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Man in Prayer

Catechesis by Benedict XVI    
General Audience, Wednesday 4 May 2011 - also in Croatian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to start a new series of catecheses. After the catecheses on the Fathers of the Church, on the great theologians of the Middle Ages, on great women, I would now like to choose a theme that is very dear to us all: it is the theme of prayer, specifically Christian prayer, the prayer, that is, that Jesus taught us and that the Church continues to teach us. It is in Jesus in fact that man becomes capable of approaching God with the depth and intimacy of a relationship of paternity and sonship. Together with the first disciples, let us then turn to the Master
with humble trust and ask Him: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11, 1).

In the upcoming catecheses, in approaching Sacred Scripture, the great tradition of the Fathers of the Church, of the Teachers of spirituality and the Liturgy, we wish to learn to live
our relationship with the Lord even more intensely, as it were at a “School of prayer”. We know well, in fact, that prayer should not be taken for granted: it is necessary to learn to pray, as it were acquiring this art ever anew; even those who are well advanced in the spiritual life feel the need to go always to the school of Jesus so as to learn to pray with authenticity. We receive the first lesson from the Lord through his example. The Gospels describe to us Jesus in intimate and constant dialogue with the Father: it is a profound communion of the One who came into the world not to do his will, but that of the Father who sent him for the salvation of man.

In this first catechesis, as an introduction, I would like to propose some examples of prayer present in ancient cultures, so as to observe how, practically always and everywhere, they turned to God.

I begin with ancient Egypt, as example. Here a blind man, asking the divinity to restore his sight, attests to something universally human, which is the pure and simple prayer of request by one who is suffering, this man prays: “My heart desires to see you ... You who have made me see the darkness, create for me the light. That I may see you! Bend over me your beloved face” (A. Barucq - F. Daumas, Hymnes et prières de l'Egypte ancienne, Paris 1980). That I may see you; this is the nucleus of prayer!

Among the religions of Mesopotamia an arcane, paralyzing sense of
guilt dominated, though not deprived of the hope of ransom and liberation by God. We can thus appreciate this supplication by a believer of these ancient cults, which resonates thus: “O God who is indulgent even about the gravest fault, absolve my sin... Look, Lord, at your exhausted slave and breathe upon him your breeze: without waiting forgive him. Alleviate your severe punishment. Freed from my bonds, let me breathe again; break my chains, undo my ties”  (M.-J. Seux, Hymnes et prières aux Dieux de Babylone et d’Assyrie, Paris 1976). They are expressions that demonstrate how man, in his search for God, has intuited, albeit confusedly, on the one hand his fault, on the other hand aspects of mercy and divine goodness.

Within the pagan religion of ancient Greece, a very significant evolution is seen: prayers, while continuing to invoke divine help so as to obtain celestial favour in every circumstance of daily life and so as to obtain material benefits, are progressively orientated towards more disinterested requests, which allowed the believer to deepen his relationship with God and become better. For example, the great philosopher Plato records a prayer of his teacher Socrates, rightly considered one of the founders of Western thought. Socrates prayed thus: “Grant that I may be beautiful within. That I may consider rich the one who is wise
and that I may possess only as much money as a wiseman may take and carry. I do not ask for more” (Opere I. Fedro 279c). He would like above all to be beautiful within and wise, and not rich in money.

In those sublime all time masterpieces of literature which are the Greek tragedies, still today, after twenty-five centuries, read, reflected upon and performed, are contained prayers which express the desire to know God and to adore his majesty. One of these tragedies reads as follows: “O Lord, Zeus! Pillar of the Earth upon which you have your throne! Who you are and what you are is impossible for mortals to fathom. Hear my prayer, Lord, whether you are a human thought or a natural law! Your ways are silent, Zeus, yet you drive all human affairs towards justice!” (Euripedes, Trojan Women, 884-886). God remains a bit nebulous and nevertheless man knows this unknown god and prays to the one who guides the ways of the earth.

