God. Therefore, I would like to renew to all the invitation to pray the psalms, perhaps forming the habit of using the Church's Liturgy of the Hours -- Lauds in the morning, Vespers in the evening, Compline before going to sleep. Our relationship with God cannot but be enriched in our daily journey to Him and be realized with great joy and trust. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on Christian prayer, we now turn to Psalm 110, one of the famous "royal psalms", originally linked to the enthronement of a Davidic monarch. The Church reads this Psalm as a prophecy of Christ, the messianic king and eternal priest, risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father. Saint Peter, in his speech on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:32-36), applies its words to the Lord’s victory over death and his exaltation in glory. From ancient times, the mysterious third verse of the Psalm has been interpreted as a reference to the king’s divine sonship, while the fourth verse speaks of him as "a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchizedek". The Letter to the Hebrews specifically applies this imagery to Christ, the Son of God and our perfect high priest, who lives eternally to make intercession for all those who, through him, approach the Father (cf. Heb 7:25). The final verses of the Psalm present the triumphant King as executing judgment over the nations. As we pray this Psalm, we acclaim the victory of our risen Lord and King, while striving to live ever more fully the royal and priestly dignity which is ours as members of his Body through Baptism.

I offer a cordial greeting the many student groups present at today’s Audience. My welcome also goes to the delegation of the American Israel Affairs Committee. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims present, especially those from Great Britain, Denmark, Norway, Japan, Canada and the United States, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On The Prayer of Jesus
"To listen, to meditate, to fall silent before the Lord who speaks is an art that is learned by practicing it with constancy"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 30, 2011 - 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 series on prayer, turning today to the theme of Jesus’ prayer.

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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.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on prayer, we now turn to Jesus, who by his own example most fully reveals the mystery of Christian prayer. A significant moment in this regard is Jesus’ prayer following his Baptism, which expresses his both his deepest identity as the Son of God and his solidarity with the sinful humanity whom he came to save. Jesus’ prayer reflects his complete, filial obedience to the Father’s will, an obedience which would lead him to death on the Cross for the redemption of our sins. With his human heart, Jesus learned to pray from his Mother and from the Jewish tradition, yet the source of his prayer is his eternal communion with the Father; as the incarnate Son, he shows us perfectly how to pray as children of the heavenly Father. Jesus’ example of fidelity to prayer challenges us to examine the time and effort we devote to our own prayer. While prayer is a gift of God, it is also an art learned through constant practice. Jesus teaches us to pray constantly, but also to bear witness before others of the beauty of prayer, self-surrender and complete openness to God.

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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 - 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.

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our continuing catechesis on Christian prayer, we are considering the teaching and example given us by Jesus himself. In the "cry of exultation" recorded for us by the evangelists Matthew and Luke, Jesus gives thanks to the Father because he has willed to reveal the mystery of salvation not to the wise and learned, but to the "little ones" (cf. Mt 11:25-30; Lk 10:21-22). This magnificent prayer has its source in Jesus’ profound communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit; as the eternal Son, Jesus alone "knows" the Father and rejoices in complete openness to his will. Indeed, "no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" (Lk 10:22). In this prayer, then, the Lord expresses his desire to share his knowledge of the Father with the "little ones", the pure of heart and those open to the divine will. In Saint Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ cry of exultation is followed by his words: "Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest … for my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (11:28). Jesus is the source and model of our prayer; through him, in the Holy Spirit, we can turn with trust to God our Father, confident that, in doing his will, we shall find true freedom and peace.

I offer a warm welcome to the Missionaries of Charity and their families. Upon all the English-speaking visitor present, including the various pilgrimage groups from the United States, I cordially invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On Jesus' Prayer as Love for God and Neighbor
"Petition, Praise and Thanksgiving Should Coalesce"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 14, 2011 - 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 man 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.

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our continuing catechesis on prayer, we now consider Jesus’ own prayer, particularly in the context of his miracles of healing. Both the cure of the deaf man (Mk 7:32-37) and the raising of Lazarus (Jn 11:1-44) show us Jesus at prayer before cases of human suffering. His prayer on these occasions reveals not only his profound identification with the suffering but also his unique relationship with the Father. In the case of the deaf man, Jesus’ compassion leads him to introduce his prayer with a deep sigh (v. 34). In the case of Lazarus, he is deeply moved by the sorrow of Martha and Mary, and weeps before the tomb of his friend. At the same time, he sees the tragedy of Lazarus’ death in the light of the Father’s will and of his own identity and mission. Jesus’ example teaches us that in our own prayers we must always trust in the Father’s will and strive to see all things in the light of his mysterious plan of love. We too must join petition, praise and thanksgiving in every prayer, knowing that the greatest gift God can give us is his friendship, and that our example of prayer can open our hearts to our brothers and sisters in need and point others to God’s saving presence in our world.

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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 - 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 already to be near 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 is 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.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our continuing catechesis on Christian prayer, we now turn to the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper, when our Lord instituted the Eucharist, the sacrament of his Body and Blood. Jesus’ gift of himself anticipates his sacrifice on the Cross and his glorious Resurrection. The Eucharist is the supreme prayer of Jesus and of his Church. At the Last Supper, with its overtones of the Passover and the commemoration of Israel’s liberation, Jesus’ prayer echoes the Hebrew berakah, which includes both thanksgiving and the gift of a blessing. His act of breaking the bread and offering the cup on the night before he died becomes the sign of his redemptive self-oblation in obedience to the Father’s will: he thus appears as the true paschal lamb who brings the ancient worship to fulfilment. Jesus’ prayer also invokes strength for his disciples, especially Peter (cf. Lk 22:31-32). May our celebration of the Eucharist, in obedience to Christ’s command, unite us more deeply to his prayer at the Last Supper and enable us, in union with him, to offer our lives ever more fully in sacrifice to the Father.

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On the Priestly Prayer of Jesus
"Love Is True Glory, Divine Glory"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 25, 2012 - 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.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our continuing catechesis on Christian prayer, we now turn to the priestly prayer which Jesus offered at the Last Supper (cf. Jn 17:1-26). Against the backdrop of the Jewish feast of expiation Yom Kippur, Jesus, priest and victim, prays that the Father will glorify him in this, the hour of his sacrifice of reconciliation. He asks the Father to consecrate his disciples, setting them apart and sending them forth to continue his mission in the world. Christ also implores the gift of unity for all those who will believe in him through the preaching of the apostles. His priestly prayer can thus be seen as instituting the Church, the community of the disciples who, through faith in him, are made one and share in his saving mission. In meditating upon the Lord’s priestly prayer, let us ask the Father for the grace to grow in our baptismal consecration and to open our own prayers to the needs of our neighbours and the whole world. Let us also pray, as we have just done in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, for the gift of the visible unity of all Christ’s followers, so that the world may believe in the Son and in the Father who sent him.

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I offer a warm welcome to the students of the Bossey Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies in Switzerland, and I offer prayerful good wishes for their work. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience I cordially invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!

© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

[In Italian, he said:]

Lastly, an affectionate thought to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which today we conclude, offers us the possibility of reflection on our belonging to Christ and to the Church. Dear young people, trust in the teachings of the Church, which are aimed at your integral growth. Dear sick, offer your sufferings for the cause of the unity of Christ’s Church. And you, dear newlyweds, educate your children according to the logic of gratuitous love, after the model of God’s love for mankind.

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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 - 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 Abba was 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.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our continuing catechesis on Christian prayer, we now turn to the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane, the Garden of Olives, following the Last Supper. As the Lord prepares to face his death, he prays alone, as the eternal Son in communion with the Father. Yet he also desires the company of Peter, James and John; their presence is an invitation to every disciple to draw near to Jesus along the way of the Cross. Christ’s prayer reveals his human fear and anguish in the face of death, and at the same time shows his complete obedience to the will of the Father. His words, “not what I want, but what you want” (Mk 14:36), teach us that only in complete abandonment to God’s will do we attain the full measure of our humanity. In Christ’s “yes” to the Father, Adam’s sin is redeemed and humanity attains true freedom, the freedom of the children of God. May our contemplation of the Lord’s prayer in Gethsemane help us better to discern God’s will for us and for our lives, and sustain our daily petition that his will be done, “on earth as it is in heaven”.

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On the Prayer of Jesus Dying on the Cross
"In Extreme Anguish, Prayer Becomes a Cry"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 8, 2012 - 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.

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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.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I want to reflect with you on the cry of Jesus from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This cry comes after a three-hour period when there was darkness over the whole land. Darkness is an ambivalent symbol in the Bible – while it is frequently a sign of the power of evil, it can also serve to express a mysterious divine presence. Just as Moses was covered in the dark cloud when God appeared to him on the mountain, so Jesus on Calvary is wrapped in darkness. Even though the Father appears to be absent, in a mysterious way his loving gaze is focussed upon the Son’s loving sacrifice on the Cross. It is important to realize that Jesus’ cry of anguish is not an expression of despair: on the contrary, this opening verse of Psalm twenty-two conveys the entire content of the psalm, it expresses the confidence of the people of Israel that despite all the adversity they are experiencing, God remains present among them, he hears and answers his people’s cry. This prayer of the dying Jesus teaches us to pray with confidence for all our brothers and sisters who are suffering, that they too may know the love of God who never abandons them.


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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- 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.

[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our continuing catechesis on Christian prayer, we turn once more to the prayer of Jesus on the Cross. Saint Luke relates three “last words” of the crucified Lord. In his prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34), Jesus intercedes for his executioners and shows the depths of his reconciling love for sinful humanity.; In his words to the Good Thief: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43), he offers sure hope to all those who repent and put their trust in him. His final cry: “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46), expresses Jesus’ trust-filled surrender to God’s will, born of that unique relationship to the Father which had shaped his own life of prayer. From the Cross, Jesus teaches us to forgive and love our enemies, to pray for their conversion, and to commend ourselves into the Father’s hands, trusting that they will continue to sustain us amid the sufferings of this life until they embrace us in heaven.

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On the Silence of Jesus
An Attentive, Silent, Open Heart Is More Important Than Many Words

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 7, 2012 - 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.

* * *

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).

[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In concluding this series of catecheses on the prayer of Jesus, I would like to speak of the importance of silence in our relationship with God. In Christ’s own life and prayer, and especially in his experience of the Cross, we see a constant interplay of word and silence. Jesus’ mortal silence on the Cross is his final word to the Father, his supreme prayer. To hear God’s word requires the cultivation of outward and inward silence, so that his voice can resound within our hearts and shape our lives. But Jesus teaches us that God also speaks to us, especially at times of difficulty, through his silence, which invites us to deeper faith and trust in his promises. Jesus is our great teacher of prayer; from his prayer we learn to speak with confidence to our heavenly Father as his beloved sons and daughters. In this filial dialogue we are also taught to recognize God’s many gifts and to obey his will, which gives meaning and direction to our lives.

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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 .- 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.

[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our continuing catechesis on Christian prayer, we now begin a new chapter on prayer in the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of Saint Paul. Today I wish to speak of the figure of Mary, who with the Apostles in the Upper Room prayerfully awaits the gift of the Holy Spirit. In all the events of her life, from the Annunciation through the Cross to Pentecost, Mary is presented by Saint Luke as a woman of recollected prayer and meditation on the mystery of God’s saving plan in Christ. In the Upper Room, we see Mary’s privileged place in the Church, of which she is the “exemplar and outstanding model in faith and charity” (Lumen Gentium, 53). As Mother of God and Mother of the Church, Mary prays in and with the Church at every decisive moment of salvation history. Let us entrust to her every moment of our own lives, and let her teach us the need for prayer, so that in loving union with her Son we may implore the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the spread of the Gospel to all the ends of the earth.

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On the Apostles' Response to Persecution
"In the face of trial, they pray, they get in touch with God"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 19, 2012 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at the general audience Wednesday.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

After the great feasts we return to the catechesis on prayer. In the audience before Holy Week we reflected on the figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary, present in the midst of the apostles when they were awaiting the descent of the Holy Spirit. An atmosphere of prayer accompanied the Church’s first steps. Pentecost is not an isolated episode since the presence and action of the Holy Spirit constantly guide and animate the path of the Christian community. In the Acts of the Apostles, in fact, St. Luke, besides narrating the great effusion of the Spirit in the cenacle 50 days after Easter (cf. Acts 2:1-13), refers to other great irruptions of the Holy Spirit which return in the Church’s history. And today I would like to reflect on that which has been called the “little Pentecost” that occurred at the culmination of a difficult period in the life of the nascent Church.

The Acts of the Apostles tell how after the healing of a paralytic at the Temple in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 3:1-10), Peter and John were arrested (cf. 4:1) because they announced Jesus’ resurrection to the whole people (cf. Acts 3:11-26). After a summary trial, they were freed, they went to their brothers and recounted what they suffered because of their witness to the risen Jesus. At that time, says St. Luke, “all together lifted their voice to God” (Acts 4:24). Here St. Luke reports the longest of the Church’s prayers that we find in the New Testament, at the end of which, as we have heard, “the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).

Before considering this beautiful prayer, let us note an important basic attitude: in the face of danger, difficulty, threats, the first Christian community does not try to conduct an analysis about how to react or seek strategies about how to defend itself, about what measures to adopt, but in the face of trial, they pray, they get in touch with God. And what characteristic does this prayer have? It is a single and concordant prayer of the whole community that, because of Jesus, confronts a situation of persecution. In the original Greek St. Luke uses the term “homothumadon” – “all together,” “in agreement” – a term that appears in other parts of the Acts of the Apostles to underscore this persevering and unanimous prayer (cf. Acts 1:14; 2:46). This concord is a fundamental element of the first community and it must always be fundamental for the Church. So it is not only the prayer of Peter and John, who found themselves in danger; it is the prayer of the whole community, because what the two apostles experience does not only touch them but the whole Church. In the face of persecutions endured for Jesus’ sake not only is the community not frightened and divided but is deeply united in prayer, as a single person, calling on the Lord. This I would say is the first wonder that occurs when the believers are tested because of their faith: their unity is strengthened rather than compromised because it is supported by an indestructible prayer. The Church must not fear the persecutions that it will undergo in its history but trust always, as Jesus did at Gethsemane in the presence, help and power of God, invoked in prayer.

