Pope Notes Early Church Faced Persecution With Prayer

Wednesday Audience Returns to Theme of Communication With God

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By Ann Schneible

ROME, APRIL 20, 2012 (Zenit.org).- As Christians look to the approaching feast of Pentecost, Pope Benedict, in his papal audience this past Wednesday, reflected upon on the integral role of prayer in the life of the nascent Church.

Repeatedly in the accounts given by the writers of the New Testament, such as the time which Mary and the Apostles spent waiting for the descent of the Holy Spirit, it is seen that "an atmosphere of prayer accompanied the Church's first steps."

"Pentecost," the Pope clarified, "is not an isolated episode since the presence and action of the Holy Spirit constantly guide and animate the path of the Christian community." For instance, in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke recalls how, after St. Peter and St. John healed a paralytic and were arrested for preaching the Gospel, they returned and recounted their experiences, at which time St. Luke says they “all together lifted their voice to God” (Acts 4:24).

"Here," says the Holy Father, "St. Luke reports the longest of the Church’s prayers that we find in the New Testament, at the end of which, as we have heard, 'the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness' (Acts 4:31)."

The Pontiff noted the significance of community prayer of the early Church. "In the face of danger, difficulty, threats, the first Christian community does not try to conduct an analysis about how to react or seek strategies about how to defend itself, about what measures to adopt, but in the face of trial, they pray."

"The Church," he continued, "must not fear the persecutions that it will undergo in its history but trust always, as Jesus did at Gethsemane in the presence, help and power of God, invoked in prayer."

The content of the prayers of the Christian community, moreover, is not for preservation from persecution, but for strength in proclaiming the Gospel. "First, however, it tries to understand more deeply what has happened, it tries to interpret the events in the light of faith and it does this precisely through God's Word, which permits us to decipher the world's reality."

The prayer of the community begins, first, with the acknowledgement that all things are in the hands of the Creator. The community then reflects on how God has acted and continues to act throughout the salvation history of man. "It begins with creation and then continues through history – how he has been near to his people, showing himself to be a God who cares for man, who has not retreated, who does not abandon man, his creature."

"In prayer," Poe Benedict continued, "meditation on Sacred Scripture in the light of the mystery of Christ is an aid to interpreting the reality present in the history of salvation that God realizes in the world, always in his own way."

Again, the early Christian community did not ask God to be "defended, to be saved from trial, from suffering." Their prayer is "not a prayer for success, but only to proclaim with 'parresia,' that is, with boldness, with freedom, with courage, the Word of God (cf. Acts 4:29)."

"The community then adds that this proclamation be accompanied by the hand of God, that healings, signs, wonders might occur (cf. Acts 4:30), that is, that God's goodness be visible, as a power that transforms reality, that changes hearts, minds and men's lives and brings the radical newness of the Gospel."

It is at the conclusion of this prayer that, St. Luke observes, the fruits of the prayer are revealed: "The effusion of the Spirit, gift of the Risen One, that supports and guides the free and courageous proclamation of the Word of God, who drives the Lord's disciples to leave the house without fear to bring the good news to the ends of the earth."

Pope Benedict then called all Christians to unite the "events of our daily lives into our prayer, to find their deeper meaning, so that "like the first Christian community, we too, letting ourselves be enlightened by God's Word through meditation on Holy Scripture, can learn to see that God is present in our lives, present even and precisely in difficult moments, and that everything – even things that are incomprehensible – is part of the superior design of love in which the final victory over evil, over sin and over death is truly that of goodness, of grace, of life, of God."

"Guided by the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ," he concluded, "we will be able to face every situation of life with serenity, courage and joy and boast with St. Paul 'in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces patience, patience proved virtue and proved virtue hope”: that hope that “does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been bestowed upon us' (Romans 5:3-5)."

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