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”

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 30, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope continued with his 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 (c
f. 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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I greet the distinguished delegations from various countries taking part in the meeting promoted by the Community of Sant’Egidio on the theme: No Justice without Life. I express my hope that your deliberations will encourage the political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a growing number of countries to eliminate the death penalty and to continue the substantive progress made in conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims present, including those from the United States, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!

© Copyright 2011 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

[In Italian, he said:]

Finally, I address an affectionate thought to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. Dear young people, I invite you to rediscover intimacy with Christ within the spiritual atmosphere of Advent, by placing yourselves in the school of the Virgin Mary. I recommend to you, dear sick, to pass this period of more intense waiting and prayer by offering your sufferings to the Lord who comes for the salvation of the world. Lastly, I exhort you, dear newlyweds, to be builders of authentic Christian families, taking your inspiration from the Holy Family of Nazareth, to whom we look especially in this time of preparation for Christmas.

[Translation by Diane Montagna] 

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