Let us take a further step: what does the Christian community ask of God in this moment of trial? It does not ask for its life to be protected during persecution nor that the Lord harm those who imprisoned Peter and John; it only asks that it be granted to “proclaim in all boldness” the Word of God (cf. Acts 4:29), that is, it asks that it not lose the courage of faith, the courage to proclaim the faith. First, however, it tries to understand more deeply what has happened, it tries to interpret the events in the light of faith and it does this precisely through God’s Word, which permits us to decipher the world’s reality.

In offering up its prayers to the Lord, the community begins by recalling and invoking the greatness and immensity of God: “Sovereign Lord, maker of heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them” (Acts 4:24). It is the invocation of the Creator: we know that everything comes from him, that everything is in his hands. This is the knowledge that gives the community certainty and courage: everything comes from him, everything is in his hands. It then acknowledges how God has acted in history – so it begins with creation and then continues through history – how he has been near to his people, showing himself to be a God who cares for man, who has not retreated, who does not abandon man, his creature; and here Psalm 2 is explicitly cited, in the light of which the difficult situation that the Church is currently experiencing is interpreted. Psalm 2 celebrates the enthronement of the king of Judah, but prophetically refers to the coming of the Messiah, against whom nothing can stir up rebellion, persecution, the tyranny of men “Why did the Gentiles rage and the peoples entertain folly? The kings of the earth took their stand and the princes gathered together against the Lord and against his Christ” (Acts 4:25). The Psalm about the Messiah already says this prophetically, and throughout history this rebellion of the powerful against the power of God is characteristic. Just reading Holy Writ, which is the Word of God, the community can say to God in its prayer: Indeed they gathered in this city against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, Herod and Pontius Pilate, together with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel to do what your hand and your will had long ago planned to take place” (Acts 4:27). What had happened was read in the light of Christ, who is the key for understanding persecution too; the cross, which is always the key to the resurrection. The opposition to Jesus, his passion and death, are reread through Psalm 2, as the realization of God’s plan for the world’s salvation. And here we also find the meaning of the experience of persecution through which the first Christian community is living; this first community is not a mere association but a community that lives in Christ; thus, what it experiences is part of God’s design. Just as it happened to Jesus, the first disciples too encounter opposition, incomprehension, persecution. In prayer, meditation on Sacred Scripture in the light of the mystery of Christ is an aid to interpreting the reality present in the history of salvation that God realizes in the world, always in his own way.

Precisely because of this the request that the first Christian community in Jerusalem formulates in its prayer to God does not ask to be defended, to be saved from trial, from suffering, it is not a prayer for success, but only to proclaim with “parresia,” that is, with boldness, with freedom, with courage, the Word of God (cf. Acts 4:29).

The community then adds that this proclamation be accompanied by the hand of God, that healings, signs, wonders might occur (cf. Acts 4:30), that is, that God’s goodness be visible, as a power that transforms reality, that changes hearts, minds and men’s lives and brings the radical newness of the Gospel.

At the end of the prayer, St. Luke observes, “the place where they were gathered trembled and all were filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaimed the Word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). The place trembled, that is, the faith has the power to transform the world. The same Spirit that spoke in Psalm 2 in the Church’s prayer, breaks forth in the house where the disciples are and fills the heart of everyone who has called on the Lord. This is the fruit of the united prayer that the Christian community lifts up to God: the effusion of the Spirit, gift of the Risen One, that supports and guides the free and courageous proclamation of the Word of God, who drives the Lord’s disciples to leave the house without fear to bring the good news to the ends of the earth.

We too, dear brothers and sisters, must know how to bring the events of our daily lives into our prayer, to find their deeper meaning. And like the first Christian community, we too, letting ourselves be enlightened by God’s Word through meditation on Holy Scripture, can learn to see that God is present in our lives, present even and precisely in difficult moments, and that everything – even things that are incomprehensible – is part of the superior design of love in which the final victory over evil, over sin and over death is truly that of goodness, of grace, of life, of God.

As with the first Christian community, prayer helps us to interpret personal and collective history according to the right and faithful perspective, that of God. And we too want to renew the request for the gift of the Holy Spirit, that warms the heart and illumines the mind, to see how the Lord realizes what we plead for according to his will of love and not according to our ideas. Guided by the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, we will be able to face every situation of life with serenity, courage and joy and boast with St. Paul “in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces patience, patience proved virtue and proved virtue hope”: that hope that “does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been bestowed upon us” (Romans 5:3-5).

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On Prayer and Ministry
Without prayer 'we risk suffocating in the middle of a thousand daily cares'

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 25, 2012 - 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 reflection on prayer in the Acts of the Apostles.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

In the last catechesis, I showed that from the beginning of her journey, the Church found herself having to face unforeseen situations, new questions and emergencies, which she sought to respond to in the light of faith, by allowing herself to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

Today I would like to pause to reflect on another of these situations, on a serious problem that the first Christian community in Jerusalem had to face and resolve, as St. Luke tells us in the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, regarding the pastoral care of charity shown to those were alone and in need of help and assistance. The question is not of secondary importance for the Church and, at the time, it risked creating divisions within the Church; in fact, the number of the disciples was increasing, but the Hellenists began to murmur against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution (cf. Acts 6:1). Faced with this urgent need involving a fundamental aspect of the life of the community; i.e. charity shown to the weak, the poor, and the defenseless -- and justice -- the Apostles summon the whole group of the disciples.

At this time of pastoral emergency what stands out is the Apostles’ discernment. They are faced with the primary need to proclaim the Word of God according to the mandate of the Lord; but even though this is the primary demand placed upon the Church -- they consider with equal seriousness the duty of charity and of justice, that is, the duty of assisting widows and the poor, of lovingly providing for their brothers and sisters in situations of need, in order to respond to Jesus’ command: love one another as I have loved you (cf. John 15:12,17).

Therefore, the two realities they must live out within the Church -- the proclamation of the Word, the primacy of God, and concrete charity, justice -- are creating difficulties and a solution must be found, so that both may have their place, their necessary relation. The Apostles’ reflection is very clear; they say, as we heard: “It is not right that we should give up preaching the Word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2-4).

Two things appear: first, that from that moment in the Church, there is a ministry of charity. The Church must not only proclaim the Word, she must also make the Word, which is charity and truth, a reality. And the second point: these men were to be not only of good repute; they must be men filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom; that is, they cannot be only organizers who know how to “do”; they must “do so” in the spirit of faith by the light of God, in wisdom of heart. Therefore, also their role -- though primarily of a practical nature -- is still a spiritual role. Charity and justice are not only social actions; rather, they are spiritual activities realized in the light of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, we may say that the situation is handled with great responsibility on the part of the Apostles who make this decision: seven men are chosen; the Apostles pray, asking for the power of the Holy Spirit; and then they lay hands on them so that they might be dedicated in a special way to this service of charity. Thus, in the Church’s life, in the first steps she takes, what happened during Jesus’ public life, in the home of Martha and Mary in Bethania, is in a certain way reflected. Martha was wholly given over to the service of hospitality offered to Jesus and to His disciples; Mary, on the other hand, devotes herself to listening to the Word of the Lord (cf. Luke 10:38-42). In both cases, the moments of prayer and of listening to God, and daily activity, i.e. the exercise of charity, are not placed in opposition. Jesus’ reminder: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42), as well as the Apostles’ reflection: “We … will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4), demonstrate the priority that we must give to God.

I do not wish to enter now into an interpretation of this Martha-Mary pericope. At any rate, activity on behalf of one’s neighbor, for the other, should not be condemned; however, it should be emphasized that activity must also be penetrated interiorly by the spirit of contemplation. On the other hand, St. Augustine says that the reality of Mary is a vision of what shall belong to us heaven; therefore, on earth we can never have it completely, but a little taste of anticipation must nonetheless be present in all of our activities. The contemplation of God must also be present. We must not lose ourselves in pure activism, but should always allow ourselves to be penetrated, even in our activity, by the light of God’s Word and thereby learn true charity, true service of our neighbor, who doesn’t need many things -- certainly he has need of the necessities -- but who above all needs our heart’s affection, the light of God.

St. Ambrose, commenting on the episode of Martha and Mary, thus exhorts his faithful and also us: “Let us also seek to have what cannot be taken away from us, by offering diligent, undistracted attention to the Lord’s word: for it also happens that the seeds of the heavenly word are carried off if they are strewn along the path. Like Mary, stir up within yourself the desire to know: this is the greatest, most perfect work.” And he adds: “may the care of ministry not distract from the knowledge of heavenly words,” from prayer (Expositio Evangelii secundum Lucam, VII, 85: PL 15, 1720).

The saints, then, have experienced a profound unity of life between prayer and action, between total love of God and love for the brethren. St. Bernard, who is a model of harmony between contemplation and industriousness, in the book De consideratione, addressed to Pope Innocent II in order to offer him a few reflections on his ministry, insists precisely upon the importance of interior recollection and of prayer in defending oneself from the dangers of excessive activity, whatever be the condition in which we find ourselves and the task we carry out. St. Bernard affirms that too many occupations, a frenetic life, often end in hardening the heart and in making the spirit suffer (cf. II, 3).

It is a precious reminder for us today, habituated as we are to evaluate everything based upon the criteria of productivity and efficiency. The passage from the Acts of the Apostles reminds us of the importance of work -- whence, undoubtedly, true ministry is born -- of the importance of commitment to daily activity responsibly carried out with dedication, but it also reminds us of our need for God, for His guidance, for His light, which gives us strength and hope. Without daily prayer faithfully lived out, our activity becomes empty, it loses its deep soul, it is reduced to mere activism, which in the end leaves us unsatisfied.

There is a beautiful invocation from the Christian tradition to be recited before each activity, which goes like this: “Actiones nostras, quæsumus, Domine, aspirando præveni et adiuvando prosequere, ut cuncta nostra oratio et operatio a te semper incipiat, et per te coepta finiatur”, that is: “Inspire our actions, Lord, and accompany them by your help, so that our every word and act may always have its beginning in you and in you be brought to completion.” Every step of our lives, every action -- also of the Church -- must be carried out before God, in the light of His Word.

In last Wednesday’s catechesis I had emphasized the undivided prayer of the first Christian community in the face of trial and how, precisely in prayer, in meditation on Sacred Scripture, it was able to understand the events it was going through. When prayer is nourished by the Word of God we are able to see reality with new eyes, with the eyes of faith, and the Lord -- who speaks to the mind and heart -- gives new light on the journey at every moment and in every situation. We believe in the power of God’s Word and in prayer. Even the difficulties the Church was living through when faced with the problem of service to the poor -- to the question of charity -- were overcome through prayer, in the light of God, of the Holy Spirit.

The Apostles did not merely ratify their choice of Stephen and the other men, but “after having prayed, they laid their hands upon them” (Acts 6:6). The Evangelist will record these acts again on the occasion of the election of Paul and Barnabas, where we read: “after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3). It again confirms that the practice of charity is a spiritual service. Both realities must go together.

With the laying on of hands, the Apostles confer a particular ministry upon seven men, so that they might be given the corresponding grace. The emphasis on prayer -- “after praying,” they say -- is important because it highlights the action’s spiritual dimension; it is not simply a matter of conferring a task, as happens in a social organization; rather, it is an ecclesial event in which the Holy Spirit appropriates to Himself seven men whom the Church has chosen by consecrating them in the Truth, who is Jesus Christ: He is the silent protagonist, present in the imposition of hands so that those who are chosen might be transformed by His power and sanctified in order to face the practical challenges, the challenges of pastoral life. And the emphasis on prayer reminds us, moreover, that it is only through and intimate relationship with God cultivated each day that a response to the Lord’s choice is born and that every ministry in the Church is entrusted.

Dear brothers and sisters, the pastoral problem that led the Apostles to choose and lay hands on seven men charged with the task of the service of charity, in order that they might dedicate themselves to prayer and to preaching the Word, indicates also to us the primacy of prayer and of God’s Word, which then also produces pastoral action. For Pastors, this is the first and most precious form of service paid to the flock entrusted to them. If the lungs of prayer and the Word of God fail to nourish the breath of our spiritual life, we risk suffocating in the middle of a thousand daily cares: prayer is the breath of the soul and of life. And there is another precious reminder that I would like to emphasize: in our relationship with God, in listening to His Word, in conversation with God, even when we find ourselves in the silence of a church or in our room, we are united in the Lord with so many brothers and sisters in faith, like an ensemble of instruments that, though retaining their individuality, offer to God one great symphony of intercession, of thanksgiving and of praise. Thank you.



[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on Christian prayer, we now consider the decision of the early Church to set aside seven men to provide for the practical demands of charity (cf. Acts 6:1-4). This decision, made after prayer and discernment, provided for the needs of the poor while freeing the Apostles to devote themselves primarily to the word of God. It is significant that the Apostles acknowledge the importance of both prayer and works of charity, yet clearly give priority to prayer and the proclamation of the Gospel. In every age the saints have stressed the deep vital unity between contemplation and activity. Prayer, nourished by faith and enlightened by God’s word, enables us to see things in a new way and to respond to new situations with the wisdom and insight bestowed by the Holy Spirit. In our own daily lives and decisions, may we always draw fresh spiritual breath from the two lungs of prayer and the word of God; in this way, we will respond to every challenge and situation with wisdom, understanding and fidelity to God’s will.

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On St. Peter's Imprisonment and Miraculous Release
"True freedom is found in following Jesus"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 9, 2012 - 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 reflection on prayer in the Acts of the Apostles, today considering St. Peter’s imprisonment and miraculous release.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like to consider the final episode of St. Peter’s life recounted in the Acts of the Apostles: his imprisonment by order of Herod Agrippa and his liberation through the prodigious intervention of the angel of the Lord, on the eve of his trial in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 12:1-17).

The prayer of the Church once again marks the account. St. Luke writes, in fact: “So Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the Church” (Acts 12:5). And after having miraculously been led forth from prison, on the occasion of his visit to the home of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, it is affirmed: “Many were gathered together and were praying” (Acts 12:12). Peter’s detainment and release, which span the whole night, are placed between these two important annotations, which illustrate the attitude of the Christian community when faced with danger and persecution. The power of the Church’s unceasing prayer rises to God, and the Lord hears and accomplishes an unthinkable and unhoped-for release through the sending of His angel.

