Pope Francis began a new series of catecheses on the “Our Father” at his December 5, 2018, General Audience in Paul VI Hall. And if there was any doubt about the core message the Holy Father wanted to deliver, he made it inescapable: “Jesus Prayed.”
In fact, Jesus prayer constantly. In public. In private. In the morning, Late at night.
“The Gospels have given us very vivid portraits of Jesus as a man of prayer,” the Pope said. “Despite the urgency of His mission and the urgency of so many people that claim Him, Jesus feels the need to withdraw in solitude to pray.”
Pope Francis cited the example of the start of Jesus’ public ministry at Capernaum, where he healed many and performed miracles. The people were amazed and came to him for healing and hear him speak. The prophesies were being fulfilled before their very eyes.
Many more such days were to come, days that could have produced adulation and attention. The people would have made Jesus their leader. Yet he withdraws in every case, avoiding the crowds – to pray.
“He does not end up a hostage of the expectations of those that have now chosen Him as a leader, which is a danger for leaders: to attach themselves too much to people and not distance themselves,” Francis explained. “Jesus realizes this and does not end up a hostage of the people. From the first night at Capernaum, He shows Himself an original Messiah.
“In the last part of the night, when dawn was now breaking, the disciples seek Him again but cannot find Him. Where is He? Until Peter finally tracks Him down in an isolated place, completely absorbed in prayer. And he says to Him: ‘Everyone is searching for You!’ (Mark 1:37).”
The Holy Father explains that Jesus is apart from the crowds, praying because “it’s not for the people to seek Him, but it is, first of all, He who is to seek others…In some page of Scripture, it seems to be first of all the prayer of Jesus, His intimacy with the Father that governs all.”
Again, Francis cites an image from scripture, Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is about to enter the agonizing final days of His mission on earth. And where is he? He is in prayer.
“Jesus prayed intensely in public moments, sharing the liturgy of His people, but He also sought secluded places, separated from the whirl of activity of the world, places that allowed Him to descend into the secret of His soul: He is the Prophet who knows the stones of the desert and goes up high on mountains,” Francis explained. “Jesus’ last words before expiring on the cross were words of the Psalms, namely, of prayer, of the prayer of the Jews: He prayed with the prayers that His Mother had taught Him.”
The Holy Father reminded the crowd in Paul VI Hall that Jesus was the disciples’ teacher – of prayer. Seeing him so often in deep prayer, they asked him to teach them. And of course, he taught them the “Our Father.”
Pope Francis urged the faithful to make the same plea during Advent:
“It will be good, in this Season of Advent, to repeat it: ‘Lord, teach me to pray.’ We can all go a bit further and pray better, but we must ask the Lord for it: ‘Lord, teach me to pray.’ Let’s do this, in this Season of Advent, and He will surely not let our invocation fall into the void.”