Dec. 28: On the Holy Family's Prayer

"Learn More and More to Say With Your Whole Existence: 'Father'"

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 1, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave Dec. 28 during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope continued with his series of catecheses on prayer, reflecting on prayer in the life of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today's meeting takes place within the Christmas atmosphere, imbued with intimate joy in the Savior's birth. We have just celebrated this mystery, and its echo resounds in the liturgies throughout these days. It is a mystery of light that men of every age may relive in faith and prayer. It is precisely through prayer that we are enabled to draw near to God with intimacy and depth. For this reason, bearing in mind the theme of prayer that I am developing at this time in the catecheses, today I would like to invite you to reflect on the place of prayer in the life of the Holy Family of Nazareth. The home of Nazareth, in fact, is a school of prayer where we learn to listen, to ponder and to penetrate the profound meaning of the manifestation of the Son of God, drawing our example from Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

The address of the Servant of God Paul VI during his visit to Nazareth remains memorable [in this regard]. The Pope said that, in the school of the Holy Family, "we come to understand the need for a spiritual discipline, if we wish to follow the teaching of the Gospel and become disciples of Christ." And he added: "First, it teaches us silence. Oh! That there would be reborn in us the esteem for silence, that wonderful and indispensable atmosphere of the spirit: while we are deafened by so many noises, sounds and clamorous voices in the frantic and tumultuous times of modern life. Oh! Silence of Nazareth, teach us to be resolute in good thoughts, intent upon the interior life, ready to listen well to the secret inspirations of God and the exhortations of the true masters" (Address at Nazareth, Jan. 5, 1964).

We can glean several insights on the Holy Family's prayer and relationship with God from the Gospel accounts of Jesus' childhood. We may begin with the Presentation of Jesus in the temple. St. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph, "when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, brought the child up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord" (2:22). Like every observant Jewish family, Jesus' parents go up to the temple to consecrate the firstborn son to God and to offer sacrifice. Moved by fidelity to the law's prescriptions, they set off from Bethlehem and go up to Jerusalem with Jesus, who is now forty days old. Instead of a one-year-old lamb, they present the offering of simple families; that is, two young pigeons. The Holy Family's pilgrimage is one of faith, of the offering of gifts, a symbol of prayer, and of encounter with the Lord, whom Mary and Joseph already see in the son Jesus.

The contemplation of Christ has in Mary its matchless model. The face of the Son belongs to her in a special way, since it was in her womb that He was formed, taking from her also a human resemblance. No one has dedicated himself to the contemplation of Jesus as devotedly as did Mary. Her heart's gaze focuses upon Him already at the moment of the Annunciation, when she conceived Him through the power of the Holy Spirit; in the months that follow, little by little she feels His presence, until the day of His birth, when her eyes are able to gaze with maternal tenderness upon the face of her Son, while she wraps Him in swaddling clothes and lays Him in the manger.

The memories of Jesus -- fixed in her mind and in her heart -- marked every moment of Mary's life. She lives with her eyes on Christ and she treasures His every word. St. Luke says: "For her part [Mary] kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (2:19) and in this way he describes Mary's attitude before the Mystery of the Incarnation, an attitude that will extend throughout her entire life: to keep all these things, pondering them in her heart. Luke is the evangelist who makes Mary's heart known to us, her faith (cf. 1:45), her hope and obedience (cf. 1:38), above all her interiority and prayer (cf. 1:46-56) and her free adherence to Christ (cf. 1:55). And all this proceeds from the gift of the Holy Spirit who descends upon her (cf. 1:35) as He will descend upon the Apostles according to Christ's promise (cf. Acts 1:8).

The image of Mary given us by St. Luke presents Our Lady as a model for every believer who keeps and confronts Jesus' words and actions, a confrontation that always involves a growth in the knowledge of Jesus. In the wake of Blessed Pope John Paul II (cf. Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae) we may say that the prayer of the rosary draws its model from Mary, since it consists in contemplating Christ's Mysteries in spiritual union with the Mother of the Lord.

Mary's ability to live by the gaze of God is, as it were, contagious. The first to experience this was St. Joseph. His humble and sincere love for his betrothed, and the decision to unite his life to Mary's, also attracted and introduced him who was already a "just man" (Matthew 1:19) into unique intimacy with God. In fact, with Mary -- and above all, with Jesus -- he enters into a new way of relating to God, of welcoming Him into his own life, of entering into His plan of salvation, by fulfilling His will. After having trustingly followed the Angel's instructions -- "do not fear to take Mary your wife" (Matthew 1:20) -- he took Mary to himself and shared his life with her; he truly gave himself totally to Mary and to Jesus, and this led him toward the perfect response to the vocation he had received.

The Gospel, as we know, has not preserved any of Joseph's words: His is a silent but faithful, constant and active presence. We may imagine that he also, like his spouse, and in intimate harmony with her, lived the years of Jesus' childhood and adolescence savoring, as it were, His presence in their family. Joseph completely fulfilled his paternal role in every respect. Certainly, he educated Jesus in prayer, together with Mary. He, in a particular way, would have taken [Jesus] with him to the synagogue for the Sabbath rituals, as well as to Jerusalem, for the great feasts of the people of Israel. Joseph -- according to Hebrew tradition -- would have guided family prayer both in daily life -- in the morning, in the evening, at meals -- as well as in the major religious celebrations. Thus, in the rhythm of the days spent in Nazareth, between their simple dwelling and Joseph's workshop, Jesus learned to alternate prayer and work, and also to offer to God the struggle of earning the bread the family needed.