The account recalls the great elements of Israel’s liberation from the slavery of Egypt, the Jewish Passover. As had occurred in that foundational event, here too the angel of the Lord who frees Peter carries out the principal action. And the very actions of the Apostle -- who is asked to get up quickly, to put on his belt and to gird himself -- mirror those of the chosen people on the night of their deliverance by God’s intervention, when they were invited to eat the lamb in haste with loins girt, sandals on their feet, staff in hand, ready to leave the country (cf. Exodus 12:11). Thus Peter can exclaim: “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod” (Acts 12:11).

But the angel recalls not only the event of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, but also that of Christ’s Resurrection. The Acts of the Apostles says, in fact: “And behold, and angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter on the side and woke him” (Acts 12:7). The light that fills the prison cell, the very action of awakening the Apostle, recall the liberating light of the Passover of the Lord, who conquers the shadows of night and of evil. Lastly, the invitation: “Wrap your mantle around you and follow me” (Acts 12:8), echoes the words of Jesus’ initial call (cf. Mark 1:17), which is repeated after the Resurrection on the Lake of Tiberias, where the Lord says twice to Peter: “Follow Me” (John 21:19; 22). It is a pressing invitation to follow: for it is only in going out of ourselves in order to walk with the Lord and to do His will that we live in true freedom.

I would also like to emphasize an aspect of Peter’s attitude in prison; indeed, we note that while the Christian community was praying persistently for him, Peter “was sleeping” (Acts 12:6). In such a critical and dangerous situation, it is an attitude that may seem strange but that rather denotes tranquility and confidence. He trusts in God, he knows that the solidarity and prayer of his own surround him, and he abandons himself totally into the Lord’s hands. So must our prayer also be: assiduous, united in solidarity with others, fully trusting in God who knows us intimately and who cares for us to the point -- Jesus says -- that “even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore” (Matthew 10: 30-31).

Peter lives the night of imprisonment and release as a moment in his following of the Lord, who conquers the darkness of night and frees [him] from the slavery of chains and the danger of death. His is a miraculous liberation, which is marked by various carefully described passages: guided by the angel, despite the surveillance of the guards, he passes through the first and second guard, to the iron gate leading into the city: and the gate opened to them of its own accord (cf. Acts 12:10). Peter and the angel of the Lord together cover a long stretch of road until, coming to himself, the Apostle realizes that the Lord has actually delivered him; and after having reflected upon this, he goes to the home of Mary, the mother of Mark, where many of the disciples were gathered together in prayer; once again, the community’s response to difficulty and danger is to rely upon God, to intensify their relationship with Him.

Here is seems to me useful to recall another difficult situation through which the early Christian community lived. St. James speaks of it in his Letter. It is a community in crisis, in difficulty, not so much on account of persecutions, but because of the jealousies and contentions present within it (James 3:14-16). And the Apostle asks why this situation exists. He finds two principal causes: the first is allowing oneself to be dominated by one’s passions, by the dictatorship of one’s own will, by egoism (James 4:1-2a); the second is the lack of prayer -- “you do not ask” (James 4:2b) -- or the presence of a prayer that cannot be defined as such -- “you ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3). This situation would change, according to St. James, if the whole community were to speak with God, if they were to pray assiduously and of one accord.

Indeed, even discussion about God risks losing its interior strength, and witness withers, if they are not animated, sustained and accompanied by prayer, by the continuity of a living conversation with the Lord. This is an important reminder for us and for our communities, for small communities such as the family, as well as those that are more extensive such as the parish, the diocese and the whole Church. And it gives me pause that they prayed in the community of St. James, but they prayed badly, for they prayed only for the sake of their own passions. We must always learn anew to pray well, to pray truly, to orient ourselves toward God and not toward our own good.

The community that accompanies St. Peter in his imprisonment, on the other hand, is a community that truly prays, for the whole night, united. And the joy that floods their hearts when the Apostle knocks unexpectedly at the door is uncontainable. It is the joy and amazement at the action of God who listens. Thus, prayer for Peter arises from the Church, and to the Church he returns in order to recount “how the Lord had brought him out of the prison” (Acts 12:17). In that Church where he is placed as a rock (cf. Matthew 16:18), Peter recounts his “Easter” of liberation: he experiences that true freedom is found in following Jesus; he is enveloped by the radiant light of the Resurrection, and for this reason he can testify unto martyrdom that the Lord is the Risen One and has “truly sent his angel and rescued him from the hand of Herod” (Acts 12:11). The martyrdom he will undergo in Rome will unite him definitively to Christ, who had told him: “When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go. (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God)” (John 21:18-19).

Dear brothers and sisters, the episode of Peter’s release recounted by Luke tells us that the Church, and each one of us, passes through the night of trial, but that the unceasing vigilance of prayer sustains us. I too, from the first moment of my election as Successor of St. Peter, have always felt supported by your prayer, by the prayer of the Church, especially in the moments of greatest difficulty. I offer you my heartfelt thanks. Through constant and confident prayer, the Lord frees us from chains, he guides us through every night of imprisonment that may grip our hearts, he gives us serenity of heart to face life’s difficulties -- even rejection, opposition and persecution. The episode concerning Peter reveals the power of prayer. And the Apostle, even though in chains, remains at peace in the certainty that he is never alone: the community is praying for him; the Lord is close to him; indeed, he knows that “the power of Christ is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Constant prayer of one accord is also a precious instrument for overcoming the trials that can arise along the path of life, for it is being deeply united to God which allows us to be deeply united also to others. Thank you.


[The Holy Father then greeted the people in various languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on Christian prayer, we now consider Saint Peter’s miraculous liberation from imprisonment on the eve of his trial in Jerusalem. Saint Luke tells us that as “the Church prayed fervently to God for him” (Acts 12:5), Peter was led forth from the prison by an Angel of light. The account of Peter’s rescue recalls both Israel’s hasty exodus from bondage in Egypt and the glory of Christ’s resurrection. Peter was sleeping, a sign of his surrender to the Lord and his trust in the prayers of the Christian community. The fulfillment of this prayer is accompanied by immense joy, as Peter rejoins the community and bears witness to the Risen Lord’s saving power. Peter’s liberation reminds us that, especially at moments of trial, our perseverance in prayer, and the prayerful solidarity of all our brothers and sisters in Christ, sustains us in faith. As Peter’s Successor, I thank all of you for the support of your prayers and I pray that, united in constant prayer, we will all draw ever closer to the Lord and to one another.

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On Prayer in the Spirit
"The Holy Spirit is, as it were, the interpreter who makes us, and God, understand what it is we wish to say"


VATICAN CITY, MAY 16, 2012 - 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 reflection on prayer.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

In the last catecheses we reflected on prayer in the Acts of the Apostles. Today I would like to begin to speak about prayer in the Letters of St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. First, I would like to note that it is not by chance that his Letters are introduced and conclude with expressions of prayer: at the beginning, thanksgiving and praise; at the end, the wish that the grace of God guide the journey of the community to whom the writing is addressed. The content of the Apostle’s Letters develops between the opening formula: “I thank my God through Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:8), and the final wishes: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you” (1 Corinthians 16:23). The prayer of St. Paul manifests a great wealth of forms -- from thanksgiving to benediction, from praise to petition and intercession, from hymns to supplication: a variety of expressions, which demonstrate how prayer involves and penetrates all the situations of life, those which are personal as well as those of the community he is addressing.

A first element that the Apostle wants us to understand is that prayer should not be seen merely as a good work that we carry out for God, an action of ours. First and foremost, it is a gift, the fruit of the living, vivifying presence of the Father of Jesus Christ in us. In the Letter to the Romans he writes: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (8:26). And we know how true the Apostle’s saying is: “We do not know how to pray as we ought”. We want to pray, but God is far off, we do not have the words, the language, to speak with God, nor even the thought to do so. We can only open ourselves, place our time at God’s disposition, wait for Him to help us to enter into true dialogue. The Apostle says: this very lack of words, this absence of words, yet this desire to enter into contact with God, is prayer that the Holy Spirit not only understands, but brings and interprets before God. This very weakness of ours becomes -- through the Holy Spirit -- true prayer, true contact with God. The Holy Spirit is, as it were, the interpreter who makes us, and God, understand what it is we wish to say.

In prayer we experience -- more than in other aspects of life -- our weakness, our poverty, our being creatures, for we are placed before the omnipotence and transcendence of God. And the more we advance in listening and in dialogue with God, so that prayer becomes the daily breath of our souls, the more we also perceive the measure of our limitations, not only in the face of the concrete situations of everyday life, but also in our relationship with the Lord. The need to trust, to rely increasingly upon Him then grows in us; we come to understand that “we do not know … how to pray as we ought” (Romans 8:26).

And it is the Holy Spirit who helps our inability, who enlightens our minds and warms our hearts, guiding us as we turn to God. For St. Paul, prayer is above all the work of the Holy Spirit in our humanity, to take our weakness and to transform us from men bound to material realities into spiritual men. In the First Letter to the Corinthians he says: “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths in spiritual terms” (2:12-13). By means of His abiding in our fragile humanity, the Holy Spirit changes us; He intercedes for us; He leads us toward the heights of God (cf. Romans 8:26).

Our union with Christ is realized by this presence of the Holy Spirit, for He is the Spirit of the Son of God, in whom we are made children. St. Paul speaks of the Spirit of Christ (cf. Romans 8:9), and not only of the Spirit of God. It is obvious: if Christ is the Son of God, His Spirit is also the Spirit of God. Thus, if the Spirit of God -- the Spirit of Christ -- already drew near to us in the Son of God and Son of Man, then the Spirit of God also becomes the spirit of man and touches us; we can enter into the communion of the Spirit. It is as if to say that not only God the Father became visible in the Incarnation of the Son, but also that the Spirit of God revealed Himself in the life and action of Jesus, of Jesus Christ, who lived, was crucified, died and was raised.

The Apostles reminds us that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). The Spirit, then, directs our hearts toward Jesus Christ, such that “it is not longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us” (cf. Galations 2:20). In his Catecheses on the Sacraments, reflecting on the Eucharist, St. Ambrose affirms: “He who is inebriated with the Holy Spirit is rooted in Christ” (5,3,17: PL 16, 450).

And now I would like to highlight three consequences for our Christian lives when we allow the Spirit of Christ, and not the spirit of the world, to work in us as the interior principle of all our actions.

First, prayer animated by the Spirit enables us to abandon and to overcome every form of fear and slavery, and so to experience the true freedom of the children of God. Without prayer that nourishes our being in Christ each day in a steadily growing intimacy, we find ourselves in the condition described by St. Paul in the Letter to the Romans: we do not do the good we want, but the evil we do not want (cf. Romans 7:19).

And this is the expression of the alienation of the human being, of the destruction of our freedom due to the condition of our being that is brought about by original sin: we want the good that we do not do, and we do what we do not want, evil. The Apostle wants us to understand that it is not our will that first and foremost frees us from this condition, nor is it the Law, but rather the Holy Spirit. And since “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17), through prayer we experience the freedom given by the Spirit: an authentic freedom, which is freedom from evil and from sin for the good and for life, for God. The freedom of the Spirit, St. Paul continues, is never identical with libertinism or with the possibility of choosing evil but rather with the “fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). This is true freedom: the ability to actually follow the desire for the good, for true joy, for communion with God and not to be oppressed by the circumstances that take us down other roads.

A second consequence that comes about in our lives when we allow the Spirit of Christ to work in us is that our relationship with God becomes so deep that it cannot be affected by any circumstance or situation. We then come to understand that, through prayer, we are not delivered from trials or sufferings, but we are able to live them in union with Christ, with His sufferings, with a view to participating also in His glory (cf. Romans 8:17).

Many times, in our prayer, we ask God to be freed from physical or spiritual evil, and we do this with great trust. Yet we often have the impression that we have not been heard, and then we run the risk of becoming discouraged and of not persevering. In reality, there is no human cry that God does not hear, and it is precisely in continual and faithful prayer that we come to understand with St. Paul that “the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). Prayer does not exempt us from trial and suffering; indeed -- St. Paul says -- we “groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23); he says that prayer does not exempt us from suffering, but that prayer allows us to experience it and to face it with new strength, with the same trust as Jesus, who -- according to the Letter to the Hebrews -- “in the days of his flesh offered prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to God who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard on account of his complete abandonment to Him” (5:7). God the Father’s response to the Son, to his loud cries and tears, was not deliverance from suffering, from the Cross, from death; rather, it was a much greater fulfillment, a much deeper response; through the Cross and death, God responded with the Resurrection of the Son, with new life. Prayer animated by the Holy Spirit leads us, too, to live the journey of life with its daily trials and suffering in full hope and trust in God, who responds as he responded to the Son.

And, third, the prayer of the believer opens out to the dimensions of humanity and of the whole creation, by taking on the “eager longing of creation for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). This means that prayer, sustained by the Spirit of Christ who speaks in our interior depths, never remains closed in upon itself, it is never only prayer for me; rather, it opens out to a sharing in the suffering of our time, of others. It becomes intercession for others, and thus freedom for me; a channel of hope for all creation and the expression of that love of God, which has been poured into our hearts through the Spirit who has been given to us (cf. Romans 5:5). And this is a sign of true prayer, that it does not end in ourselves, but opens out to others and so liberates me, and so helps in the redemption of the world.

Dear brothers and sisters, St. Paul teaches us that in our prayer we must open ourselves to the presence of the Holy Spirit, who prays in us with sighs too deep for words, in order to bring us to adhere to God with all our hearts and with all our being. The Spirit of Christ becomes the strength of our “weak” prayer, the light of our “extinguished” prayer, the fire of our “cold and arid” prayer, by giving us true interior freedom, by teaching us to live facing life’s trials in the certainty that we are not alone, and by opening us to the horizons of humanity and creation “which groans in travail until now” (Romans 8:22). Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on Christian prayer, we now turn to the teaching of the Apostle Paul. Saint Paul’s letters show us the rich variety of his own prayer, which embraces thanksgiving, praise, petition and intercession. For Paul, prayer is above all the work of the Holy Spirit within our hearts, the fruit of God’s presence within us. The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness, teaching us to pray to the Father through the Son. In the eighth chapter of the Letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that the Spirit intercedes for us, unites us to Christ and enables us to call God our Father. In our prayer, the Holy Spirit grants us the glorious freedom of the children of God, the hope and strength to remain faithful to the Lord amid our daily trials and tribulations, and a heart attentive to the working of God’s grace in others and in the world around us. With Saint Paul, let us open our hearts to the presence of the Holy Spirit, who prays with us and leads us to an ever deeper union in love with the Triune God.

