On Prayer in St. Pauls Second Letter to the Corinthians
"In our prayer we are called to say yes to God and to respond with the amen of adherence"
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VATICAN CITY, MAY 30, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave during the general audience held in St. Peter’s Square. Today the Holy Father continued his series of catecheses on prayer in the Letters of St. Paul.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
In these catecheses we are pondering prayer in the letters of St. Paul, and we are seeking to see Christian prayer as a true and personal encounter with God the Father, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. In today’s meeting, God’s faithful “yes” enters into dialogue with believers’ trustful “amen”. I wish to emphasize this dynamic by considering the Second Letter to the Corinthians. St. Paul sends this impassioned letter to a Church that has repeatedly questioned his apostleship, and he opens his heart so that his hearers might be reassured of his fidelity to Christ and to the Gospel. This Second Letter to the Corinthians begins with one of the loftiest prayers of blessing contained in the New Testament. It reads: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Paul suffered great tribulation and had to pass through many difficulties and afflictions, but he never yielded to discouragement, for he was sustained by grace and by the nearness of the Lord Jesus Christ, for whom he had become an apostle by surrendering his entire life to Him. For this reason, Paul begins this Letter with a prayer of blessing and thanksgiving to God -- for there was never a moment in his life as an apostle of Christ that he felt the support of the merciful Father, of the God of all consolation, lessen. He suffered terribly -- he says it in this Letter -- but amidst all these situations, when a path forward didn’t seem to open, he received consolation and comfort from God.
He also suffered persecutions to the point of being imprisoned for the sake of proclaiming Christ, but he always felt interiorly free, animated by the presence of Christ, and filled with desire to announce the Gospel’s word of hope. Thus, from prison he writes to Timothy, his faithful coworker. In chains he writes: “The Word of God is not fettered. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:9b-10). In his suffering for Christ, he experiences the consolation of God. He writes: “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:5).
In the prayer of blessing that introduces the Second Letter to the Corinthians, what prevails in addition to the theme of affliction is the theme of consolation, which should not be understood as simple comfort, but rather as encouragement and exhortation not to let oneself be conquered by tribulation and difficulties. The invitation is to live every situation in union with Christ, who takes all of the world’s suffering and sin upon Himself in order to bring light, hope and redemption. And in this way, Jesus makes us capable of consoling those who are afflicted in any way. Profound union with Christ through prayer and faith in His presence leads to a readiness to share in the sufferings and afflictions of others. St. Paul writes: “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is scandalized and I do not tremble?” (2 Corinthians 11:29). This ‘sharing in’ does not originate in benevolence, in human generosity or in a spirit of altruism; rather, it flows from the consolation of the Lord, from the unshakeable support of the “transcendent power that comes from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Dear brothers and sisters, our lives and our journey are often marked by difficulty, by misunderstandings, by suffering. We all know this to be true. In being faithful to our relationship with the Lord through constant, daily prayer we too are able to feel concretely the consolation that comes from God. And this strengthens our faith, because it makes us experience concretely God’s “yes” to man, to us, to me, in Christ; it makes us feel the fidelity of His love, which extends even to the gift of His Son on the Cross. St. Paul affirms: “The Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not “yes” and “no”; but in Him it is always “yes”. For all the promises of God find their “yes” in Him. That is why we utter the “amen” through Him, to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:19-20). God’s “yes” is not halfway; it does not vacillate between “yes” and “no”; rather, it is a simple and sure “yes”. And we respond to this “yes” with our “yes”, with our “amen” and it is in this way that we remain secure in God’s “yes”.
Faith is not primarily a human action; rather, it is a gratuitous gift of God rooted in His fidelity, in His “yes”, which makes us understand how to live our lives by loving Him and our brothers and sisters. The whole of salvation history is a progressive self-revelation of the God’s faithfulness despite our infidelity and our rejection, in the certainty that “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable!” as the Apostle declares in the Letter to the Romans (11:29).
Dear brothers and sisters, God’s way of acting – which is very different from our own – gives us consolation, strength and hope, because God does not take back His “yes”. In the face of conflict in human relationships, even with members of our families, we are inclined not to persevere in gratuitous love, which requires commitment and sacrifice. God, on the other hand, never tires of us; He never tires of being patient with us, and with His immense mercy He always goes before us; He goes out to meet us first; His “yes” is entirely worthy of our trust. In the event of the Cross, He offers us the measure of His love, which neither calculates nor measures. In the Letter to Titus, St. Paul writes: “The goodness of God our Savior and His love for men has appeared” (Titus 3:4). And in order that that this “yes” might be renewed each day, “He has anointed us and has sealed us and given the pledge of the Spirit in our hearts” (2 Corinthians 1:21b-22).
It is the Holy Spirit, in fact, who makes God’s “yes” in Jesus Christ continually present and alive and it is He who creates in our hearts the desire to follow Him, in order to one day enter fully into His love, when in heaven we will receive a dwelling place not fashioned by human hands. There is no person who is not sought and summoned by this faithful love, a love that is capable of waiting even for those who continually respond with the “no” of rejection or with hardness of heart. God waits for us; He always seeks us out; He wills to receive us into communion with Himself in order to give each one of us fullness of life, of hope and of peace.