Also among the Romans, who constituted that great empire in which Christianity was born and largely spread, prayer, even if associated with a utilitarian conception and fundamentally linked to the request for divine protection over the life of the civil community, sometimes opens up to invocations admirable for the fervour of personal piety, which is transformed into praise and thanksgiving.
Apuleius, an author from Roman Africa in the second century after Christ, bears witness to this. In his writings he manifests his contemporaries’ dissatisfaction with regard to traditional religion and the desire for a more authentic relationship with God. In his masterpiece, entitled Metamorphoses, a believer turns to a female divinity with these words: “Holy divinity, eternal source of salvation, adorable protector of mortals, who in their evils lavish upon them the affection of a tender mother; not a day, not a night, not a moment goes by which is not marked by one of your benefactions” (Apuleius of Madaura, Metamorphosis IX, 25).

During the same period the emperor Marcus Aurelius — who was also a philosopher who reflected on the human condition — affirms the need to pray so as to establish a fruitful cooperation between divine action and human action. In his Memories, he writes: “Who told you that the gods do not help us equally in that which depends on us? So begin to pray to them and you will see” (Dictionary of Spirituality XII/2, col 2213). This advice of the emperor philosopher has been effectively put into practice by innumerable generations prior to Christ, thereby demonstrating that human life without prayer, which opens our existence to the mystery God, becomes deprived of meaning and reference. In every prayer, in fact, is always
expressed the truth of the human creature, who on the one hand experiences weakness and indigence, and therefore asks for help from Heaven, and on the other hand is endowed with an extraordinary dignity, because, in preparing to welcome the divine Revelation, she discovers himself capable of entering into communion with God.

Dear friends, in these examples of prayers from different epochs and civilizations emerges the awareness that the human being has of his condition as a creature and of his dependence on an Other superior to him and source of every good. The man of every age prays because he cannot help but wonder what is the meaning of his existence, which remains obscure and bleak, if it is not put in relation to the mystery of God and of his plan for the world. Human life is an intertwining of good and evil, of undeserved suffering and of joy and beauty, which spontaneously and irresistibly impels us to ask God for that light and inner strength which help us on earth and disclose a hope that goes beyond the confines of death. The pagan religions remain an invocation which, from the earth, awaits a word from Heaven.
Proclus of Constantinople, one of the last great pagan philosophers, who lived in an epoch already fully Christian, gives voice to this expectation, saying: “Unknowable, no one contains you. All that which we think belongs to you. Our evil and our good are from you, our every yearning depends on you, O ineffable one, whom our souls feel present, raising to you a hymn of silence” (Hymni).

In the examples of prayer of various cultures, which we have considered, we can see a testimony of the religious dimension and of the desire for God inscribed in the heart of every man, which find fulfilment and full expression in the Old and New Testaments. Revelation, in fact, purifies and brings to its fullness man’s original longing for God, offering him, in prayer, the possibility of a deeper relationship with the heavenly Father.

At the beginning of our pathway in the “School of prayer” we therefore wish to ask the Lord to illuminate our minds and hearts so that the relationship with Him in prayer may be ever more intense, affectionate and constant. Once again, let us say to Him: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11, 1)."

Man in Prayer (II)

Catechesis by Benedict XVI      
General Audience, Wednesday 11 May 2011 - also in Croatian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to continue to reflect upon how prayer and the religious sense have made up part of man throughout his history.