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© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On the Holy Spirit's Prayer in Us: 'Abba! Father!'
"God has inscribed Himself in our hearts"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 23, 2012 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave during the general audience held in St. Peter’s Square. Today the Holy Father continued his series of catecheses on prayer.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Last Wednesday I showed how St. Paul says that the Holy Spirit is the great teacher of prayer and teaches us to address God with the affectionate words of children, calling Him “Abba, Father”. This is what Jesus did; even in the most dramatic moment of His earthly life, He never lost confidence in the Father and always called out to Him with the intimacy of the beloved Son. In Gethsemane, as He feels the anguish of death, His prayer is: “Abba! Father! All things are possible to Thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt” (Mark 14:36).

From the very first steps of her journey, the Church received this invocation and made it her own, especially in the prayer of the Our Father, in which we daily say: “Father … Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (cf. Matthew 6:9-10). In the Letters of St. Paul we find it twice. The Apostle, as we just heard, addresses himself to the Galatians with these words: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6). And at the heart of that hymn to the Spirit, which is Chapter 8 of the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul affirms: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15). Christianity is not a religion of fear but of trust, and of love for the Father who loves us.

These two packed statements speak to us of the sending and receiving of the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Risen One that makes us sons in Christ -- the Only begotten Son -- and establishes us in a filial relationship with God, a relationship of profound trust, like that of children; a filial relationship analogous to Jesus’, even though its origin is different and its depth is different: Jesus is the eternal Son of God made flesh; we instead become sons in Him, in time, through faith and the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation; thanks to these two sacraments we are immersed in the Paschal Mystery of Christ.

The Holy Spirit is the precious and necessary gift that makes us children of God, that effects that filial adoption to which all human beings are called, for as the divine blessing contained in the Letter to the Ephesians states: God, in Christ, “chose us before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and immaculate in his sight in charity. He predestined us to be his adopted sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4).

Perhaps men today do not perceive the beauty, the grandeur and the profound consolation contained in the word “father” by which we may address God in prayer, because the father figure today is often not sufficiently present; and this presence is often not adequately positive in daily life. A father’s absence, i.e. the problem of a father who is not present in the child’s life, is a great problem of our time; and therefore, it becomes difficult to understand the profound significance of what it means to say that God is a Father to us. We can learn from Jesus Himself, and from His filial relationship with God, what being a “father” truly means, and the true nature of the Father who is in heaven. Critics of religion have said that to speak of the “Father”, of God, would be a projection of our human fathers onto heavenly realities. But the opposite is true: in the Gospel, Christ shows us who a father is and what a true father is like, so that we may sense what true fatherhood is, and also learn true fatherhood. Consider Jesus’ word during the Sermon on the Mount, where he says: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45). It is precisely Jesus’ love -- which reaches even to the gift of himself on the Cross -- that reveals the Father’s true nature to us: He is Love, and we too, in our prayer as children, enter into this movement of love, into God’s love, which purifies our desires and our attitudes that are marked by closure, by self-sufficiency and by the egoism that characterize the old man.

We may say, then, that in God, being Father has two dimensions. First of all, God is our Father, because He is our Creator. Each one of us, every man and every woman, is a miracle of God, is wanted by Him and is known personally by Him. When, in the Book of Genesis, it says that the human being is created in the image of God (cf. 1:27), what it wishes to express is precisely this reality: God is our Father; for Him we are not anonymous, impersonal beings; rather, we have a name. And a word from the psalms always touches me when I pray it: “Your hands have made and fashioned me,” the psalmist says (Psalm 119:73). Each one of us can say, according to this beautiful image of the personal relationship with God: "Your hands have made and fashioned me. You thought of me and created me and wanted me”.

But this is still not enough. The Spirit of Christ opens us to a second dimension of God’s fatherhood, beyond creation, for Jesus is the “Son” in the fullest sense, “consubstantial with the Father,” as we profess in the Creed. In becoming a human being like us through His Incarnation, Death and Resurrection, Jesus in turn receives us into His humanity and into His own being Son; thus we too may enter into His specific belonging to God. To be sure, our being sons of God does not have the fullness of Jesus’: we must become this more and more, through the course of the whole of our Christian lives, by growing in our following of Christ, in our communion with Him, in order to enter ever more intimately into the relationship of love with God the Father, who sustains our lives. It is this fundamental reality that is disclosed to us when we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit and when He causes us to turn to God saying “Abba! Father!” We have truly entered - beyond creation – into adoption; with Jesus, we are truly united in God and are children in a new way and in a new dimension.

But now I would like to return to two passages from St. Paul that we are considering regarding this action of the Holy Spirit in our prayer; here too the two passages correspond to one another but contain slightly different nuances. In the Letter to the Galatians, in fact, the Apostle says that the Holy Spirit cries out in us “Abba! Father!”, the Spirit. In the Letter to the Romans it says that it is we who cry out “Abba! Father!” And St. Paul wants us to understand that Christian prayer is never, and never occurs in one direction between us and God, it is not only “our action”; rather, it is the expression of a reciprocal relationship in which God acts first: it is the Holy Spirit who cries out in us, and we are able to cry out because the impulse comes from the Holy Spirit. We would be unable to pray were the desire for God, and the desire to be God’s children, not inscribed in our hearts. From the moment of his existence, the homo sapiens is always in search of God; he seeks to speak with God, because God has inscribed Himself in our hearts. Therefore the first initiative is God’s, and through Baptism, once again God acts in us, the Holy Spirit acts in us; He is the first initiator of prayer so that we may then truly speak with God and say “Abba” to God. Therefore, His presence opens our prayer and our lives, opens to the horizons of the Trinity and the Church.

Furthermore, we comprehend -- this is the second point -- that the prayer of the Spirit of Christ in us and ours in Him, is not merely an individual act; rather, it is an act of the entire Church. In prayer our hearts are opened, we enter into communion not only with God, but also with all of God’s children, for we are one. When we turn to the Father in our interior room, in silence and recollection, we are never alone. He who speaks with God is not alone. We are in the great prayer of the Church, we are part of a great symphony, which the Christian community scattered in every part of the world and in every time raises to God; certainly, the musicians and the instruments are varied -- and this is an enriching element -- but the melody of praise is one and harmonious. Every time, then, that we cry out and say: “Abba! Father!” it is the Church, the whole communion of people in prayer that supports our invocation and our invocation is the Church’s invocation. This is also reflected in the wealth of charisms, of ministries, of tasks, that we carry out in the community. St. Paul writes to the Christians at Corinth: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). Prayer guided by the Holy Spirit, which causes us to say “Abba! Father!” with Christ and in Christ, inserts us into one great mosaic of the family of God in which each one of us has a place and an important role, in deep unity with the whole.

A final note: we also learn to cry out “Abba! Father” with Mary, the Mother of the Son of God. The arrival of the fullness of time, of which St. Paul speaks in the Letter to the Galatians (cf. 4:4) occurs at the moment of Mary’s “yes”, of her full adherence to the Will of God: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38).

Dear brothers and sisters, let us learn in our prayer to taste the beauty of being friends, indeed, of being children of God, of being able to call upon Him with the confidence and trust that a child has in his parents who love him. Let us open our prayer to the action of the Holy Spirit that He may cry out to God in us “Abba! Father!” and that our prayer may change and constantly convert our way of thinking and acting, conforming it ever more to that of the Only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our reflection on prayer in the letters of Saint Paul, we now consider two passages in which the Apostle speaks of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to call upon God as “Abba”, our Father (cf. Gal 4:6; Rom 8:5). The word “Abba” was used by Jesus to express his loving relationship with the Father; our own use of this word is the fruit of the presence of the Spirit of Christ within us. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, we have become sons and daughters of God, sharing by adoption in the eternal sonship of Jesus. Paul teaches us that Christian prayer is not simply our own work, but primarily that of the Spirit, who cries out in us and with us to the Father. In our prayer, we enter into the love of the indwelling Trinity as living members of Christ’s Body, the Church. Our individual prayer is always part of the great symphony of the Church’s prayer. Let us open our hearts ever more fully to the working of the Spirit within us, so that our prayer may lead us to greater trust in the Father and conformity to Jesus, his Son.

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On Prayer in St. Pauls Second Letter to the Corinthians
"In our prayer we are called to say yes to God and to respond with the amen of adherence"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 30, 2012 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave during the general audience held in St. Peter’s Square. Today the Holy Father continued his series of catecheses on prayer in the Letters of St. Paul.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

In these catecheses we are pondering prayer in the letters of St. Paul, and we are seeking to see Christian prayer as a true and personal encounter with God the Father, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. In today’s meeting, God’s faithful “yes” enters into dialogue with believers’ trustful “amen”. I wish to emphasize this dynamic by considering the Second Letter to the Corinthians. St. Paul sends this impassioned letter to a Church that has repeatedly questioned his apostleship, and he opens his heart so that his hearers might be reassured of his fidelity to Christ and to the Gospel. This Second Letter to the Corinthians begins with one of the loftiest prayers of blessing contained in the New Testament. It reads: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Paul suffered great tribulation and had to pass through many difficulties and afflictions, but he never yielded to discouragement, for he was sustained by grace and by the nearness of the Lord Jesus Christ, for whom he had become an apostle by surrendering his entire life to Him. For this reason, Paul begins this Letter with a prayer of blessing and thanksgiving to God -- for there was never a moment in his life as an apostle of Christ that he felt the support of the merciful Father, of the God of all consolation, lessen. He suffered terribly -- he says it in this Letter -- but amidst all these situations, when a path forward didn’t seem to open, he received consolation and comfort from God.

He also suffered persecutions to the point of being imprisoned for the sake of proclaiming Christ, but he always felt interiorly free, animated by the presence of Christ, and filled with desire to announce the Gospel’s word of hope. Thus, from prison he writes to Timothy, his faithful coworker. In chains he writes: “The Word of God is not fettered. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:9b-10). In his suffering for Christ, he experiences the consolation of God. He writes: “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:5).

In the prayer of blessing that introduces the Second Letter to the Corinthians, what prevails in addition to the theme of affliction is the theme of consolation, which should not be understood as simple comfort, but rather as encouragement and exhortation not to let oneself be conquered by tribulation and difficulties. The invitation is to live every situation in union with Christ, who takes all of the world’s suffering and sin upon Himself in order to bring light, hope and redemption. And in this way, Jesus makes us capable of consoling those who are afflicted in any way. Profound union with Christ through prayer and faith in His presence leads to a readiness to share in the sufferings and afflictions of others. St. Paul writes: “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is scandalized and I do not tremble?” (2 Corinthians 11:29). This ‘sharing in’ does not originate in benevolence, in human generosity or in a spirit of altruism; rather, it flows from the consolation of the Lord, from the unshakeable support of the “transcendent power that comes from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Dear brothers and sisters, our lives and our journey are often marked by difficulty, by misunderstandings, by suffering. We all know this to be true. In being faithful to our relationship with the Lord through constant, daily prayer we too are able to feel concretely the consolation that comes from God. And this strengthens our faith, because it makes us experience concretely God’s “yes” to man, to us, to me, in Christ; it makes us feel the fidelity of His love, which extends even to the gift of His Son on the Cross. St. Paul affirms: “The Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not “yes” and “no”; but in Him it is always “yes”. For all the promises of God find their “yes” in Him. That is why we utter the “amen” through Him, to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:19-20). God’s “yes” is not halfway; it does not vacillate between “yes” and “no”; rather, it is a simple and sure “yes”. And we respond to this “yes” with our “yes”, with our “amen” and it is in this way that we remain secure in God’s “yes”.

Faith is not primarily a human action; rather, it is a gratuitous gift of God rooted in His fidelity, in His “yes”, which makes us understand how to live our lives by loving Him and our brothers and sisters. The whole of salvation history is a progressive self-revelation of the God’s faithfulness despite our infidelity and our rejection, in the certainty that “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable!” as the Apostle declares in the Letter to the Romans (11:29).

Dear brothers and sisters, God’s way of acting – which is very different from our own – gives us consolation, strength and hope, because God does not take back His “yes”. In the face of conflict in human relationships, even with members of our families, we are inclined not to persevere in gratuitous love, which requires commitment and sacrifice. God, on the other hand, never tires of us; He never tires of being patient with us, and with His immense mercy He always goes before us; He goes out to meet us first; His “yes” is entirely worthy of our trust. In the event of the Cross, He offers us the measure of His love, which neither calculates nor measures. In the Letter to Titus, St. Paul writes: “The goodness of God our Savior and His love for men has appeared” (Titus 3:4). And in order that that this “yes” might be renewed each day, “He has anointed us and has sealed us and given the pledge of the Spirit in our hearts” (2 Corinthians 1:21b-22).

It is the Holy Spirit, in fact, who makes God’s “yes” in Jesus Christ continually present and alive and it is He who creates in our hearts the desire to follow Him, in order to one day enter fully into His love, when in heaven we will receive a dwelling place not fashioned by human hands. There is no person who is not sought and summoned by this faithful love, a love that is capable of waiting even for those who continually respond with the “no” of rejection or with hardness of heart. God waits for us; He always seeks us out; He wills to receive us into communion with Himself in order to give each one of us fullness of life, of hope and of peace.

The Church’s “amen,” which resounds in every liturgical action, is grafted onto God’s faithful “yes”: “amen” is the response of faith that always concludes our personal and communal prayer, and that expresses our “yes” to God’s initiative. In prayer, we often respond with our “amen” through habit, without grasping its profound meaning. This term comes from ‘aman, which in Hebrew and Aramaic means “to make stable” to “strengthen” and, consequently, “to be certain”, “to tell the truth”.

If we look to Sacred Scripture, we see that this “amen” is pronounced at the end of the Psalms of blessing and of praise, as in Psalm 41, for example: “You have upheld me by reason of my integrity: and have established me in Your sight forever. Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel from eternity to eternity. Amen. Amen.” (Verses 13-14). Or it expresses adherence to God, at the time when the People of Israel return full of joy from Babylonian exile and pronounce their “yes”, their “amen” to God and to His Law. In the Book of Nehemiah, it is said that, after this return, “Ezra opened the book in the sight of all people, for he was above all the people; and when he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God; and all the people answered: ‘Amen, amen,” lifting up their hands (Nehemiah 8:5-6).

