2012-05-16 Vatican Radio
Continuing his catechesis on Christian prayer, this Wednesday Pope Benedict turned to the teaching of the Apostle Paul, whose letters show us that “in reality there is no human cry that is not heard by God” and that “prayer does not exempt us from trial and suffering”, “but allows us to live and cope with a new force, with the same confidence of Jesus”.
Below a Vatican Radio translation of the original catechesis in Italian
Dear brothers and sisters,
in the last catechesis we reflected on prayer in the Acts of the Apostles, today I would like to begin to talk about prayer in the Letters of St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. I would first like to note that it is no accident that his letters are introduced by and conclude with expressions of prayer: they begin with thanksgiving and praise, and end with the hope that the grace of God guide the path of the communities to which they are addressed. Among the opening salutations: “First, I give thanks to my God through Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1.8), and the final wish: “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (1 Cor 16:23), the contents of the Letters of the Apostle are developed. That of St. Paul is a prayer that is manifested in a wealth of forms, ranging from thanksgiving to blessing, praise to the request and intercession, from hymn to supplication: a variety of expressions that demonstrates how prayer involves and penetrates all situations of life, both personal and community life.
One element that the Apostle would have us understand is that prayer should not be seen simply as a good work done by us towards God, as our own action. It is above all a gift, the fruit of the living, real, life-giving presence of the Father and Jesus Christ in us. In his Letter to the Romans he writes: “In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (Rom 8.26). And we know that is true when the apostle says we do not know how to pray in such a convenient way, we want to pray, but God is far away, we do not have the words, the language to talk with God, not even the thought. We can only open ourselves up, make time available for God; wait for Him to help us truly enter into dialogue. And the Apostle says this lack of words, this absence of words, but this desire to get in touch with God is prayer that the Holy Spirit not only understands, but it brings, interprets before God. This weakness before God through the Holy Spirit becomes real prayer, real contact with God. The Holy Spirit is the interpreter that helps us understand, God understand, what we mean”.
In prayer we experience, more than in other dimensions of existence, our weakness, our poverty, our being creatures, because we are faced with the omnipotence and transcendence of God. The more we progress in ‘listening and in dialogue with God, so that prayer becomes the daily breath of our soul, the more we perceive the sense of our limitations, not only before concrete every day situations, but also in our relationship with the Lord. Thus the need grows within us to increasingly entrust ourselves to and rely on Him; we understand – as the Apostle says – that “we do not know how to pray as we ought “(Rom. 8.26). It is the Holy Spirit who helps our inability, enlightens our minds and warms our hearts, guiding our turning to God. For St. Paul prayer is above all the work of the Holy Spirit in our humanity, who takes on our weakness and transforms from men bound to the material things to spiritual men: in the First Letter to the Corinthians he says, “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms”(2:12-13). Through his living in our human frailty, the Holy Spirit changes us, intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings and leads us to the heights of God (cf. Rom 8.26).
With this presence of the Holy Spirit our union with Christ is realised, since it is the Spirit of the Son of God, in which we become children. St. Paul speaks of the Spirit of Christ (cf. Rom 8.9) and not only the Spirit of God. It is obvious that if Christ is the son of God, his spirit is also the spirit of God, and so if the spirit of God, the spirit of Christ, it becomes very close to us in the Son of God and Son of Man, the Holy Spirit of God becomes human and touches us. We can enter into the communion of the Spirit. It is like saying that not only God the Father made himself visible in the Incarnation of the Son, but the Spirit of God is manifested in the life and work of Jesus Christ who lived, was crucified, died and resurrected. The Apostle reminds us that “no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12.3). So the Spirit directs our hearts to Jesus Christ, so that “we no longer live, but Christ lives in us” (cf. Gal 2.20). In his Catechesis on the Sacraments, reflecting on the Eucharist, St. Ambrose states: “Who is inebriated by the Spirit is rooted in Christ” (5, 3, 17: PL 16, 450).
I would now like to highlight three consequences in our Christian life when we allow not the spirit of the world to operate in us, but the Spirit of Christ as an inner principle of all our actions.
First of all, with prayer animated by the Spirit we are enabled to abandon and overcome every form of fear or slavery, experiencing the true freedom of the children of God. Without the prayer that nourishes our being in Christ every day, in an intimacy that steadily grows, we are in the condition described by St. Paul in the Letter to the Romans Chapter 7: For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. (cf. Rom 7:19). This is the expression of the alienation of human beings, the destruction of our freedom for our being, for original sin. We want good, we do not do it and we do what we do not want, evil. The Apostle would have us understand that it is not above all our will that frees us from this condition, nor the law, but the Holy Spirit. And since “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17), in prayer we experience the freedom bestowed by the Spirit: an authentic freedom which is freedom from evil and sin for good and for life, for God. The freedom of Spirit, St. Paul continues, is never identified either with licentiousness, or with the possibility of choosing evil, but with the “fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. “(Gal 5.22). This is true freedom, to really follow our desire for good, the true joy of communion with God and not be overwhelmed by the circumstances that lead us in other directions.
A second consequence that occurs in our lives when we allow the Spirit of Christ operate in us is that our relationship with God becomes so deep that it is not be impacted by any reality or situation. We understand that with prayer we are not freed from trial or suffering, but we can live them in union with Christ, his sufferings, with a view to participating in his glory (cf. Rom 8.17). Many times, in our prayer, we ask God for deliverance from spiritual and physical evil, and do so with great confidence. However, we often have the impression of not being listened to and then we risk losing heart and perseverance. In reality there is no human cry that is not heard by God, and in constant and faithful prayer we understand with St. Paul that “the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Romans 8:18). Prayer does not exempt us from trial and suffering, indeed – as Saint Paul says – ” we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8, 23), but allows us to live and cope with a new force, with the same confidence of Jesus, who – according to the Letter to the Hebrews – “in the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his reverence “(5.7). The response of God the Father to the Son and his loud cries and tears was not the immediate release from suffering, from the cross, from death, but it was a much greater fulfilment, a much deeper response, through the cross and death God has answered with the resurrection of the Son, with new life. Prayer animated by the Holy Spirit also leads us to live the journey of life each day with its trials and sufferings, in the full hope and trust in God who answers just as he answered his Son.
And the third. Finally, the prayer of the believer is also open to the dimensions of humanity and all of creation, “for creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God;” (Rom 8.19). This means that prayer, sustained by the Spirit of Christ which speaks in the depths of our being, never stays closed in on itself, is never only pray for oneself, but is open to sharing the sufferings of our time, of others. It becomes intercession for others, and so deliverance from oneself, a channel of hope for all creation, an expression of that love of God that is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (cf. Rom 5.5). This is the sign of true prayer which is not for oneself, but open to others. And thus it frees us, thus it helps redeem the world.
Dear brothers and sisters, St. Paul teaches us that in our prayer, we must open ourselves to the presence and action of the Holy Spirit, who prays in us with inexpressible groanings, to bring us to adhere to God with our whole heart and with all our being. The Spirit of Christ becomes the strength of our “weak” prayer, the light of our “dimmed” prayer, the focus of our “dry” prayer, giving us true inner freedom, teaching us to live by facing our trials, in the certainty we are not alone, opening us up to the horizons of humanity and creation “that is groaning in labour pains even until now” (Rom. 8:22). Thank you.