We live in an epoch in which the signs of secularism are evident. God seems to have disappeared from the horizon of various people or to have become a reality towards which one remains indifferent. Yet at the same time we see many signs that indicate to us a reawakening of the religious sense, a rediscovery of the importance of God for the life of man, a demand for spirituality, for surpassing a purely horizontal, material vision of human life. Looking at recent history, the prediction has failed of those who, from the epoch of the Enlightenment, have foretold the disappearance of religions and exalted an absolute reason, detached from faith, a reason that had to dispel the shadows of religious dogmatisms and dissolve the “world of the sacred”, restoring to man his freedom, dignity and autonomy from God. The experience of the last century, with the two tragic world wars, put in crisis this progress which autonomous reason, man without God, seemed to be able to guarantee.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “Through creation, God calls every being from nothingness into existence... Even after having lost his resemblance to God because of sin, man remains in the image of his Creator. He retains the desire for the One who calls him into existence. All religions bear witness to this essential search on the part of men” (n 2566). We could say - as I showed in my last catechesis - that there has not been any great civilization, from the most distant times up to our day, which has not been religious.

Man is by his nature religious, he is homo religiosus just as he is homo sapiens and homo faber: “The desire for God” the Catechism further affirms, “is written in the heart of man, because man is created by God and for God” (n 27). The image of the Creator is imprinted on his being and he feels the need to find a light so as to give an answer to the questions that concern the profound meaning of reality; an answer that he cannot find in himself, in progress, in empirical science. The homo religiosus does not stand out only in the ancient worlds, he traverses the whole history of humanity. In this regard, the rich terrain of human experience has seen arise various forms of religiosity, in the attempt to respond to the desire for fullness and happiness, to the need for salvation, to the search for meaning. The “digital” man, like the cave man, seeks in the religious experience ways to overcome his finiteness and to secure his precarious earthly adventure. Moreoever, life without a transcendent horizon would not have a full meaning, and happiness, to which we all tend, is spontaneously projected towards the future, in a tomorrow that has yet to be accomplished.
The Second Vatican Council, in its declaration Nostra Aetate, underlined it synthetically: “Men await from the various religions the answer to the hidden enigmas of the human condition which, yesterday as today, profoundly agitate the heart of man: the nature of man [ - who am I? - ], the meaning and purpose of our life, good and sin, the origin and purpose of suffering, the way to reach true happiness, death, judgement and retribution after death, finally the ultimate and ineffable mystery that surrounds our existence, from whence we draw our origin and towards which we tend” (n 1). Man knows that he cannot respond on his own to his fundamental need to understand. However much he has deluded himself and still deludes himself as being self-sufficient, he has the experience of not being sufficient to himself. He needs to open himself to the other, to something or to someone, who can give him that which he lacks, he must go out of himself towards the One who is able to fill the breadth and depth of his desire.

Man bears within himself a thirst for the infinite, a nostalgia for eternity, a search for beauty, a desire for love, a need for light and truth which push him towards the Absolute; man bears within himself the desire for God. And man knows, in some way, that he can turn to God, he knows he can pray to Him. St Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians of history, defines prayer as the "expression of the desire that man has for God”. This attraction towards God, which God himself has placed in man, is the soul of prayer, which then covers itself with many forms and modalities according to the history, the time, the moment, the grace and even the sin of each pray-er. The history of man has, in effect, known various forms of prayer, because he has developed different modalities of openness towards the Other and towards the Beyond, such that we can recognize prayer as an experience present in each religion and culture.

In fact, dear brothers and sisters, as we saw last Wednesday, prayer is not linked to a particular context, but is found inscribed in the heart of each person and of each civilization. Naturally, when we speak of prayer as the experience of man as such, of the homo orans, it is necessary to keep in mind that it is an interior attitude before being a series of practices and formulas, a way of being in front of God before being the accomplishment of acts of worship or the pronouncement of words. Prayer has its centre and sinks its roots in the innermost depths of the person; thus it is not easily decipherable and, for the same reason, can be subject to misunderstanding and mystification. In this sense too we can understand the expression: to pray is difficult. In fact, prayer is the place par excellence of gratuitousness, of tension towards the Invisible, the Unexpected and the Ineffable. Thus, the experience of prayer is for everyone a challenge, a “grace” to invoke, a gift of the One to whom we turn.