From the beginning, therefore, the “amen” of the Jewish liturgy became the “amen” of the first Christian communities. And the book on the Christian liturgy par excellence is the Apocalypse of St. John, which begins with the Church’s “amen”: “To Him who loves us and who freed us from our sins by His blood, who made us a kingdom, priests for His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (Apocalypse 1:5b-6). So it is in the first chapter of the Apocalypse. And the same Book concludes with the invocation: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Apocalypse 22:21).

Dear friends, prayer is an encounter with a living Person to whom we should listen and with whom we should converse; it is an encounter with God who renews His unshakeable faithfulness, His “yes” to man, and to each one of us, in order to give us His consolation in the midst of storms and to make us live a life united with Him, full of joy and goodness, that will find its fulfillment in life eternal.

In our prayer we are called to say “yes” to God and to respond with the “amen” of adherence, of faithfulness to Him with our whole life. We can never attain to this fidelity by our own powers; it is not only the fruit of our daily commitment; it comes from God and is founded on the “yes” of Christ, who says: “my food is to do the will of the Father (cf. John 4:34). We must enter into this “yes”, [we must] enter into this “yes” of Christ, in adherence to the will of God, in order that we might say with St. Paul that it is no longer we who live, but Christ himself who lives in us. Then the “amen” of our personal and communal prayer will envelop and transform the whole of our lives, into a life of consolation, a life immersed in eternal and unshakeable Love. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our continuing reflection on prayer in the letters of Saint Paul, we now consider the Apostle’s striking affirmation that Jesus Christ is God’s “Yes” to mankind and the fulfilment of all his promises, and that through Jesus we say our “Amen”, to the glory of God (cf. 2 Cor 1:19-20). For Paul, prayer is above all God’s gift, grounded in his faithful love which was fully revealed in the sending of his Son and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, poured forth into our hearts, leads us to the Father, constantly making present God’s “Yes” to us in Christ and in turn enabling us to say our “Yes” – Amen! – to God. Our use of the word “Amen”, rooted in the ancient liturgical prayer of Israel and then taken up by the early Church, expresses our firm faith in God’s word and our hope in his promises. Through this daily “Yes” which concludes our personal and communal prayer, we echo Jesus’ obedience to the Father’s will and, through the gift of the Spirit, are enabled to live a new and transformed life in union with the Lord.

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I welcome the Vietnamese pilgrims from the Archidiocese of Hochiminh City, led by Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Mân. I also welcome the participants in the Buddhist-Christian Symposium being held in Castelgandolfo. My greeting likewise goes to the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation from the United States. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, including those from England, Ireland, Norway, India, Indonesia, Japan and the United States I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!

© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana


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On St. Paul the Apostles Experience of Contemplative Prayer
"As our union with the Lord grows and our prayer intensifies, we too come to focus on the essential"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 13, 2012 - 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 today continued his reflection on the lessons taught by the prayer life of St. Paul.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Daily encounter with the Lord and frequenting the Sacraments allow our minds and hearts to be opened to his presence, to his words, to his action. Prayer is not only the soul’s breath but -- to use an image -- it is also the oasis of peace from which we draw the water that nourishes our spiritual lives and transforms our existence. And God draws us to himself; he causes us to ascend the mountain of holiness and offers us light and consolation along the way so that we might grow ever closer to Him.

This is the personal experience St. Paul refers to in Chapter 12 of the Second Letter to the Corinthians, which I wish to consider today. In defending the legitimacy of his apostolate, he lists not so much the communities he founded nor the kilometers he travelled; he does not limit himself to recalling the difficulties and the opposition he faced for the sake of announcing the Gospel; but rather, he appeals to his relationship with the Lord, a relationship so intense that at times it was marked by moments of ecstasy and of deep contemplation (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:1); therefore, he boasts not in what he has done, in his own strength, in his activities and successes; but rather, he boasts in what God has done in him and through him. With great restraint, in fact, he recounts the experience of being caught up to God’s heaven. He recalls how fourteen years before the sending of the letter “he was caught up – so he says – to the third heaven” (Verse 2).

Using the language and the ways of one who recounts what cannot be recounted, St. Paul speaks of the event in the third person; he affirms that a man was caught up into the “garden” of God, into paradise. His contemplation is so deep and intense that the Apostle fails even to remember the content of the revelation received. But the time and circumstances are present to him, of the moment when the Lord seized him so completely and drew him to himself, as he had done on the road to Damascus at the moment of his conversion (cf. Philippians 3:12).

St. Paul goes on to say that it is in order not to be filled with pride on account of the grandeur of the revelation received that he carries a thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7), a suffering, and he implores the Risen One to be delivered from the messenger of the Evil One, from this painful thorn in his flesh. Three times – he says – he besought the Lord to remove this trial from him. And it is in this situation, in deep contemplation of God when “he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (Verse 4), that he receives an answer to his plea. The Risen One addresses a clear and reassuring word to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (Verse 9).

Paul’s commentary on these words may astonish us, but they reveal how he understood what it truly means to be an apostle of the Gospel. He exclaims, in fact: “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (Verses 9b-10); that is, he boasts not in his activity, but in the action of Christ, which acts precisely through his weakness.

Let us reflect a moment more on this event, which occurred during the years when St. Paul lived in silence and contemplation before commencing his journeys across the West to proclaim Christ, for this attitude of profound humility and trust before God’s self-revelation is also fundamental for our prayer and for our lives, for the way we relate to God and to our own weakness.

First, what is the weakness of which St. Paul speaks? What is this “thorn” in his flesh? We don’t know, and he doesn’t say, but his attitude makes us understand that all the difficulties we meet in following Christ and witnessing to his Gospel can be overcome by opening ourselves in faith to the Lord’s action. St. Paul is well aware of being a “useless servant” (2 Corinthians 4:7) in whom God places the riches and power of his grace. In this moment of intense contemplative prayer, St. Paul understands clearly how to face and live every event, especially suffering, difficulty and persecution: when he experiences his own weakness, the power of God is manifested, which neither abandons us nor leaves us alone but which becomes our support and strength.

Certainly, Paul would have preferred to be delivered from this “thorn”, from this suffering; but God says: “No, this is necessary for you. You shall have grace sufficient to resist and to do what must be done”. This is true also for us. The Lord may not deliver us from evil, but he helps us to mature through suffering, difficulty and persecution. Faith, then, tells us that if we remain in God, “though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day” (cf. Verse 16). The Apostle communicates to the Christians of Corinth and also to us that “this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (Verse 17). In reality, humanly speaking, the weight of difficulty was not light, it was exceedingly heavy; but compared with God’s love, with the grandeur of being loved by God, it seemed light in knowing that the weight of glory will be without measure.

Therefore, as our union with the Lord grows and our prayer intensifies, we too come to focus on the essential, and we understand that it is not through the power of our resources, our virtue, or our abilities that the Kingdom of God shall come; rather, it is God who works marvels precisely through our weakness, through our inadequacy for the task at hand. We must therefore have the humility not to trust in ourselves alone but to work -- with the Lord’s help -- in the Lord’s vineyard, entrusting ourselves to Him as fragile “earthen vessels”.

St. Paul speaks of two particular revelations that radically changed his life. The first -- we know -- is the disturbing question on the road of Damascus: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4), a question that led him to discover and to encounter Christ living and present, and to sense his call to be and apostle of the Gospel. The second are the words the Lord addressed to him in the experience of contemplative prayer we are reflecting on: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. Only faith and reliance on the action of God, on the goodness of God, which never abandons us, is the guarantee of not working in vain. Thus, the Lord’s grace was the force that accompanied St. Paul in his tremendous efforts to spread the Gospel, and his heart entered into the heart of Christ, and thus became capable of leading others towards Him who died and rose for us.

In prayer, then, we open our souls to the Lord so that he might come and abide in our weakness, transforming it in strength for the Gospel. And the Greek word St. Paul uses to describe this indwelling of the Lord in his fragile humanity is deeply significant; he uses episkenoo, which we may render as “to pitch his own tent”. The Lord continues to pitch his tent in us, in our midst; this is the Mystery of the Incarnation. The same divine Word who came to dwell in our humanity, wills to abide in us, to pitch his tent in us, to enlighten and transform our lives and the world.

The intense contemplation of God that St. Paul experienced recalls that of the disciples on Mount Tabor, when, seeing Jesus transfigured and resplendent with light, Peter says to him: “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mark 9:5). “For he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid,” St. Mark adds (Verse 6). To contemplate the Lord is at once fascinating and terrifying: fascinating because He draws us to himself and steals our hearts towards heaven, carrying them to the heights where we experience the peace, the beauty of his love; terrifying, for it lays naked our human weakness, our inadequacies, the struggle to conquer the evil that threatens our lives -- that thorn that we too carry in our flesh. In prayer, in daily contemplation of the Lord, we receive the strength of God’s love and we sense the truth of St. Paul’s words to the Christians of Rome when he writes: “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, now 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).

In a world in which we risk trusting only in the efficiency and power of human resources, in this world we are called to rediscover and bear witness to the power of God that is communicated through prayer, and by which we grow each day in greater conformity of our lives to Christ’s, who – he affirms – “was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God” (2 Corinthians 13:4).

Dear friends, during the last century, Albert Schweitzer, a protestant theologian and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, stated that “Paul is a mystic and nothing other than a mystic”; that is, he is truly a man so enamored by Christ and so united to Him as to be able to say: Christ lives in me. The mysticism of St. Paul is based not only on the exceptional events he experienced but also on a daily and intense relationship with the Lord, who always sustained him with his grace. Mysticism did not distance him from reality; on the contrary, it gave him the strength to live each day for Christ and to build up the Church unto the end of the world of that time. Union with God does not distance us from the world; rather, it gives us the strength truly to remain in the world, to do all that needs to be done in the world. In our prayer lives too, then, we may experience moments of particular intensity, when we feel the presence of the Lord to be more alive, but constancy and fidelity to one’s relationship with God is important, above all in times of aridity, difficulty, suffering, and of God’s apparent absence. Only when we are gripped by the love of Christ will we be able to face every adversity like Paul, convinced that we can do all things in Him who strengthens us (cf. Philippians 4:13). Therefore, the more space we give to prayer, the more we come to see that our lives will be transformed and enlivened by the concrete strength of God’s love. So it happened, for example, to Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who discovered in the contemplation of Jesus and precisely during long periods of aridity the ultimate reason and incredible strength to recognize him in the poor and abandoned, despite her fragile figure. In our lives, the contemplation of Christ does not distance us from reality -- as I already said – rather, it makes us ever more involved in human affairs, since the Lord, in drawing us to himself in prayer, allows us to become present and close all of our brothers and sisters in his love. Thank you.

[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our continuing reflection on prayer in the letters of Saint Paul, we now consider the Apostle’s testimony to his own experience of contemplative prayer. Defending the legitimacy of his apostolate, Paul appeals above all to his profound closeness to the Lord in prayer, marked by moments of ecstasy, visions and revelations (cf. 2 Cor 12:1ff.). Yet he speaks too of a trial which the Lord sent him lest he become conceited: a mysterious thorn in the flesh (v. 7). Paul therefore willingly boasts of his weakness, in order that the power of Christ might dwell in him (v. 10). Through this experience of mystical prayer, Paul realized that God’s Kingdom comes about not by our own efforts but by the power of God’s grace shining through our poor earthen vessels (cf. 2 Cor 4:7). We see that contemplative prayer is both exalting and troubling, since we experience both the beauty of God’s love and the sense of our own weakness. Paul teaches us the need for daily perseverance in prayer, even at times of dryness and difficulty, for it is there that we experience the life-changing power of God’s love.

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On Prayer of Praise and Thanks
"In prayer we must accustom ourselves to being with God"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 20, 2012.- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in St. Peter’s Square.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Very often, our prayer is a request for help in time of need. And this is normal for man, for we need help, we need others, we need God. Thus, it is normal for us to ask something of God, to look to Him for help; and we must bear in mind that the prayer that the Lord taught us -- the “Our Father” -- is a prayer of petition, and with this prayer the Lord teaches us the priorities of our prayer; He cleanses and purifies our desires and in this way cleanses and purifies our hearts. Therefore, though in itself it is normal for us to ask for something in prayer, it should not exclusively be so. There is also reason to give thanks, and if we are attentive we see that we receive so many good things from God: He is so good to us that it is fitting, indeed necessary, to say thank you. And it should also be a prayer of praise: if our heart is open, despite all problems, we see the beauty of His creation, the goodness shown forth in His creation. Therefore, we must not only ask; we must also praise and give thanks: only in this way is our prayer complete.

In his letters, St. Paul not only speaks about prayer; he also refers to prayers -- certainly of petition, but also prayers of praise and blessing for all that God has done and continues to accomplish in human history. Today I would like to consider the first chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians, which begins precisely with a prayer that is a hymn of blessing, an expression of thanksgiving and of joy. St. Paul blesses God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for in him He has made known to us “the mystery of his will” (Ephesians 1:9). Truly, there is reason to give thanks if God makes known to us what is hidden: his will with us, for us; “the mystery of his will”.

“Mysterion”: a term that recurs frequently in sacred Scripture and the liturgy. For now, I do not wish to enter into a discussion on philology, but in common language the term indicates what cannot be known, a reality we cannot grasp with our own intelligence. The hymn that opens the Letter to the Ephesians takes us by the hand and leads us towards a deeper meaning of this term and the reality it points to. For believers, “mystery” is not so much the unknown; rather, it is the merciful will of God, His loving plan, which is fully revealed in Jesus Christ and which offers us the possibility to “comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18-19). God’s “hidden mystery” has been revealed, and it is that God loves us, and that he loves us from the beginning, from all eternity.

Let us, then, pause briefly to consider this solemn and profound prayer. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). St. Paul uses the verb “euloghein”, which generally translates the Hebrew word “barak”: it means to praise, to glorify and to thank God the Father as the source of every good and of salvation, as he who “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing”.

The Apostle thanks and praises, but he also reflects on the motives that move man to this praise by presenting the fundamental elements of the divine plan and its stages. First and foremost, we bless God the Father because – as St. Paul writes – He “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and immaculate before him in love” (Verse 4). What makes us holy and immaculate is charity. God called us into existence, to sanctity. And this choice precedes even the creation of the world. We have always been in His plan, in His thoughts. With the prophet Jeremiah we too may affirm that before forming us in our mother’s womb he knew us (cf. Jeremiah 1:5); and knowing us, He loved us. The vocation to holiness, that is to communion with God, belongs to the eternal plan of this God, a plan that extends through history and encompasses all men and women of the world, for it is a universal call. God excludes no one; His plan is one of love. St. John Chysostom affirms: “God has himself made us holy, but we are called to remain holy. He who lives by faith is holy” (Homily on the Letter to the Ephesians 1:1:4).

