During his general audience, held this morning in the Paul VI Hall, Benedict XVI continued his ongoing series of catecheses on the subject of prayer in the Letters of St. Paul.
“Our prayers are often a request for help in our hour of need”, he said. “That is natural because we need help, the help of other people and of God. We must also bear in mind that the prayer Christ taught us, the Our Father, is just such a petition. With that prayer the Lord teaches us our priorities. Yet, although it is natural to ask for things in prayer, that is not the only reason to pray. There is also cause to give thanks, … because we receive so many good things from God. Thus prayer should also be praise and, if we open our hearts, we come to realize that, despite all problems, creation is beautiful and good”.
In chapter one of his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul praises God “because ‘he has made known to us the mystery of his will’. … For believers ‘mystery’ does not so much mean the unknown as the merciful will of God, His plan of love which was fully revealed in Jesus Christ and offers us the chance ‘to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth … and depth’ of that love”. The unknown mystery of God has been revealed and it is that God, ever since the beginning and for all eternity, loves us.
The Pope noted how the Apostle reflects on the reasons for praising God by presenting the fundamental elements and the various stages of the divine plan. “Firstly we must bless God the Father because He … called us into existence, He called us to sanctity, … and we have been in His plan and His thoughts forever. … The vocation to sanctity and communion with God is part of His eternal plan, a plan which stretches over history and which includes all the men and women of the world, because the call is universal. God excludes no one, His plan is exclusively a plan of love. … The Apostle highlights the gratuitous nature of this marvelous design for humankind”, the Holy Father said.
At the heart of prayer of praise St. Paul shows us the form in which the Father’s plan of salvation is realized in Christ. “Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was the unique and unrepeatable event by which the Father demonstrated … His love for us, not just in words, but in concrete terms. God is so tangible that His love entered history, it became man to experience life and sensation in this world. So tangible is His love that it shares not only in our life, but also in our suffering and in our death. The sacrifice of the cross makes us ‘the property of God’. The blood of Christ … washes us of all evil and removes us from the slavery of sin and death”.
Finally the divine blessing closes with a reference to the Holy Spirit which has been suffused in our hearts. “Redemption is not yet concluded. … It will reach fullness when those whom God has acquired will be completely saved. We are all journeying towards redemption. … God wants us to be free, He wants our ‘yes’ to be free. We travel this road of redemption together with Christ and thus redemption is fulfilled”.
“In prayer we learn to see the signs of this merciful plan in the journey of the Church”, the Holy Father concluded. “Thus do we grow in the love of God, opening the door for the Blessed Trinity to come and dwell among us, bringing us light and warmth and guiding our lives. … Prayer generates men and women not animated by egoism, desire to posses and thirst for power, but by gratuitousness, the desire to love and serve. In other words, they are animated by God, and only in this way can we bring light into the darkness of the world”.