In prayer, in every epoch of history, man considers himself and his situation in front of God, starting from God and in relation to God, and experiences being a creature needful of help, incapable of procuring by himself the fulfilment of his own existence and his own hope. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein recalled that “to pray means to feel that the meaning of the world is outside of the world”. In the dynamic of this relationship with the one who gives meaning to existence, with God, prayer has one of its typical expressions in the gesture of kneeling. It is a gesture that carries in itself a radical ambivalence: in fact, I can be forced to get on my knees — a condition of indigence and slavery — but I can also kneel spontaneously, declaring my limit and, thus, my having need of an Other. To him I declare being weak, needy, “a sinner”. In the experience of prayer, the human creature expresses all her self-awareness, all that which she succeeds in grasping of her own existence and, at the same time, turns all of herself towards the Being in front of whom she stands, she orientates her own soul to this Mystery from whom she awaits the fulfilment of her deepest desires and help to overcome the indigence of her own life. In this looking at an “Other”, in this going “beyond” is found the essence of prayer, as experience of a reality that overcomes the sensible and the contingent.

However only in God who reveals himself does man’s search find full fulfilment. Prayer which is openness and elevation of the heart to God becomes thus personal relationship with Him. And even if man forgets his Creator, the living and true God does not cease to call man first to the mysterious encounter of prayer. As the Catechism affirms: “This step of love of the faithful God always comes first in prayer; the step of man is always a response. As God gradually reveals himself and reveals man to his own self, prayer appears as a reciprocal call, an event of the covenant. Through words and acts, this event engages the heart. It is revealed throughout the whole history of salvation” (n 2567).

Dear brothers and sisters, let us learn to stand still more before God, before God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ, let us learn to recognize in silence, in the intimacy of ourselves, his voice which calls us and leads us back to the depth of our existence, to the fount of life, to the source of salvation, so as to make us go beyond the limit of our life and to open ourself to the measure of God, to relationship with Him, who is Infinite Love. Thank you."


"Je salue les pèlerins de langue française et les membres du Comité Directeur de la Fédération Internationale des Corps et Associations Consulaires ! Je vous exhorte tous à prier. Invitez également à prier vos enfants, vos parents et vos amis. Vous apprendrez à reconnaître dans le silence de votre cœur, la voix du Dieu d’amour révélé en Jésus-Christ. Avec ma bénédiction !

I offer a warm greeting to the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing visiting Rome for a programme of spiritual renewal. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Canada and the United States, I invoke an abundance of joy and peace in the Risen Christ!

Mit Freude grüße ich die deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. Lernen wir wieder neu, vor Gott still zu werden und innezuhalten. Gerade in der Stille hören wir seine Stimme, die uns zur Quelle des Lebens ruft, um uns über alle Begrenzung hinauszuführen und auf die Größe Gottes hin zu öffnen, zur Gemeinschaft mit ihm, der die unendliche Liebe ist, nach der wir alle verlangen. Gott segne und begleite Euch alle!

Saludo cordialmente a los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular a los jóvenes de Guatapé, Colombia, así como a los grupos provenientes de España, México, Panamá, Argentina y otros países latinoamericanos. Os invito a que entrando en el silencio de vuestro interior aprendáis a reconocer la voz que os llama y os conduce a lo más intimo de vuestro ser, para abriros a Dios, que es Amor Infinito. Muchas gracias.

Amados peregrinos de língua portuguesa, sede bem-vindos! A todos saúdo com grande afeto e alegria, particularmente aos fiéis brasileiros vindos das paróquias em Goiânia e Teresópolis, e aos grupos da Família Franciscana e de Schoenstatt. Aprendei a reconhecer no vosso íntimo a voz de Deus que, na oração, chama à profundidade da vossa existência, à fonte da vida e da salvação. Que Ele vos abençoe a vós e as vossas famílias!