St. Paul continues: God has predestined us, he has chosen us to be “adopted sons through Jesus Christ”, to be incorporated into His Only begotten Son. The Apostle emphasizes the gratuity of God’s marvelous plan for humanity. God chooses us not because we are good, but because he is good. Antiquity had a saying about goodness: bonum est diffusivum sui: the good communicates itself; it belongs to the very essence of the good to communicate itself, to extend itself. And thus, because God is goodness and is the communication of goodness, he creates because he wills to communicate his goodness to us and to make us good and holy.

At the heart of the prayer of blessing, the Apostle illustrates the way in which the Father’s plan of salvation is realized in Christ, in his beloved Son. He writes: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). The sacrifice of the Cross of Christ is the one and unrepeatable event by which the Father has luminously shown his love for us, not only in words, but in a concrete way. God is so concrete and his love is so concrete that it enters into history, and becomes man in order to feel what it is, and how to live in the created world, and he accepts the path of the suffering of the Passion, undergoing even death. So concrete is God’s love that he participates not only in our being but even in our suffering and death.

Through the sacrifice of the Cross, we become “God’s property”, since the blood of Christ redeems us from our sins, cleanses us of evil and draws us out of the bondage of sin and death. St. Paul invites us to consider the depth of God’s love, which transforms history, which transformed his own life from that of a persecutor of Christians into that of a tireless Apostle of the Gospel. Echoing once again the reassuring words of the Letter to the Romans: “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? … For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, not 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 8:31-32;38-39). This certainty … that God is for us: no creature can separate us because His love is stronger. This needs to become a part of our being and part of our consciousness as Christians.

Finally, the divine blessing concludes with an allusion to the Holy Spirit who has been poured out into our hearts -- the Paraclete we have received as a seal of promise: “He,” says St. Paul, “is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:14). The Redemption has not yet been concluded, we hear – rather, it will finally attain its full completion once those whom God has acquired have been entirely saved. We are still on the journey of redemption, whose essential reality was given through Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are on the way towards definitive redemption, towards the full liberation of God’s children. And the Holy Spirit is the certainty that God will bring to completion his plan of salvation, when he restores “to Christ, the one head, all things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). On this point, St. John Chrysostom comments: “God has chosen us for faith and has impressed in us the seal of the inheritance of future glory” (Homilies on the Letter to the Ephesians 1:11-14). We must accept that the journey of redemption is also our own, for God wants free creatures, who freely say “yes”; but it is first and foremost his journey. We are in his hands and our freedom is to take to the road opened by him. In taking to this road of redemption together with Christ, we feel that the Redemption is being fully realized.

The vision St. Paul presents to us in this great prayer of blessing leads us to contemplate the action of the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity: the Father, who chose us before the creation of the world; He thought of us and created us; the Son, who has redeemed us by his blood; and the Holy Spirit, the guarantee of our redemption and future glory. Through constant prayer, and through a daily relationship with God, we too, like St. Paul, learn to discern ever more clearly the signs of this plan and of this action: in the beauty of the Creator which shines forth from his creatures (cf. Ephesians 3:9), as St. Francis of Assisi sings: “Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures” (FF 263). Precisely now, during the summer holidays, it is important to be attentive to the beauty of creation and to see the face of God shine forth in this beauty. In their lives, the saints luminously show forth what the power of God can do in man’s weakness. And it can do so also in us. In the whole history of salvation, in which God makes himself close to us and patiently awaits us, he understands our infidelities, he encourages our efforts and he guides us.

In prayer we learn to see the signs of this merciful plan in the Church’s journey. Thus it is that we grow in the love of God and open the door [of our hearts] so that the Most Holy Trinity may come and abide in us, enlighten and warm us and guide our lives. “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23), Jesus says as he promises the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit, who will teach them all things. St. Ireneaus once said that, in the Incarnation, the Holy Spirit accustomed himself to being in man. In prayer we must accustom ourselves to being with God. This is very important, that we learn to be with God; in this way, we see that it is beautiful to be with him, which is redemption.

Dear friends, when prayer nourishes our spiritual lives we become capable of holding what St. Paul calls “the mystery of faith” with a clear conscience (cf. 1 Timothy 3:9). Prayer, as a way of “accustoming oneself” to being together with God, produces men and women animated not by egoism, by the desire to possess, by the thirst for power, but by gratuity, by the desire to love, by the thirst to serve -- animated, that is, by God; and it is only in this way that we can bring light to the darkness of the world.

I wish to conclude this catechesis with the epilogue of the Letter to the Romans. With St. Paul, let us also give glory to God for he has told us everything about himself in Jesus Christ and has given us the Comforter, the Spirit of truth. At the end of the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes: “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith – to the only wise God be glory for evermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Romans 16:25-27). Thank you.

[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As part of our continuing reflection on prayer in the letters of Saint Paul, we now turn to the great prayer of praise and blessing found at the beginning of the Letter to the Ephesians. Paul blesses the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for making known to us "the mystery of his will" (Eph 1:9), his eternal plan for our salvation. Before the creation of the world, God "chose us in Christ" (1:4) to be his adopted children and to receive a glorious inheritance. Through the blood of Christ’s cross, he showed the depth of his merciful love, forgave our sins and reconciled us to himself. By the gift of the Holy Spirit, he gave us the seal and pledge of our definitive redemption in the fullness of time. Paul’s prayer invites us to contemplate the unfolding of God’s saving plan in history and to discern the signs of its presence in our own lives and in the life of the Church. In our own prayer, may we praise the mystery of our election in Christ, and open our hearts and lives ever more fully to the transforming presence of the Blessed Trinity.

I offer a warm welcome to the Forum of Interreligious Harmony from Indonesia. My greeting also goes to the participants in the Vatican Observatory Summer School. I likewise greet the "Wounded Warriors" group from the United States. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from Scotland, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, the Philippines and the United States, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!


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On Prayer in St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians
"To learn the mind of Christ is the way of Christian life"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 27, 2012 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in the Paul VI Audience Hall. Pope Benedict today continued his catecheses on prayer by reflecting on the Christological hymn contained in St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Our prayer is made up, as we have seen over the past Wednesdays, of silences and words, of song and gesture involving the whole person: from the mouth to the mind, from the heart to the whole body. It is a characteristic we find in Jewish prayer, especially in the Psalms. Today I would like to speak about one of the Christian tradition’s most ancient songs and hymns, which St. Paul puts before us in what, in a certain sense, is his spiritual testament: The Letter to the Philippians. It is, in fact, a letter that the Apostle dictated while in prison, perhaps in Rome. He feels death approaching, for he states that his life will be offered as a libation (cf. Philippians 2:17).

Despite this situation of grave danger to his physical safety, throughout the entire text St. Paul expresses joy in being a disciple of Christ, in being able to go to meet Him, so much so that he sees death not as loss but as gain. In the Letter’s final chapter, there is a forceful invitation to joy, a fundamental characteristic of being Christian and of our prayer. St. Paul writes: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). But how can one rejoice in the face of an already imminent death sentence? Whence, or better, from whom does St. Paul draw the serenity, the strength and the courage to meet martyrdom and the shedding of his blood?

We find the answer at the heart of the Letter to the Philippians, in what the Christian tradition calls carmen Christo, the hymn for Christ, or more commonly, the “Christological hymn”; a hymn in which all attention is centered upon the “sentiments” of Christ; that is, on his way of thinking and on his concrete and lived attitude. This prayer begins with an exhortation: “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). These sentiments are presented in the verses that follow: love, generosity, humility, obedience to God, the gift of self. It is not only and not simply a matter of following Jesus’ example, as something moral, but of involving the whole of one’s existence in his way of thinking and acting. Prayer must lead to an ever more profound knowledge and loving union with the Lord, in order to think, to act and to love like Him, in Him and for Him. To practice this, to learn the mind of Christ, is the way of Christian life.

Now I would like to consider briefly some of the elements of this dense hymn, which summarizes the entire divine and human itinerary of the Son of God and encompasses the whole of human history: from being in the condition of God, to the Incarnation, to death on the cross and to exaltation in the glory of the Father, the conduct of Adam and of man from the beginning is also implied. This hymn to Christ commences with his being “en morphe tou Theou”, the Greek text says; that is, from being “in the form of God” or better still, in the condition of God. Jesus, true God and true man, does not live out his “being like God” in order to prevail and to impose his supremacy; he does not look upon it as a possession, a privilege, or a treasure to be jealously guarded. Indeed, “he strips himself”, he empties himself -- assuming, the Greek text reads, “morphe doulos”, the “form of a slave”, the human reality marked by suffering, poverty and death; he likened himself fully to men, except in sin, so as to act as a servant dedicated to the service of others. In his regard, the 4th century Eusebius of Cesarea states: “He took upon himself the hardships of the members who suffer. He made our humble maladies his own. He suffered and toiled for our sake: this, in conformity with his great love for humanity” (The Evangelical Demonstration, 10,1,22).

St. Paul continues on by outlining the “historical” framework wherein Jesus’ self-abasement was realized: “He humbled himself and became obedient unto death” (Philippians 2:8). The Son of God truly became man and walked a path of complete obedience and fidelity to the Father’s will, even to the supreme sacrifice of his life. Still more, as the Apostle specifies, “unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). On the cross, Jesus Christ reached the greatest level of humiliation, since crucifixion was the punishment reserved for slaves and not for those who were free: “mors turpissima crucis” -- [most shameful death of the cross], writes Cicero (cf. In Verrem, V, 64, 165).

In the Cross of Christ, man is redeemed and Adam’s experience is reversed: Adam, created in the image and likeness of God, sought to be like God by his own strength, to put himself in God’s place, and thus did he lose the original dignity given him. Jesus, instead, was “in the condition of God”, but he humbled himself, he immersed himself in the human condition in total fidelity to the Father, in order to redeem the Adam within us and to restore to man the dignity he had lost. The Fathers emphasize that He became obedient, thus restoring to human nature, through his humanity and obedience, what had been lost through Adam’s disobedience.

In prayer, in our relationship with God, we open our minds, hearts and wills to the action of the Holy Spirit in order to enter into this same dynamic of life. As St. Cyril of Alexandria affirms, whose feast we celebrate today: “The work of the Spirit seeks to transform us by means of grace into the perfect copy of his humiliation” (Festal Letter 10, 4). Human logic, instead, often looks for self-realization through power, domination, and powerful means. Man continues to want to construct the tower of Babel by his own power, in order to reach the heights of God unaided, to be like God. The Incarnation and the Cross remind us that full realization resides in conforming one’s human will to the Father’s, in being emptied of egoism in order to be filled with love, with the charity of God, and thus to become truly capable of loving others. Man does not find himself by remaining closed in within himself, by affirming himself. Man finds himself only by going out of himself; we only find ourselves if we go out of ourselves. And if Adam wanted to imitate God, this in itself was not bad, but he erred in his idea about God. God is not one who wills only greatness. God is love, who gives himself first in the Trinity, and then in creation. And to imitate God means going out of oneself; it means giving oneself in love.

In the second part of this “Christological hymn” contained in the Letter to the Philippians, the subject changes; no longer is it Christ, but rather God the Father. St. Paul emphasizes that it is precisely on account of his obedience to the will of the Father that “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:9). He who humbled himself profoundly by taking on the condition of a slave is highly exalted; he is raised above all things by the Father, who bestows on him the name “Kyrios”, “Lord”, i.e. supreme dignity and lordship. Before this new name, in fact, which is the very name of God in the Old Testament, “every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess: ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’, to the glory of God the Father” (Verses 10-11).

The Jesus who is exalted is he who was present at the Last Supper, who lays aside his garments, girds himself with a towel, bends down to wash the feet of the Apostles and asks them: “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:12-14). This is always important to remember in our prayer and in our lives: “The ascent to God occurs precisely in the descent of humble service, in the descent of love, for love is God’s essence, and is thus the power that truly purifies man and enables him to perceive God and to see him” (Jesus of Nazareth, New York 2007, p.95).

The hymn from the Letter to the Philippians here offers us two important lessons for our prayer. The first is in the invocation “Lord” addressed to Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father: He is the only Lord of our lives, amid the many “rulers” who want to direct and guide them. For this reason, it is necessary to have a scale of values in which primacy is given to God, so that with St. Paul we affirm: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). Encountering the Risen One made him understand that He is the only treasure for which it is worth spending one’s entire life.

The second lesson is the prostration, the “bending of every knee” in heaven and on earth that recalls an expression of the Prophet Isaiah, where he points to the adoration that every creature owes to God (cf. 45:23). Genuflection before the Most Blessed Sacrament or falling to ones knees in prayer expresses precisely this attitude of adoration before God, also with the body. Hence the importance of making this gesture not through force of habit or hastily, but with deep awareness. When we kneel before the Lord we confess our faith in Him, we acknowledge that He is the only Lord of our lives.

Dear brothers and sisters, in our prayer let us fix our gaze on the Crucified; let us remain in adoration more often before the Eucharist so as to allow our lives to enter into the love of God, who humbly condescended in order to raise us to himself. At the beginning of this catechesis, we asked ourselves how St. Paul could rejoice in the face of his imminent martyrdom and the shedding of his blood. This was possible only because the Apostle never removed his gaze from Christ, to the point of being conformed to him even in death, “in the hope of attaining the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:11). Like St. Francis before the Crucifix, let us also say: “Oh most High and glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart. Give me a right faith, certain hope and perfect charity, judgment and knowledge that I may carry out your true and holy will. Amen. (cf. Prayer before the Crucifix: FF [276]).


