Here is a ZENIT working translation of Pope Francis’ address during this morning’s General Audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall:
THE HOLY FATHER’S CATECHESIS
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning. Among Israel’s prophets, a somewhat anomalous figure stands out in Sacred Scripture, a prophet who tries to flee from the Lord’s call, refusing to put himself at the service of the divine plan of salvation. It is the prophet Jonah, whose story is narrated in a small book of only four chapters, a sort of parable bearer of a great teaching, that of God’s mercy, who forgives.
Jonah is an “outgoing” prophet, and also a prophet in flight! He is an outgoing prophet that God sends “to the periphery,” to Nineveh, to convert the inhabitants of that great city. However, for an Israelite like Jonah, Nineveh represented a threatening reality, the enemy that put Jerusalem itself in danger, and therefore to be destroyed, certainly not to be saved. Hence, when God sends Jonah to preach in that city, the prophet, who knows the Lord’s goodness and His desire to forgive, attempts to withdraw from his task and flees.
During his flight, the prophet comes into contact with pagans, mariners of the ship on which he embarked to flee from God and from his mission. And he flees far away, because Nineveh was in the region of Iraq and he flees to Spain, he flees in earnest. And it is, in fact, the behavior of these men, as it will be later of the inhabitants of Nineveh, which enables us to reflect somewhat today on hope, which in face of danger and death, is expressed in prayer.
In fact, during the crossing of the sea, a mighty tempest breaks out and Jonah goes down to the ship’s hold and abandons himself to sleep. The mariners, instead, seeing themselves lost, “each cried to his god”: they were pagans (Jonah 1:5). The captain of the ship awoke Jonah and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call upon your god. Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we do not perish” (Jonah 1:6).
The reaction of these “pagans” was the right reaction in face of death, in face of danger, because it is then that man has a complete experience of his frailty and his need of salvation. The instinctive horror of dying awakens the necessity to hope in the God of life. “Perhaps the god will give thought to us, that we do not perish”: are the words of hope that becomes prayer, that supplication full of anguish that comes to the lips of man in face of the imminent danger of death.
We disdain too easily from turning to God in our need as if it were only a self-interested prayer and, hence, imperfect. However, God knows our weakness, He knows that we remember Him to ask for help, and with the indulgent smile of a father, He responds benevolently.
When Jonah, acknowledging his responsibilities, had himself thrown into the sea to save his travel companions, the tempest was placated. Imminent death led those pagan men to prayer and, despite everything, made the prophet live his vocation at the service of others, accepting to sacrifice himself for them, and now leads the survivors to acknowledgement of the true Lord and to praise. The mariners who, prey to fear, turned to their gods and prayed, now, with sincere fear of the Lord, acknowledge the true God and offer sacrifices and make vows. Hope, which had induced them to pray so that they would not die, is now revealed more powerful and operates a reality that goes beyond what they hoped for: not only do they not perish in the tempest, but they open themselves to the acknowledgement of the true and only Lord of Heaven and earth.
Subsequently, the inhabitants of Nineveh, in face of the prospect of being destroyed, also prayed, spurred by hope in God’s forgiveness. They would do penance, invoke the Lord and be converted to Him, beginning with the king, who, like the captain of the ship, gave voice to hope saying: “Who knows, God may yet repent and turn from His fierce anger, so that we perish not?” (Jonah 3:9). For them too, as well as for the crew in the tempest, to have faced death and come out saved led them to the truth. Thus, under divine mercy, and even more so in the light of the Paschal Mystery, death can become, as it was for Saint Francis of Assisi, “our sister death” and represent for every man and for each one of us, the astonishing occasion to know hope and to encounter the Lord. May the Lord make us understand this connection between prayer and hope. Prayer leads one forward in hope and when things become dark, there must be more prayer! And there will be more hope. Thank you.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
A warm welcome goes to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I greet the pilgrimage of the Augustinian Sisters Servants of Jesus and Mary, the Augustinian Religious and the Association of Catholic Notaries, accompanied by the Archbishop of Assisi, Monsignor Domenico Sorrentino. To all I express the wish that the visit to the Eternal City may stimulate each one to reflect further on the Word of God to be able to recognize within it, Jesus the Savior.
Finally, I greet young people, the sick and newlyweds. Today the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins, which this year makes us reflect on the love of Christ, which pushes to reconciliation. Dear young people, pray so that all Christians may return to be one family; dear sick, offer your sufferings for the cause of the unity of the Church; and you, dear newlyweds, experience gratuitous love like God’s for humanity.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]