Serdeczne pozdrowienie kieruję do Polaków. Moi drodzy, nasze życie wiary kształtuje się na modlitwie, gdy stajemy przed Bogiem, który objawił się w Jezusie Chrystusie, w milczeniu uczymy się wsłuchiwać w Jego głos, odkrywamy głębię Jego nieskończonej miłości, która nadaje sens naszemu istnieniu. Niech modlitwa wypełnia naszą codzienność. Niech Bóg wam błogosławi.

Srdečně zdravím poutníky z České republiky. V tomto velikonočním období rozjímáme o tajemství Vzkříšeného Krista. Ten, který nás znovu zrodil k novému životu, ať vás naplní veškerou milostí a nebeskou útěchou. Ze srdce vám žehnám! Chvála Kristu.

S uskrsnom radošću od srca pozdravljam i blagoslivljam sve hrvatske hodočasnike, a osobito članove Zajednice Krvi Kristove. Želja je Uskrslog Gospodina da budemo misionari i svjedočimo Njegovu ljubav svakom stvorenju. Ne bojte se odgovoriti ovom pozivu. Hvaljen Isus i Marija!

Su džiaugsmu sveikinu maldininkus iš Lietuvos! Brangūs bičiuliai, šį Marijai skirtą gegužės mėnesį, pavedu jus Bažnyčios Motinos globai. Ji tepadeda jums siekti teisingumo ir taikos. To linkėdamas, laiminu jus ir jūsų šeimas. Garbė Jėzui Kristui!

S láskou vítam slovenských pútnikov, osobitne z Detvy, Starej Ľubovne, Liptova, ako aj z Košíc: z Gymnázia svätej Edity Steinovej a z Gymnázia svätých Košických mučeníkov. Bratia a sestry, milí mladí, vaša návšteva Ríma - sídla Petrovho nástupcu - nech vo vás posilní povedomie, že aj vy patríte do Kristovej Cirkvi. S týmto želaním vás zo srdca žehnám. Pochválený buď Ježiš Kristus!

Щиро вітаю вірних з України. У цей Марійський місяць вручаю вас опіці Пречистої Діви, Мaтері Церкви. Нехай Вона перебуває з вами у цьому вашому паломництві. Від щирого серця уділяю всім вам та вашим родинам Апостольське благословення. Слава Ісусу Христу!

Isten hozta a magyar zarándokokat! Első helyen köszöntöm az egri főegyházmegye papjait, akik főpásztoruk, Ternyák Érsek Úr vezetésével érkeztek, továbbá a budapesti csoport tagjait és a bécsi Pázmáneum csoportját. Május hónapjában a Boldogságos Szűz Máriának, az Egyház Anyjának ajánlak Titeket. Szívesen adom Rátok és az Úr szőlőjében végzett munkátokra Apostoli Áldásomat. Dicsértessék a Jézus Krisztus!

* * *

Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare saluto i partecipanti al pellegrinaggio promosso dalla “Società Divine Vocazioni”, in occasione della beatificazione del fondatore don Giustino Russolillo e li invito, sull’esempio del nuovo Beato, a proseguire nell’impegno di conformazione a Cristo, tendendo alla misura alta della vita cristiana, la santità. Saluto i fedeli della Diocesi di Gubbio, accompagnati dal loro Pastore Mons. Mario Ceccobelli e qui convenuti durante l’anno giubilare del patrono Sant’Ubaldo; a ciascuno auguro un generoso impegno di testimonianza cristiana per contribuire a diffondere il Vangelo in ogni ambito della società.

Lastly, I address the young people, the sick and the newlyweds, urging all to intensify the devout practice of the Holy Rosary, especially in this month dedicated to the Mother of God. I ask you, dear young people, to appreciate this traditional Marian prayer, which helps one to understand better and to assimilate the central events of Salvation brought by Christ. I urge you, dear sick people, to turn with trust to Our Lady through this devout practice, entrusting to her all your needs. I hope that you, dear newlyweds, will make recitation of the Rosary in the family a moment of spiritual growth under the gaze of the Virgin Mary."