[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As part of our continuing reflection on prayer in the letters of Saint Paul, we now turn to the great “Christological hymn” found in the Letter to the Philippians (2:6-11). Paul, a prisoner for the Gospel, exhorts his hearers to that deep joy which is the fruit of our imitation of God’s Son, who humbled himself and took on our human nature. Christ’s complete obedience to the will of the Father, even to death on the cross, reverses the sin of Adam and restores our original dignity. Therefore God highly exalted him and gave him the name of “Lord”. At the name of Jesus, then, every knee must bend in heaven, on earth and under the earth (vv. 9-11). As Jesus’ exaltation took place through his abasement, so in our lives and in our prayer we discover that, by lowering ourselves in humility and love, we are lifted up to God. May we more frequently bend the knee in praise and worship of Christ’s divinity and his Lordship over all creation. In our prayer, may we be ever more faithful witnesses of his sovereignty in our every thought, word and deed.

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On Prayer According to St. Alphonsus Liguori
"He who prays is saved. He who prays not is damned!"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 1, 2012 .- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held at Castel Gandolfo. This morning the Holy Father resumed his Wednesday audiences after a customary pause in July by reflecting on St. Alphonsus Liguori's teaching on prayer.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

Today marks the liturgical memorial of St. Alphonsus Maria de' Liguori, bishop and doctor of the Church, founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer -- the Redemptorists -- patron saint of scholars and moral theology and of confessors. St. Alphonsus is one of the most popular saints of the 18th century because of his simple, straightforward style and his teaching on the sacrament of Penance: In a period of great rigorism -- the result of the influence of Jansenism -- he recommended to confessors to administer this sacrament by revealing the joyous embrace of God the Father, who in His infinite mercy never tires of welcoming back the repentant son.

Today's memorial offers us the occasion to consider St. Alphonsus' teachings on prayer, which are extremely valuable and filled with spiritual inspiration. He considered his treatise, Prayer: The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection, which dates back to 1759, to be the most useful of all his writings. In fact, he there describes prayer as "the necessary and sure means of obtaining salvation, and all the graces we need to attain it" (Introduction).

This sentence sums up the Alphonsian understanding of prayer. First, in saying that it is a means, he reminds us of the end to be attained: God created out of love in order to be able to give us the fullness of life; but because of sin, this goal, this abundance of life has, so to say, drifted away -- we all know this -- and only God's grace can make it available. To explain this basic truth, and to enable us to understand in a straightforward way how real the risk is of man's "being lost," St. Alphonsus coined a famous, very elementary maxim, which states: "He who prays is saved. He who prays not is damned!" Commenting on this lapidary statement, he added: "To save one's soul without prayer is most difficult, and even impossible … but by praying our salvation is made secure, and very easy" (Chapter II, Conclusion). And he goes on to say: "If we do not pray, we have no excuse, for the grace of prayer is given to everyone … if we are not saved, the whole fault will be ours, because we did not pray" (ibid.).

In saying that prayer is a necessary means, St. Alphonsus wanted us to understand that in every situation in life, we cannot manage without praying, especially in times of trial and difficulty. We must always knock at the Lord's door with trust, knowing that in all things He takes care of His children, of us. We are invited, therefore, not to be afraid of turning to Him and of presenting our requests to Him with trust, in the certainty of obtaining what we need.

Dear friends, this is the central question: What is truly necessary in my life? With St. Alphonsus I respond: "Health and all the graces we need for this" (ibid.); naturally, he means not only bodily health, but above all also that of the soul, which Jesus gives to us. More than anything else, we need His liberating presence, which truly makes our lives fully human and therefore full of joy. And it is only through prayer that we are able to welcome Him and His grace, which by enlightening us in each situation, enables us to discern the true good, and by strengthening us, makes our will effective; that is, it enables it to do the good that is known. Often we recognize the good, but we are unable to do it. Through prayer, we arrive at the point of being able to carry it out.

The Lord's disciple knows that he is always exposed to temptation, and he never fails to ask God for help in prayer in order to conquer it. St. Alphonsus recalls the example of St. Phillip Neri -- very interesting -- who "used to say to God from the first moment he awoke in the morning, 'Lord, keep Thy hands over Philip this day; for if not, Philip will betray Thee'" (III, 3). A great realist! He asks God to keep His hand upon him. We, too, in the awareness of our own weakness, should humbly ask God's help, relying on the richness of His mercy.

In another passage, St. Alphonsus says: "We are so poor that we have nothing; but if we pray we are no longer poor" (II, 4). And in the wake of St. Augustine, he invites every Christian to not be afraid of obtaining from God, through prayer, the strength he does not possess and that he needs to do the good, in the certainty that the Lord does not withhold His help from whoever prays with humility (cf. III, 3).

Dear friends, St. Alphonsus reminds us that our relationship with God is essential for our lives. Without a relationship with God, our fundamental relationship is missing. And a relationship with God develops by talking with God in daily personal prayer, and by participating in the Sacraments; and so it is that this relationship can grow in us, and that the divine presence that directs our path, enlightens it and makes it secure and serene can also grow in us, even amid difficulty and danger. Thank you.

[In English, he said:]

I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from England and the United States. Today the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Alphonsus de' Liguori, the founder of the Redemptorists, a great moral theologian and a master of prayer. Saint Alphonsus teaches us the beauty of daily prayer, in which we open our minds and hearts to the Lord's presence and receive the grace to live wisely and well. By his example and intercession, may you and your families come to know God's saving love and experience his abundant blessings!

© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On the Prayer of St. Dominic

"The day he dedicated to his neighbor, but the night he gave to God"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 8, 2012 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held at Castel Gandolfo. This morning the Holy Father reflected on the prayer of St. Dominic.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

Today the Church celebrates the memorial of St. Dominic de Guzmán, priest and founder of the Order of Preachers, also known as the Dominicans. In a previous catechesis, I presented this illustrious figure and the fundamental contribution he made to the renewal of the Church of his time. Today I wish to highlight an essential aspect of his spirituality: his life of prayer. St. Dominic was a man of prayer. In love with God, he had no other aspiration than the salvation of souls, especially those who had fallen into the snares of the heresies of his day. An imitator of Christ, he radically embodied the three evangelical counsels, uniting to the proclamation of the Word a witness of a life of poverty. Under the Holy Spirit's guidance, he advanced along the way of Christian perfection. At each moment, prayer was the force that renewed and rendered his apostolic works increasingly fruitful.

Blessed Jordan of Saxony (who died in 1237), his successor as head of the Order, writes: "During the day, no one showed himself more sociable than he … Conversely, by night, there was none more assiduous than he in keeping watch in prayer. The day he dedicated to his neighbor, but the night he gave to God" (P. Filippini, San Domenico visto dai suoi contemporanei, Bologna 1982, pg. 133). In St. Dominic we can see an example of the harmonious integration between contemplation of the divine mysteries and apostolic activity. According to the testimonies of the persons closest to him, "he always spoke with God or of God." This observation points to his deep communion with the Lord and, at the same time, to his constant commitment to leading others to this communion with God.

He left behind no writings on prayer, but the Dominican tradition has collected and handed on his living experience in a work titled: The Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic. This book was composed between the year 1260 and 1288 by a Dominican friar. It helps us to understand something of the saint's interior life, and it also helps us, as different as we are, to learn something about how to pray.

According to St. Dominic, then, there are nine ways of prayer, and each of these -- which he always carried out in the presence of Jesus Crucified -- express a bodily and a spiritual attitude that, intimately interpenetrating, favors recollection and fervor. The first seven ways follow an ascending line, as steps on a journey toward communion with God, with the Trinity: St. Dominic prays standing, bowed down to express humility; prostrate on the ground to ask pardon for his sins; kneeling in penance to participate in the sufferings of the Lord; with arms outstretched gazing at the crucifix to contemplate Supreme Love, his gaze turned toward heaven, feeling drawn to the world of God. Thus, there are three forms: standing, kneeling, and lying prostrate on the ground -- but always with one's gaze turned to the Crucified Lord.

The two final ways, which I would like briefly to consider, correspond to two forms of piety the saint normally practiced. First, there was personal meditation, where prayer acquires a still more intimate, fervent and comforting dimension. At the end of the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours, and following the celebration of the Mass, St. Dominic prolonged his colloquy with God, without placing any limits on time. Seated quietly, he would recollect himself in an attitude of listening, reading a book or gazing upon the Crucifix. He lived these moments in his relationship with God so intensely that even outwardly his reactions of joy and tears could be perceived. Thus, through meditation, he assimilated the realities of the faith. Witnesses recount that at times he entered into a kind of ecstasy, his face transfigured; but immediately afterward, he would humbly resume his daily activities, recharged by the power that came to him from above.

Then, there was his prayer during journeys between one friary and another; he recited Lauds, the Midday hour and Vespers with his companions, and as he crossed valleys and hills he contemplated the beauty of creation. From his heart there flowed a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God for so many gifts, especially for the greatest wonder: the redemption wrought by Christ.

Dear friends, St. Dominic reminds us that prayer, that personal contact with God, is at the heart and origin of the witness of faith that every Christian must give within family life, at work, in social commitments, and even in times of relaxation. Only this real relationship with God gives us the strength to live each event intensely, especially the most painful moments. This saint also reminds us of the importance of exterior attitudes in our prayer: kneeling, standing before the Lord, fixing one's gaze on the Crucified, pausing to recollect oneself in silence are not secondary; rather, they help us to place ourselves interiorly, with the whole of our person, in relation to God. I would like to recall once again the need in our spiritual lives to find quiet moments for prayer each day, to have a little time to speak with God. We should take this time especially during the summer holidays, and make a little time to speak with God. It will also be a way of helping those around us to enter into the luminous rays of the presence of God, who brings the peace and love that we all need. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[In English, he said:]

I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Macau, Japan and the United States. Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers. In his life, Saint Dominic was able to combine constant prayer and zealous activity in the service of the Lord and his Church. By his example and intercession, may all of us rediscover the importance and beauty of daily prayer, and bear joyful witness to our faith in Christ the Saviour!

© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 5, 2012 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall.

The Holy Father reflected on prayer in the first part of the Book of Revelation.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, after a summer holiday break, we resume the Audiences at the Vatican, and I would like to continue in that "school of prayer" that I am living together with you through these Wednesday catecheses.

Today I would like to speak about prayer in the Book of Revelation [also known as the Apocalypse], which as you know is the final book in the New Testament. It is a difficult book, but it contains great riches. It puts us in contact with the living and pulsating prayer of the Christian assembly, gathered together "on the Lord's day" (Revelation 1:10): Indeed, this is the underlying current in which the text moves.

A reader presents to the assembly a message that has been entrusted by the Lord to the Evangelist John. The reader and the assembly constitute, as it were, the two protagonists in the development of the book. From the outset, to them a festal greeting is addressed: "Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear" (1:3). A symphony of prayer flows from their unbroken dialogue, and it develops through a great variety of forms until the book's conclusion. In listening to the reader who presents the message, and in hearing and observing the assembly that responds, their prayer tends to become ours.

The first part of Revelation (1:4-3:22) presents -- through the attitude of the assembly that prays -- three successive stages. The first (1:4-8) consists of a dialogue -- the only case of its kind in the New Testament -- that takes place between the assembly that has just gathered and the reader, who addresses them with a greeting of blessing: "Grace to you and peace" (1:4). The reader proceeds to highlight the source of this greeting. It comes from the Trinity: from the Father, from the Holy Spirit, from Jesus Christ -- who together are involved in carrying out the creative and saving plan for humanity. The assembly listens, and when they hear the name of Jesus Christ there is a burst of joy, and they respond with enthusiasm, raising the following prayer of praise: "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen" (1:5b-6).

The assembly, enveloped by Christ's love, feels liberated from the bondage of sin and proclaims itself the "kingdom" of Jesus Christ that belongs totally to Him. It recognizes the great mission entrusted to it through baptism, that of bringing the presence of God to the world. And it concludes its celebration of praise by looking once again directly at Jesus, and with growing enthusiasm it acknowledges that to him belong "glory and dominion" for having saved mankind. The final "amen" concludes the hymn of praise to Christ.

Already these first four verses contain a great wealth of pointers for us. They tell us that our prayer should consist, first and foremost, in listening to God who speaks to us. Inundated as we are with so many words, we are little accustomed to listen, and especially to placing ourselves in an interior and exterior state of silence, in order to be attentive to what God wants to tell us. These verses also teach us that our prayer, so often filled only with requests, should instead be filled with praise to God for his love, for the gift of Jesus Christ, who brought us strength, hope and salvation.

A new intervention by the reader then reminds the assembly, which is seized by the love of Christ, of their commitment to grasp the significance of his presence in their own lives. He says: "Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him" (1:7a). After being lifted up to heaven in a "cloud" -- a symbol of transcendence (cf. Acts 1:9) -- Jesus Christ will return in the same way as he went up into heaven (cf. Acts 1:11). Then all the peoples of the earth will acknowledge him, and as St. John exhorts in the Fourth Gospel, "they shall look on him whom they have pierced" (19:37). They will think of their own sins, the cause of his crucifixion, and as those who participated directly in it on Calvary "they will beat their breasts" (Luke 23:48), asking him for forgiveness in order to follow him in their lives and thus prepare for full communion with Him after his final return. The assembly reflects on this message and says: "Yes. Amen!" (Revelation 1:7b). With their "yes" they express their full acceptance of all that has been communicated to them, and they ask that this may truly become a reality. It is the prayer of the assembly that meditates on the love of God supremely manifest on the Cross and asks to live consistently as disciples of Christ.

Then there is God's response: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty" (1:8). God, who reveals himself as the beginning and end of history, receives and takes to heart the assembly's prayer. He was, is, and will be present and active with his love in human events -- in the present and in the future, as in the past, until the final goal has been attained. This is God's promise. And here we find another important element: constant prayer reawakens in us the sense of the Lord's presence in our lives and in history, and his is a presence that sustains us, guides us and gives us great hope, even amid the darkness of certain human events. Furthermore, every prayer, even the one offered in the most radical solitude, is never isolated and is never barren; rather, it is the lifeblood that nourishes a more committed and coherent Christian life.

The second stage of the assembly's prayer (1:9-22) further deepens their relationship with Jesus Christ: the Lord makes himself seen, he speaks, he acts, and the community, ever closer to Him, listens, responds and receives. In the message presented by the reader, St. John recounts one of his own personal experiences of an encounter with Christ: he is on the island of Patmos on account of "the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (1:9), and it is the "Lord's day" (1:10) Sunday, when the Resurrection is celebrated. And St. John is "taken by the Spirit" (1:10a). The Holy Spirit permeates him and renews him, expanding his capacity to receive Jesus, who invites him to write. The prayer of the assembly that is listening gradually assumes a contemplative attitude punctuated by the verbs "it sees," "it gazes": it contemplates, that is, all that the reader proposes to it, interiorizing it and making it its own.