The Church’s “amen,” which resounds in every liturgical action, is grafted onto God’s faithful “yes”: “amen” is the response of faith that always concludes our personal and communal prayer, and that expresses our “yes” to God’s initiative. In prayer, we often respond with our “amen” through habit, without grasping its profound meaning. This term comes from ‘aman, which in Hebrew and Aramaic means “to make stable” to “strengthen” and, consequently, “to be certain”, “to tell the truth”.
If we look to Sacred Scripture, we see that this “amen” is pronounced at the end of the Psalms of blessing and of praise, as in Psalm 41, for example: “You have upheld me by reason of my integrity: and have established me in Your sight forever. Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel from eternity to eternity. Amen. Amen.” (Verses 13-14). Or it expresses adherence to God, at the time when the People of Israel return full of joy from Babylonian exile and pronounce their “yes”, their “amen” to God and to His Law. In the Book of Nehemiah, it is said that, after this return, “Ezra opened the book in the sight of all people, for he was above all the people; and when he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God; and all the people answered: ‘Amen, amen,” lifting up their hands (Nehemiah 8:5-6).
From the beginning, therefore, the “amen” of the Jewish liturgy became the “amen” of the first Christian communities. And the book on the Christian liturgy par excellence is the Apocalypse of St. John, which begins with the Church’s “amen”: “To Him who loves us and who freed us from our sins by His blood, who made us a kingdom, priests for His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (Apocalypse 1:5b-6). So it is in the first chapter of the Apocalypse. And the same Book concludes with the invocation: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Apocalypse 22:21).
Dear friends, prayer is an encounter with a living Person to whom we should listen and with whom we should converse; it is an encounter with God who renews His unshakeable faithfulness, His “yes” to man, and to each one of us, in order to give us His consolation in the midst of storms and to make us live a life united with Him, full of joy and goodness, that will find its fulfillment in life eternal.
In our prayer we are called to say “yes” to God and to respond with the “amen” of adherence, of faithfulness to Him with our whole life. We can never attain to this fidelity by our own powers; it is not only the fruit of our daily commitment; it comes from God and is founded on the “yes” of Christ, who says: “my food is to do the will of the Father (cf. John 4:34). We must enter into this “yes”, [we must] enter into this “yes” of Christ, in adherence to the will of God, in order that we might say with St. Paul that it is no longer we who live, but Christ himself who lives in us. Then the “amen” of our personal and communal prayer will envelop and transform the whole of our lives, into a life of consolation, a life immersed in eternal and unshakeable Love. Thank you.
[Translation by Diane Montagna]
[In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our continuing reflection on prayer in the letters of Saint Paul, we now consider the Apostle’s striking affirmation that Jesus Christ is God’s “Yes” to mankind and the fulfilment of all his promises, and that through Jesus we say our “Amen”, to the glory of God (cf. 2 Cor 1:19-20). For Paul, prayer is above all God’s gift, grounded in his faithful love which was fully revealed in the sending of his Son and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, poured forth into our hearts, leads us to the Father, constantly making present God’s “Yes” to us in Christ and in turn enabling us to say our “Yes” – Amen! – to God. Our use of the word “Amen”, rooted in the ancient liturgical prayer of Israel and then taken up by the early Church, expresses our firm faith in God’s word and our hope in his promises. Through this daily “Yes” which concludes our personal and communal prayer, we echo Jesus’ obedience to the Father’s will and, through the gift of the Spirit, are enabled to live a new and transformed life in union with the Lord.
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I welcome the Vietnamese pilgrims from the Archidiocese of Hochiminh City, led by Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Mân. I also welcome the participants in the Buddhist-Christian Symposium being held in Castelgandolfo. My greeting likewise goes to the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation from the United States. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, including those from England, Ireland, Norway, India, Indonesia, Japan and the United States I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!
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[In Italian, he said:]
I am particularly pleased to greet young people, the sick and newlyweds. May the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Risen Christ, guide you, dear young people, and make you capable of decisively directing your lives toward the good; may He sustain you, dear sick, in receiving suffering as a mysterious instrument of salvation for yourselves and for your brothers and sisters; and may He help you, dear newlyweds, to rediscover each day the demands of love, and to be always ready to understand and support one another.
My thoughts turn once more to the dear people of Emilia, who were hit by further aftershocks, which caused deaths and enormous damage, especially to the churches. I am close in prayer and affection to the wounded and to those who have suffered great inconvenience, and I wish to express my deepest condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives. I hope that, with everyone’s help and with the solidarity of the entire country, they may be able to return as soon as possible to normal life in those areas that have been so sorely tried.
The events of recent days involving the Curia and my collaborators have brought sadness to my heart. However, I have never lost my firm certainty that, despite the weakness of man, despite difficulties and trials, the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and the Lord will ensure she never lacks the help she needs to support her on her journey.
Nonetheless there has been increasing conjecture, amplified by the communications media, which is entirely gratuitous, goes beyond the facts and presents a completely unrealistic image of the Holy See. Thus, I wish to reiterate my trust and encouragement to my closest collaborators and to all those people who every day, with faithlessness, and with a spirit of sacrifice and in silence, help me to carry out my ministry.