Having recently completed a series of catecheses dedicated to prayer in the Old Testament, the Pope began a new cycle on the subject of the prayer of Christ which, he said, was “like a hidden canal irrigating His life, relationships and actions, and guiding Him with increasing firmness to the total gift of self, in keeping with the loving plan of God the Father”.
One particularly significant moment of prayer followed the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. This, the Pope noted, poses a query as to why Jesus, Who was without sin, should have chosen to submit Himself to John’s Baptism of penance and conversion. John the Baptist himself raised the question, saying “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”. The Holy Father explained how “by emerging Himself in the Jordan River, Jesus … expressed His solidarity with people who recognize their sins, who chose to repent and change their lives. He helps us to understand that being part of the people of God means entering into a new life, a life in conformity with God. By this gesture Jesus anticipated the cross, beginning His active life by taking the place of sinners, bearing the weight of the sin of all humankind on His shoulders”.
By praying after His Baptism, Jesus demonstrates His intimate bond with the Father, “experiencing His paternity and apprehending the demanding beauty of His love. Speaking to God, Jesus receives confirmation of His mission”, with the words that resound from on high: “This is my son, the Beloved” and with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him. “Through prayer”, the Pope said, “Jesus lives in uninterrupted contact with the Father in order to achieve His project of love for mankind”. It is in this profound union with the Father that Jesus made the move for the hidden life of Nazareth to His public ministry.
Jesus’ prayer had its roots in His family, deeply attached to the religious tradition of the People of Israel, but its “most profound and essential origin is in the fact that He is the Son of God, in a unique relationship with God the Father”. In the Gospel narratives “the setting for Jesus’ prayers always stands at the crossroads between the traditions of His people and the novelty of a personal and unique rapport with God. The ‘deserted place’ to which He often retired, the ‘mountain’ He ascended to pray and the ‘night’ which gave Him solitude, all recall phases of God’s revelation in the Old Testament and indicate the continuity of His plan of salvation”.
“Jesus’ prayer enters into all stages of His ministry and into every day of His life. It is not interrupted by fatigue. Quite the contrary, the Gospels make it clear that Jesus was wont to spend part of the night in prayer, … and when the decisions to be taken become more urgent and complex, His prayer becomes longer and more intense”.
“Contemplating Jesus’ prayer, we should ask ourselves how we pray”, said Benedict XVI, “and how much time we dedicate to our relationship with God”. In this context he highlighted “the importance of the prayerful reading of Holy Scripture. … Listening, meditating and remaining in silence before the Lord is an art we learn through constant practice”, he said.
Christians are today called “to be witnesses of prayer, because our world often remains closed to the divine, to the hope which leads to the encounter with God. Through profound friendship with Jesus, by living in Him and with Him as children of the Father, through faithful and constant prayer, we can open ourselves to heaven and God. Indeed, by following the paths of prayer, … we can also help others to follow them”.
In conclusion, the Holy Father exhorted the faithful “to maintain an intense relationship with God, to pray, not intermittently but constantly and faithfully, so as to illuminate our lives as Jesus taught us. And let us ask Him to help us communicate with those around us, with those whom we meet on our journey, transmitting to them the joy of meeting the Lord, light of life”.