2012-05-09 Vatican Radio
The story of the Lord’s liberation of Peter from prison tells us that the Church, each one of us, “goes through a night of trial”, but that it is the unceasing vigilance of prayer that sustains us, said Pope Benedict Wednesday as he continued his lessons on the power of prayer as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles.
In a very personnel comment on the narrative, the Pope who is the 264th Successor of St Peter, told the thousands who crammed into St Peter’s Square for the Wednesday audience: “I, too, from the first moment of my election as the Successor of St. Peter, I have always felt supported by the prayers of you all, by the prayer of the Church, especially by your prayers, especially during difficult times thank you from my heart”. Applause greeted the Holy Father’s words.
He continued “With constant and trusting prayer the Lord frees us from the chains, guides us through every night of captivity that can gnaw at our hearts, gives us the peace of heart to face the difficulties of life, even rejection, opposition, persecution”. Emer McCarthy reports. Listen:
Below a Vatican Radio translation of Pope Benedict XVI’s catechesis this Wednesday:
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I will touch on the last episode in the life of St. Peter as told in the Acts of the Apostles: his imprisonment by order of Herod Agrippa and his release through the miraculous intervention of the Angel of the Lord, on the eve of his trial in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 12.1 to 17).
The story is once again marked by the prayer of the Church. St. Luke, in fact, writes: “Peter thus was being kept in prison, but prayer by the church was fervently being made to God on his behalf” (Acts 12.5). And, after miraculously walking out of prison, on the occasion of his visit to the house of Mary, the mother of John, Mark, states that “many people gathered in prayer” (Acts 12:12). Between these two important records that show the attitude of the Christian community in the face of danger and persecution, the detention and liberation of Peter is narrated, which comprises all night. The strength of the unceasing prayer of the Church rises to God and the Lord hears and carries out an unthinkable and un-hoped for deliverance, sending His Angel.
The story recalls the great elements of the liberation of Israel from slavery in Egypt, the Passover. As was essential in that event, here too the main action is accomplished by the Angel of the Lord who frees Peter. And the same actions of the Apostle – who is asked to stand up quickly, to put on his belt and sandals – these events are based on those of the elected people on the night of deliverance from God’s intervention when they were invited to eat the lamb in a hurry with their loins girded, sandals on their feet, stick in hand, ready to leave the country (cf. Ex 12:11). Thus, Peter can exclaim: “Now I really know that the Lord sent His Angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod” (Acts 12:11). But the Angel not only recalls the liberation of Israel from Egypt, but also that of the Resurrection of Christ. The Acts of the Apostles tells us so: “Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him”(Acts 12.7). The light that fills the room of the prison, the very act of arousing the Apostle, refers to the liberating light of the Passover of the Lord that overcomes the darkness of the night and evil. The invitation, finally, “Put on your cloak and follow me” (Acts 12.8), echoes in our hearts the words of the initial call of Jesus (cf. Mk 1.17), repeated after the resurrection of the lake of Tiberias, where the Lord says twice to Peter, “Follow me” (Jn 21, 19.22). It is a pressing invitation to follow him: only by coming out of yourself in order to start walking with the Lord and doing His will, will you experience true freedom.
I would like to emphasize another aspect of the attitude of Peter in prison; we note, in fact, that while the Christian community prays earnestly for him, Peter, “was asleep” (Acts 12.6) so says St. Luke. In such a critical situation of serious danger, this attitude may seem odd, but it denotes trust and confidence, he trusts in God, he knows he is surrounded by the solidarity and prayer and abandons himself totally in the hands of Lord. So must be our prayer, assiduous, in solidarity with others, fully trusting that God knows us deeply and takes care of us to the point that – as Jesus says – “the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not be afraid … “(Mt 10, 30-31). Peter lives the night of his captivity and liberation from prison as a follower of the Lord, who overcomes the darkness of the night and frees from the chains of slavery and the danger of death. His release is prodigious, marked by several carefully described steps: guided by the Angel, despite the surveillance of the guards, through the first and second guard post, until the iron door leading into the city: and the door opens on its own in front of them (cf. Acts 12.10). Peter and the Angel of the Lord, travel a stretch of road together until, returning to himself, the Apostle realizes that the Lord has truly freed him and, after some thought, he went into the house of Mary, the mother of Mark where many disciples were gathered in prayer; once again the community’s response to difficulty and danger is to rely on God, strengthening the relationship with Him.
Here it seems useful to recall another difficult situation that the first Christian community experienced. St. James speaks of it in his letter. It is a community in crisis, in difficulty, not because of persecution but because there are jealousies and contentions inside (cf. Jas 3.14 to 16). And the Apostle ponders the reason for this situation. And he finds two principal reasons: the first is allowing oneself to be dominated by passions, by the dictatorship of their own desires, egoism (cf. Jas 4.1-2a), the second is lack of prayer – ” you do not ask,” he says (James 4.2 b) – You ask but 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 together speaks with God, truly praying assiduously and unanimously. Even the discourse on God, in fact, may lose its inner strength and testimony dries up if they are not animated, supported and accompanied by prayer, by the continuity of a living dialogue with the Lord. An important reminder for us and for our communities, both small ones such as the family, as well as more extensive ones such as the parish, the diocese, the whole Church. It makes me think that they prayed in this community of James, but prayed badly, only for their own passions[…]. We must continually learn to pray well, really pray, directed towards God and not towards our own good.
The community, however, that accompanies the imprisonment of Peter is a community that really prays, all night long, deeply united. And it is a sheer joy that fills the hearts of all when the Apostle knocks at the door unexpectedly. It is joy and amazement at the action of God who listens. So from the Church rises the prayer for Peter and he returns to the Church to tell “how the Lord had brought him out of prison” (Acts 12:17). To the Church where he is placed as a rock (cf. Mt 16:18), Peter tells of the “Passover” of his liberation: he experiences that true freedom is in following Jesus, it is surrounded by the radiant light of the Resurrection, and for this he is able to witness to the point of martyrdom that the Lord is Risen, and “for certain that [the] Lord sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod” (Acts 12:11). The martyrdom he goes on to suffer in Rome will join him permanently to Christ, who told him: when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God (cf. Jn 21.18-19).
Dear brothers and sisters, the story of the liberation of Peter as told by Luke tells us that the Church, each of us, goes through the night of trial, but it is the unceasing vigilance of prayer that sustains us. I, too, from the first moment of my election as the Successor of St. Peter, I have always felt supported by the prayers of you all, by the prayer of the Church, especially by your prayers, especially during difficult times thank you from my heart. With constant and trusting prayer the Lord frees us from the chains, guides us through every night of captivity that can gnaw at our hearts, gives us the peace of heart to face the difficulties of life, even rejection, opposition, persecution. The episode of Peter shows this power of prayer. And the Apostle, though in chains, feels confident in the certainty of never being alone: the community is praying for him, the Lord is near, even he knows that “the strength of Christ is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12.9). Unanimous and constant prayer is a precious instrument in overcoming all of the trials that may arise in the path of life, because it is our being deeply united with God that allows us to also be deeply united to others. Thank you.
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I offer a warm welcome to the participants in the Conference on Combating Human Trafficking hosted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. My greeting also goes to the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce from New York. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Scotland, Denmark, Sweden, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and the United States, I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings.