On Jesus' Prayer as Love for God and Neighbor

"Petition, Praise and Thanksgiving Should Coalesce"

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 14, 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 reflections on Jesus' prayer.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like to reflect with you on Jesus’ prayer as it relates to His prodigious healing action. In the Gospels, various situations are presented in which Jesus prays before the beneficent and healing work of God the Father, who acts through Him. It is a prayer that manifests once again His unique relationship of knowledge and communion with the Father, as Jesus becomes involved in a deeply human way in the difficulties of His friends; for example, of Lazarus and his family, or of the many poor and sick whom He wills to help concretely.

One important instance is the healing of the deaf man (Mark 7:32-37). The Evangelist Mark’s account -- which we just heard -- shows that Jesus’ healing action is connected to His intense relationship both with His neighbor -- the man who is ill -- and with the Father. The scene of the miracle is carefully described in this way: “And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they besought Him to lay His hand upon him. And taking him aside from the multitude privately, He put His fingers into his ears and He spat and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him ‘Ephphata’, that is, ‘Be opened’.” (7:33-34).  

Jesus wills that the healing occur “aside, [away] from the multitude”. This seems due not only to the fact that the miracle had to be kept hidden from the people to avoid their forming limited or distorted interpretations of the person of Jesus. The choice of taking the sick man aside causes Jesus and the deaf-mute to be alone -- close together in a unique relationship -- at the moment of the healing. 

With a gesture, the Lord touches the ears and tongue of the man who is ill; i.e., the specific sites of his infirmity. The intensity of Jesus’ attention is revealed also in the unusual features of the healing: He uses His own fingers and even His own saliva. Also the fact that the Evangelist reports the original word pronounced by the Lord -- “Ephphata”, or “Be opened!” -- emphasizes the scene’s unique character.

But the central focus of this episode is the fact that Jesus -- at the moment He performs the healing -- looks directly to His relationship with the Father. The account says in fact that, “looking up to heaven, He sighed” (Verse 34). The attention given to the man who is ill, Jesus’ care for him, is tied to a profound attitude of prayer to God. And the sigh He emits is described with a word that, in the New Testament, indicates the aspiration to something good that is still lacking (cf. Romans 8:23). 

The whole narrative, then, shows that human involvement with the man who is ill leads Jesus to prayer. Once again, His unique relationship with the Father re-emerges -- His identity as the Only Begotten Son. In Him, through His person, God’s healing and beneficent action is made present. It is not by chance that the people’s final comment following the miracle recalls the appraisal of creation found at the beginning of Genesis: “He has done all things well” (Mark 7:37). 

Prayer enters clearly into Jesus’ healing action, with His gaze towards heaven. Certainly, the power that healed the deaf-mute was caused by [Jesus’] compassion for him, but it finds its origin in [His] recourse to the Father. The two relationships meet: the human relationship of compassion with the man, which enters into the relationship with God and thus becomes a healing.

In the Joannine account of the raising of Lazarus, this same dynamic is attested to with still greater evidence (cf. John 11:1-44). Here also are interwoven -- on one hand -- Jesus’ bond with a friend and his suffering -- and on the other -- His filial relationship with the Father. 

Jesus’ human participation in the story of Lazarus has several special features. His friendship with him, as well as with his sisters Martha and Mary, is recalled repeatedly throughout the account. Jesus Himself affirms: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep” (John 11:11). His sincere affection for His friend is emphasized also by the sisters of Lazarus, as well as by the Jews (cf. John 11:3; 11:36); it manifests itself in Jesus’ being deeply moved at the sight of Martha's and Mary’s sorrow and of all of Lazarus’ friends, and it leads Him to weep -- so deeply human -- as He approaches the tomb: “When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept (John 11:33-35).

This bond of friendship, Jesus’ involvement and emotion before the suffering of Lazarus’ relatives and acquaintances, is interlinked throughout the narrative with a continual and intense relationship with the Father. From the outset, Jesus interprets the event in relation to His very identity and mission, and to the glorification that awaits Him. When he hears of Lazarus’ illness, in fact, He comments: “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it” (John 11:4). 

The announcement of His friend’s death is also received by Jesus with profound human pain, but always with clear reference to His relationship with God and to the mission entrusted to Him; He says: “Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe” (John 11:14-15). The moment of Jesus’ explicit prayer to the Father before the tomb is the natural climax of the entire episode, which reaches across this double register of friendship with Lazarus and of filial relationship with God. Here also the two relationships go together. “Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.” (John 11:41): it is a Eucharist.

The phrase reveals that Jesus did not retreat -- even for an instant -- from His prayer of petition for Lazarus’ life. His prayer continued; indeed, it strengthened the bond with His friend, and at the same time, it confirmed Jesus’ decision to remain in communion with the Father’s Will, with His plan of love, in which Lazarus’ illness and death are regarded as a place where the glory of God is made manifest.