And lastly, another episode that sees the Holy Family of Nazareth gathered together in prayer: Jesus, we heard -- at the age of 12 -- went with his parents to the temple in Jerusalem. As St. Luke emphasizes, this episode occurs within the context of the pilgrimage: "His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom" (2:41-42).

The pilgrimage is a religious expression that is at once nourished by prayer, and [in turn] nourishes it. Here we are speaking of the Passover pilgrimage, and the Evangelist has us observe that Jesus' family takes part in it each year so that they might participate in the rituals in the Holy City. The Hebrew family, like the Christian family, prays in the intimacy of the home, but also prays together with the community -- seeing themselves as part of the pilgrim people of God -- and the pilgrimage expresses precisely the People of God being on a journey. The Passover is the center and summit of it all, and involves the family dimension as well as that of the liturgical and public cult.

In the episode of the 12-year-old Jesus, Jesus' first words are also recorded: "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (2:49). After searching for three days, His parents find him in the temple sitting in the midst of the teachers while he listens to them and asks them questions (cf. 2:46). When asked why He did this to His father and mother, He responds that He only did what a Son should do: that is, be near the Father. In this way, He indicates who the true Father is, what the true home is, that He did nothing strange or disobedient. He remained where the Son had to be, that is, close to the Father, and He emphasizes who His Father is.

The word "Father" dominates the focus of this response and the whole Christological mystery appears. This word, therefore, opens the mystery; it is the key to the mystery of Christ, who is the Son, and it also opens the key to our mystery as Christians -- we who are sons in the Son. At the same time, Jesus teaches us how to be sons -- precisely by being with the Father in prayer. The Christological mystery, the mystery of Christian existence, is intimately bound to, and founded upon prayer. Jesus will one day teach His disciples to pray, telling them: when you pray, say "Father." And, naturally, do not say it only with a word, say it with your lives, learn more and more to say with your whole existence: "Father" -- thus will you be true sons in the Son, true Christians.

Here, when Jesus is still fully a part of the life of the Family of Nazareth, it is important to note the resonance that hearing the word "Father" from Jesus' mouth would have had in the hearts of Mary and Joseph, [to hear Him] reveal and emphasize who the Father is, and to hear this word spoken from His mouth in the awareness of the Only Begotten Son, who on this account willed to remain for three days in the temple, which is the "Father's house."

From then on, we may imagine, life in the Holy Family was filled even more with prayer, since from the heart of the Child Jesus -- and then from the adolescent and young man -- this profound sense of relationship with God the Father unceasingly poured forth and was reflected in the hearts of Mary and Joseph. This episode shows us the true situation, the atmosphere of being with the Father. Thus, the Family of Nazareth is the first model of the Church, in which -- gathered around the presence of Jesus and thanks to His mediation -- everyone lives the filial relation with God the Father, which also transforms human interpersonal relationships.

Dear friends, on account of the various aspects I have briefly traced out in the light of the Gospel, the Holy Family is the icon of the domestic Church, which is called to pray together. The family is the domestic Church and must be the first school of prayer. In the family, children -- from the most tender age -- can learn to perceive the sense of God, thanks to their parents' teaching and example: to live in an atmosphere marked by the presence of God. An authentically Christian education cannot prescind from the experience of prayer. If we do not learn how to pray within the family, it will be difficult to fill this void. And for this reason, I would like to address to you the invitation to rediscover the beauty of praying together as a family in the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth. In this way, will you truly become but one heart and mind, a true family. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

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In English, he said:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our continuing catechesis on prayer leads us, during this Christmas season, to reflect on the place of prayer in the life of the Holy Family of Nazareth. In the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we learn to contemplate the mystery of God's presence and to grow as faithful disciples of Christ. The Gospels present Mary as the supreme model of prayerful medition on the mysteries of Christ's life; in praying the Rosary, in fact, we unite ourselves to her contemplation of those mysteries in faith and hope. Saint Joseph fulfilled his vocation as the father of the Holy Family by teaching Jesus the importance of quiet fidelity to work, prayer and observance of the precepts of the Law. Jesus' unique relationship with his heavenly Father was reflected in the prayer life of the Holy Family and stands at the heart of all Christian prayer. May the example of the Holy Family inspire all Christian families to be schools of prayer, where parents and children alike come to know that closeness to God which we joyfully celebrate in these days of Christmas.

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I offer a warm welcome to the students and teachers from the Oak International Academies. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present, including the pilgrimage groups from Ireland, and the United States, I cordially invoke an abundance of joy and peace in Christ our Newborn Saviour!

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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In Italian he said:

Lastly, I address an affectionate thought to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. The feast of the Holy Family, which we will soon celebrate, is a propitious occasion to rethink our relationships and our affections. Dear young people, look to the Holy Family and imitate them, by allowing yourselves to be formed by God's love, the model of human love. Dear sick, with Mary's help entrust yourselves always to the Lord, who knows your sufferings and who, uniting them with His own, offers them for the salvation of the world. And you, dear newlyweds, who wish to build your homes on the rock of God's Word, make your homes, in imitation of the home of Nazareth, a welcoming place, full of love, understanding and forgiveness.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]