During his general audience this morning Benedict XVI concluded a series of catecheses dedicated to the prayer of Jesus. Today he turned his attention to the theme of alternating words and silence which characterized Christ’s earthly life, above all on the Cross, and which is also significant in two aspects of our own lives.
Addressing the 10,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope explained that the first of these aspects “concerns accepting the Word of God. Interior and exterior silence are necessary in order to hear that Word”, he said. Yet, “our age does not, in fact, favor reflection and contemplation; quite the contrary it seems that people are afraid to detach themselves, even for an instant, from the spate of words and images which mark and fill our days”.
However, “the Gospels often show us … Jesus withdrawing alone to a place far from the crowds, even from His own disciples, where He can pray in silence”. Moreover, “the great patristic tradition teaches us that the mysteries of Christ are linked to silence, and only in silence can the Word find a place to dwell within us”.
“This principle”, the Holy Father went on, “holds true for individual prayer, but also for our liturgies which, to facilitate authentic listening, must also be rich in moments of silence and of non verbal acceptance. … Silence has the capacity to open a space in our inner being, a space in which God can dwell, which can ensure that His Word remains within us, and that love for Him is rooted in our minds and hearts, and animates our lives”.
The Pope then turned to focus on the second important aspect of the relationship between silence and prayer. “In our prayers”, he said, “we often find ourselves facing the silence of God. We almost experience a sense of abandonment; it seems that God does not listen and does not respond. But this silence, as happened to Jesus, does not signify absence. Christians know that the Lord is present and listens, even in moments of darkness and pain, of rejection and solitude. Jesus assures His disciples and each one of us that God is well aware of our needs at every moment of our lives”.
“For us, who are so frequently concerned with operational effectiveness and with the results … we achieve, the prayer of Jesus is a reminder that we need to stop, to experience moments of intimacy with God, ‘detaching ourselves’ from the turmoil of daily life in order to listen, to return to the ‘root’ which nourishes and sustains our existence. One of the most beautiful moments of Jesus’ prayer is when, faced with the sickness, discomfort and limitations of his interlocutors, He addresses His Father in prayer, thus showing those around him where they must go to seek the source of hope and salvation”.
Christ touches the most profound point of His prayer to the Father at the moment of His passion and death, Pope Benedict said. And citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church he concluded by noting that “His cry to the Father from the cross encapsulated ‘all the troubles, for all time, of humanity enslaved by sin and death, all the petitions and intercessions of salvation history are summed up in this cry of the incarnate Word. Here the Father accepts them and, beyond all hope, answers them by raising His Son. Thus is fulfilled and brought to completion the drama of prayer in the economy of creation and salvation'”.