John hears "a loud voice like a trumpet" (1:10b). The voice commands him to send a message "to the seven Churches" (1:11) located in Asia Minor, and through these to all the Churches of all times, together with their Pastors. The expression "voice, like a trumpet," which is taken from the book of Exodus (cf. 20:18), recalls the divine manifestation to Moses on Mount Sinai and it indicates the voice of God, who speaks from his heaven, from his transcendence. Here it is attributed to Jesus Christ the Risen One, who from the glory of God the Father speaks with the voice of God to the assembly gathered in prayer. Turning "to see the voice" (1:12) John catches sight of "seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a Son of man" (1:12-13) -- a particularly familiar expression for John which indicates Jesus himself. The golden lampstands, with their candles alight, indicate the Church of every age, in an attitude of prayer in the Liturgy: the Risen Jesus, the "Son of man," is in her midst and, clothed in the vestments of the High Priest of the Old Testament, he carries out the priestly role of mediator near the Father.

In John's symbolic message, there then follows a luminous manifestation of the Risen Christ, with characteristics belonging to God that hearken back to the Old Testament. He speaks of "hair … white as white wool, white as snow" (1:14), which is the symbol of God's eternity (Daniel 7:9) and of the Resurrection. A second symbol is that of fire, which in the Old Testament is often attributed to God in order to indicate two properties. The first is the jealous intensity of His love that animates His covenant with man (cf. Deuteronomy 4:24). And it is this same burning intensity of love that we read in the gaze of the Risen Jesus: "His eyes were like a flame of fire" (Revelation1:14a). The second is the unrelenting ability to overcome evil like a "devouring fire" (Deuteronomy 9:3). Thus, even "the feet" of Jesus, on the way to confronting and destroying evil, have the glow of "burnished bronze" (Revelation 1:15). Then, the voice of Jesus Christ, "like the sound of many waters" (1:15c), has the impressive roar "of the glory of the God of Israel" that moves toward Jerusalem, spoken of by the prophet Ezekiel (cf. 43:2).

Three more symbolic elements follow thereafter and reveal how much the Risen Jesus is doing for the Church: He holds her firmly in his right hand -- which is a very important image: Jesus holds the Church in his hand -- He speaks to her with the penetrating power of a sharp sword, and he reveals the splendor of His divinity to her: "His face was like the sun shining in full strength" (Revelation 1:16). John is so taken by this marvelous experience of the Risen One, that he feels himself failing and falls as though dead.

After this experience of revelation, the Apostle has before him the Lord Jesus, who speaks with him, reassures him, lays his hand on his head, discloses His identity as the Crucified and Risen One, and he entrusts him with the task of transmitting one of his messages to the Churches (cf. Revelation 1:17-18). How beautiful is this God before whom he falls as though dead. He is the friend of his life, and he lays his hand on his head. And so it will be for us as well: we are friends of Jesus. Therefore, the revelation of the Risen God, of the Risen Christ, will not be terrifying; rather, it will be an encounter with the friend. The assembly experiences with John the special moment of light before the Lord, united, however, with the experience of the daily encounter with Jesus, thereby tasting the richness of contact with the Lord, who fills every space of existence.

In the third and final stage of the first part of Revelation (2-3), the reader proposes a sevenfold message in which Jesus speaks in the first person. Addressed to the seven Churches located in Asia Minor around Ephesus, Jesus' address begins with the particular situations of each of the Churches, and then expands to include the Churches of every age. Jesus enters immediately into the heart of the situation of each Church, emphasizing lights and shadows and addressing them with a pressing invitation: "Repent" (2:5,16; 3:19c); "hold fast what you have" (3:11); "do the works you did at first" (2:5); "be zealous and repent" (3:19b) … This word of Jesus, if listened to in faith, immediately begins to be effective: The Church at prayer, in welcoming the Lord's Word, is transformed. All the Churches must place themselves in attentive listening to the Lord by opening themselves to the Spirit as Jesus insistently asks, seven times repeating this command: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches" (2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22). The assembly hears the message and is moved to repentance, to conversion, to perseverance, to an increase in love, and to guidance for their journey.

Dear friends, Revelation presents to us a community united in prayer, for it is precisely in prayer that we increasingly experience the presence of Jesus with us and in us. The more and better we pray with constancy, with intensity, the more we become like him, and he truly enters into our lives and guides them, bestowing joy and peace. And the more we know, love and follow Jesus, the more we feel the need to take time out in prayer with him, thus receiving serenity, hope and strength in our lives. Thank you for your attention.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we consider the theme of prayer as found at the start of the Book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse. In some ways, it is a difficult book, but it contains many riches. Even the opening verses of the Book contain a great deal: they tell us that prayer means, above all, listening to the God who speaks to us. Today, amid the din of so many useless words, many people have lost the habit of listening, even to God's word. The opening lines of the Apocalypse teach us that prayer is not just more words, asking God to grant our various needs, but rather it must begin as praise to God for his love, and for his gift of Jesus Christ, who has brought us strength, hope and salvation. We are to welcome Jesus into our lives, to proclaim our "Yes!" to Christ and to nourish and deepen our Christian living. Constant prayer will reveal to us the meaning of God's presence in our lives and in history. Prayer with others, liturgical prayer in particular, will deepen our awareness of the crucified and risen Jesus in our midst. Thus, the more we know, love and follow Christ, the more we will want to meet him in prayer, for he is the peace, hope and strength of our lives.

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On Prayer in the 2nd Part of the Book of Revelation

"There are no superfluous, useless prayers; not one of them is lost"

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 12, 2012 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today in Paul VI Hall at the general audience. The Holy Father today continued his reflection on prayer in the book of Revelation.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters,

Last Wednesday I spoke about prayer in the first part of Revelation. Today we move on to the second part of the book; and whereas in the first part, prayer is oriented toward the Church's inner life, in the second, attention is given to the entire world; the Church, in fact, journeys through history; she is part of it, in accordance with God's plan.

The assembly that listened to John's message presented by the reader rediscovered its duty to cooperate in the expansion of the Kingdom of God, as "priests of God and of Christ" (Revelation 20:6; cf. 1:5; 5:10) and it opens out to the world of men. And here, in the dialectical relationship that exists between them, two ways of living emerge: the first we may define as the "system of Christ," to which the assembly is happy to belong; and the second, the "worldly systems opposed to the kingdom and the covenant and activated through the influence of the Evil One," who by deceiving men wills to establish a world opposed to the one willed by Christ and by God (cf. Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Bible and Morality, Biblical Roots of Christian Conduct, 70). The assembly must therefore know how to interpret in depth the history it is living, by learning to discern events with faith in order to cooperate by its action in the growth of the Kingdom of God. And this work of interpretation and discernment, as well as action, is linked to prayer.

First, after the insistent appeal of Christ, who in the first part of Revelation said seven times: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Church" (cf. Revelation 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22), the assembly is invited to ascend to Heaven, to look upon reality through God's eyes; and here we discover three symbols, reference points from which we may begin to interpret history: the throne of God, the Lamb and the book (cf. Revelation 4:1 – 5:14).

The first symbol is the throne, upon which there is seated a person John does not describe, for he surpasses every human representation. He is only able to note the sense of beauty and joy he experiences in His presence. This mysterious figure is God, God Almighty who did not remain enclosed within His heaven but who drew close to man, entering into a covenant with him; God who makes his voice -- symbolized by thunder and lightning -- heard in history, in a mysterious but real way. There are various elements that appear around the throne of God, such as the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures that unceasingly render praise to the one Lord of history.

The first symbol, then, is the throne. The second symbol is the book, which contains the plan of God for events and for men. It is hermetically sealed with seven seals, and no one is able to read it. Faced with man's inability to scrutinize the plan of God, John experiences a deep sadness, which causes him to weep. But there is a remedy for man's dismay before the mystery of history: there is one who is able to open the book and shed light on it.

And here the third symbol appears: Christ, the Lamb immolated in the sacrifice of the Cross, but who stands as a sign of his Resurrection. And it is the Lamb, Christ who died and rose, who gradually opens the seals and unveils the plan of God, the deep meaning of history.

What do these symbols tell us? They remind us of the path to knowing how to interpret the facts of history and of our own lives. By raising our gaze to God's heaven in a constant relationship with Christ, by opening our hearts and our minds to him in personal and communal prayer, we learn to see things in a new way and to grasp their truest meaning. Prayer is like an open window that allows us to keep our gaze turned toward God, not only for the purpose of reminding us of the goal toward which we are directed, but also to allow the will of God to illumine our earthly journey and to help us to live it with intensity and commitment.

How does the Lord guide the Christian community to a deeper reading of history? First and foremost, by inviting it to consider with realism the present moment we are living. Therefore, the Lamb opens the four first seals of the book, and the Church sees the world in which it is inserted, a world in which various negative elements exist. There the evils that man commits, such as violence, which comes from the desire to possess, to prevail against one another to the point of killing one another (second seal); or injustice, as men fail to respect the laws that are given them (third seal). To these are added the evils that man must undergo, such as death, hunger and sickness (fourth seal). Faced with these oftentimes dramatic realities, the ecclesial community is invited to never lose hope, to believe firmly that the apparent omnipotence of the Evil One collides with the true omnipotence, which is God's.

And the first seal the Lamb opens contains precisely this message. John narrates: "And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and its rider had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer" (Revelation 6:2). The power of God has entered into the history of man, [a power] which is not only capable of offsetting evil, but even of conquering it. The color white recalls the Resurrection: God drew so near to us that he descended into the darkness of death in order to illumine it with the splendor of his divine life: he took the world's evil upon himself in order to purify it with the fire of his love.

How do we grow in this Christian understanding of reality? Revelation tells us that prayer nourishes this vision of light and profound hope in each one of us and in our communities: it invites us to not allow ourselves to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good, to look to the Crucified and Risen Christ, who associates us in his victory. The Church lives in history, she is not closed in on herself; but rather, she courageously faces her journey amid difficulties and suffering, by forcefully affirming that ultimately, evil does not conquer the good, darkness does not dim the splendor of God.

This is an important point for us; as Christians we can never be pessimists; we know well that along life's journey we often encounter violence, falsehood, hate and persecution, but this does not discourage us. Above all, prayer teaches us to see the signs of God, of his presence and action; indeed, to be lights of goodness that spread hope and point out that the victory is God's.

This perspective leads us to offer thanksgiving and praise to God and to the Lamb: the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures together sing the "new song" that celebrates the work of Christ the Lamb, who "makes all things new" (Revelation 21:5). But this renewal is first and foremost a gift we must ask for. And here we find another element that should characterize prayer: the earnest entreaty to the Lord that his Kingdom come, and that man may have a heart that is docile to God's dominion, that it be his will that directs our lives and the life of the world.

In the vision contained in Revelation, this prayer of petition is represented by an important detail: "the twenty-four elders" and "the four living creatures" hold, together with the harp that accompanies their song, "golden bowls full of incense" (5:8b) that, as is then explained, "are the prayers of the saints" (5:8b); of those, that is, who have already reached God, but also of all of us who find ourselves on the journey.

And before the throne of God, we see an angel holding a golden censer in which he continually places grains of incense, i.e. our prayers, whose sweet aroma is offered together with the prayers that rise before God (Revelation 8:1-4). It is a symbolism that tells us how all of our prayers -- with all the limits, difficulty, poverty, aridity and imperfections they may have -- are as it were purified and reach the heart of God. We must be certain, therefore, that there are no superfluous, useless prayers; not one of them is lost. And they find a response -- even if it is oftentimes mysterious -- because God is Love and infinite Mercy. The angel -- St. John writes -- "took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on earth; and there were peals of thunder, loud noises, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake" (Revelation 8:5).

This image signifies that God is not indifferent to our prayers; he intervenes and makes his power felt and his voice heard on the earth, he makes the systems of Evil tremble and disrupts them. Often, when faced with evil, we feel incapable of doing anything, but prayer is the first and most effective response that we can give and that strengthens our daily commitment to spreading goodness. The power of God makes our weakness fruitful (cf. Romans 8:26-27).

I would like to conclude with some mention of the final dialogue (cf. Revelation 22:6-21). Jesus repeats several times: "Behold, I am coming soon" (Revelation 22:7,12). This statement does not merely indicate the future perspective of the end of time; it also speaks of the present: Jesus comes. He establishes his dwelling place in the one who believes in him and welcomes him. Then the assembly, guided by the Holy Spirit, repeats to Jesus the pressing invitation to come even closer: "Come" (Revelation 22:17a). It is like the "bride" (22:17) who ardently longs for the fullness of marriage. A third time the invocation is repeated: "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (22:20b); and the reader concludes with an expression that manifests the meaning of this presence: "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints" (22:21).

Revelation, despite the complexity of its symbolism, involves us in a very rich prayer. Therefore, we too listen, praise, give thanks and contemplate the Lord, and ask his forgiveness. Its structure as a great communal liturgical prayer is also a forceful reminder to rediscover the extraordinary and transforming power of the Eucharist; in particular I would like to urge you to be faithful to Holy Mass on Sunday, the Lord's day, Sunday, the true center and heart of the week! The richness of prayer in Revelation makes us think of a diamond, which has a fascinating array of facets, but whose preciousness resides in the purity of its one central core. The evocative forms of prayer that we encounter in Revelation therefore make the unique and inexpressible preciousness of Jesus Christ shine forth. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our continuing catechesis on prayer in the Book of Revelation, we now turn to its teaching on the importance of prayer in the Church's pilgrimage through history. Prayer enables us to discern the events of history in the light of God's plan for the spread of his Kingdom. That plan is symbolized by the book closed with seven seals which only the Lamb, the crucified and risen Lord, can open. In prayer, we see that Christ's final victory over sin and death is the key to all history. While giving thanks for this victory, we continue to beg God's grace for our earthly journey. Amid life's evils, the Lord hears our prayers, strengthens our weakness, and enables us to trust in his sovereign power. The Book of Revelation concludes with Jesus' promise that he will soon come, and the Church's ardent prayer "Come, Lord Jesus!". In our own prayer, and especially in our celebration of the Eucharist, may we grow in the hope of Christ's coming in glory, experience the transforming power of his grace, and learn to discern all things in the light of faith.

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