Dear brothers and sisters, in reading this narrative each one of us is called to understand that in the prayer of petition to the Lord, we must not expect an immediate fulfillment of our requests, of our will; rather, we must entrust ourselves to the Father’s Will, interpreting each event within the perspective of His glory, of His design of love, which is often mysterious to our eyes.

This is why -- in our prayer -- petition, praise and thanksgiving should coalesce, even when it seems to us that God is not responding to our concrete expectations. Abandonment to God’s love, which precedes and accompanies us always, is one of the attitudes at the heart of our conversation with Him. The Catechism of the Catholic Church comments in this way on Jesus’ prayer in the account of the raising of Lazarus: “Jesus’ prayer, characterized by thanksgiving, reveals to us how to ask: before the gift is given, Jesus commits Himself to the One who in giving gives Himself. The Giver is more precious than the gift; He is the ‘treasure’; in Him abides His Son’s heart; the gift is given ‘as well’”(Matthew 6:21 and 6:33) (2604).

This seems to me to be very important: before the gift is given, to adhere to Him who gives; the Giver is more precious than the gift. Also for us, then, beyond what God gives us when we call upon Him, the greatest gift He can give us is His friendship, His presence, His love. He is the precious treasure we should ask for and treasure always.

The prayer Jesus utters as the stone is rolled from the entrance to Lazarus’ tomb also presents a singular and unexpected development. In fact, after having given thanks to God the Father, He adds: “I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me” (John 11:42). With His prayer, Jesus wills to lead [us] to faith, to total trust in God and in His Will, and He wants to show that this God who so loved man and the world as to send His Only Begotten Son (cf. John 3:16), is the God of Life, the God who brings hope and who is able to reverse situations that are humanly impossible. The trustful prayer of a believer is therefore a living witness of this presence of God in the world, of His interest in man, of His action in realizing His plan of salvation.

The two prayers of Jesus that we have meditated upon -- which accompany the curing of the deaf-mute and the raising of Lazarus -- reveal that the deep bond between the love of God and the love of neighbor must enter into our prayer also. In Jesus, true God and true man, attention to the other -- especially to the needy and the suffering -- being moved before the sorrow of a beloved family, leads Him to turn to the Father, in that fundamental relationship that guides the whole of His life. But the opposite is also true: communion with the Father, constant dialogue with Him, drives Jesus to be uniquely attentive to the concrete situations of men in order to bring to them the consolation and love of God. The relationship with our fellow men leads us to the relationship with God, and [our relationship] with God leads us anew to our neighbor.

Dear brothers and sisters, our prayer opens the door to God, who teaches us to go out of ourselves constantly so that we might be able to become close to others, especially in moments of trial, to bring them consolation, hope and light.  May the Lord grant that we be capable of prayer that is ever more intense, so that our personal relationship with God the Father may be strengthened. May He open our hearts to the needs of those around us and enable us to feel the beauty of being “sons in the Son” together with so many brothers and sisters. 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 continuing catechesis on prayer, we now consider Jesus’ own prayer, particularly in the context of his miracles of healing. Both the cure of the deaf man (Mk 7:32-37) and the raising of Lazarus (Jn 11:1-44) show us Jesus at prayer before cases of human suffering. His prayer on these occasions reveals not only his profound identification with the suffering but also his unique relationship with the Father. In the case of the deaf man, Jesus’ compassion leads him to introduce his prayer with a deep sigh (v. 34). In the case of Lazarus, he is deeply moved by the sorrow of Martha and Mary, and weeps before the tomb of his friend. At the same time, he sees the tragedy of Lazarus’ death in the light of the Father’s will and of his own identity and mission. Jesus’ example teaches us that in our own prayers we must always trust in the Father’s will and strive to see all things in the light of his mysterious plan of love. We too must join petition, praise and thanksgiving in every prayer, knowing that the greatest gift God can give us is his friendship, and that our example of prayer can open our hearts to our brothers and sisters in need and point others to God’s saving presence in our world.

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I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors present, including the groups from Vietnam, Nigeria and the United States. As we prepare to celebrate the Saviour’s birth at Christmas, I cordially invoke upon you and your families his abundant blessings of joy and peace!

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

[In Italian, he said:]

Lastly, my thoughts go to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. Dear young people, may your hearts be ready to welcome Jesus, who saves us by the power of His love. Dear sick, who experience more keenly the weight of the cross, may the approaching Christmas feasts bring you serenity and comfort. And may you, dear newlyweds, grow ever more in the love that Jesus came to give us by His birth.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]