School of prayer – Class #4

May 27, 2011

Those who attend the annual Scranton Charismatic Conference have likely seen the University of Scranton’s statue of Jacob wrestling the “angel” in one of the commons areas.  Pope Benedict used that incident from Genesis 32:23-32 as the lesson in the fourth class of his school of prayer.  I’m glad he did, because that’s one of the bible stories that I never quite understood.

After reviewing the context of the Scripture passage, and recapping the wrestling match for us, our Holy Father sheds light on an Old Testament concept:

To know someone’s name, in fact, implies a kind of power over the person, since the name, in biblical thinking, contains the most profound reality of the individual; it unveils his secret and his destiny. Knowing someone’s name therefore means knowing the truth of the other, and this allows one to be able to dominate him. When, therefore, at the stranger’s request, Jacob reveals his own name, he is handing himself over to his opponent; it is a form of surrender, of the total giving over of himself to the other.

With that explained, the Pope provides an interpretation of this passage that can serve as a model of sorts for our prayer:

….Jacob’s night at the ford of the Jabbok becomes for the believer a point of reference for understanding his relationship with God, which in prayer finds its ultimate expression. Prayer requires trust, closeness, in a symbolic “hand to hand” not with a God who is an adversary and enemy, but with a blessing Lord who remains always mysterious, who appears unattainable. For this reason the sacred author uses the symbol of battle, which implies strength of soul, perseverance, tenacity in reaching what we desire. And if the object of one’s desire is a relationship with God, his blessing and his love, then the battle cannot but culminate in the gift of oneself to God, in the recognition of one’s own weakness, which triumphs precisely when we reach the point of surrendering ourselves into the merciful hands of God.

Pope Benedict’s own words are so thorough, so penetrating, that I’m at a loss for any kind of substantive commentary to offer.  In light of his explanation, this passage, and even his own words, are truly worthy of some serious lectio divina.

His conclusion inspires in me a desire for greater perseverance in a heartfelt yielding to Him personal prayer:

Dear brothers and sisters, our whole life is like this long night of battle and prayer that is meant to end in the desire and request for God’s blessing, which cannot be grasped or won by counting on our own strength, but must be received from him with humility, as a gratuitous gift that allows us, in the end, to recognize the face of the Lord.

[snip]

He who allows himself to be blessed by God, who abandons himself to him, who allows himself to be transformed by him, renders the world blessed. May the Lord help us to fight the good fight of faith and to ask his blessing in our prayer, so that he may renew in us the anticipation of seeing his face.


School of prayer – Class #3

May 22, 2011

With this third class, Pope Benedict begins a subset of his teachings on prayer that will focus on a “biblical review on this subject,” and

…will lead us to deepen in the covenant dialogue between God and man that animates the history of salvation, up to its culmination in the definitive Word that is Jesus Christ.


To me, this means he’s going to teach us how the great “friends of God” prayed in the Old Testament.

In this class, our Holy Father teaches about Abraham and his prayer of intercession in Genesis 18:17-33.  The true motivation for Abraham’s prayer was that

God decided to reveal to him what was about to happen and brings him to know the gravity of the evil and its terrible consequences…

This understanding leads Abraham to conclude that

…it would be unjust to punish in an indiscriminate way all the inhabitants. If there are innocents in the city, they cannot be treated as the guilty. God, who is a just judge, cannot act like that…

The Pope then highlights the heroic virtue in Abraham’s prayer, in his thought process, in his heart:

…we realize that Abraham’s request is even more serious and more profound, because he does not limit himself to ask for the salvation of the innocent. Abraham asks for forgiveness for the whole city…

Our teacher explains:

By so doing, he puts into play a new idea of justice: not the one that limits itself to punish the guilty, as men do, but a different, divine justice, which seeks the good and creates it through forgiveness that transforms the sinner, that converts and saves him. Hence, with his prayer Abraham does not invoke a merely retributive justice, but an intervention of salvation that, taking into account the innocent, also liberates the wicked from their guilt, forgiving them. Abraham’s thought, which seems almost paradoxical, can be synthesized thus: obviously the innocent cannot be treated as the guilty, this would be unjust; instead, it is necessary to treat the guilty as the innocent, putting into act a “superior” justice, offering them a possibility of salvation, because if the evildoers accept God’s forgiveness and confess their fault letting themselves be saved, they will no longer continue to do evil, they will also become righteous, without any further need to be punished.

Our own prayer time, our relationship with God, if it is authentic and ever-deepening, should lead us to understand the “terrible consequences” of sin, selfishness, and a life that excludes God.  It should spawn in us a faith-based intercession, especially for the needy members of our family, an intercession that

…is based on the certainty that the Lord is merciful. Abraham does not ask of God something that is contrary to his essence; he knocks on the door of God’s heart, knowing his real will.
[snip]
Because manifested and expressed through intercession, prayer to God for the salvation of others is the desire of salvation that God always harbors for sinful man….the Lord does not desire the death of the wicked, but that he be converted and live; his desire is always to forgive, to save, to give life, to transform evil into good. Well, it is precisely this divine desire that, in prayer, becomes man’s desire and is expressed through the words of intercession. With his supplication, Abraham is lending his own voice, but also his own heart, to the divine will: God’s desire is mercy, love and will of salvation….With the voice of his prayer, Abraham is giving voice to God’s desire, which is not to destroy, but to save…

Alas, after Abraham and his family departed the city, not even one righteous person was left, which would have held off God’s wrath.  This leads Pope Benedict to reveal to us the importance of Jesus:

It will be necessary for God himself to become that righteous one. And this is the mystery of the Incarnation: to guarantee a righteous one, he himself becomes man. There will always be a righteous one because he is: it is necessary, however, that God himself become that righteous one. The infinite and amazing divine love will be fully manifested when the Son of God becomes man, the definitive Righteous One, the perfect Innocent One, who will bring salvation to the whole world by dying on the cross, forgiving and interceding for those who “know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Then the prayer of every man will find its answer, then every intercession of ours will be fully heard.

Our Holy Father concludes:

…the supplication of Abraham, our father in the faith, teaches us to open our hearts ever more to the superabundant mercy of God, so that in our daily prayer we will be able to desire the salvation of humanity and to ask for it with perseverance and trust in the Lord who is great in love.


School of prayer – Class #2

May 13, 2011

In Pope Benedict’s second class in his school of prayer, he speaks about why prayer is necessary for us to become the persons that we were meant to be.  He points out that

St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians of history, defines prayer as the “expression of man’s desire for God.”

This leads me to think that the intensity of our desire for God will be revealed in the diligence and the quantity of our prayer.

The CCC teaches us in n. 2558 that prayer is the means by which we live out our relationship with God:

“Great is the mystery of the faith!” The Church professes this mystery in the Apostles’ Creed (Part One) and celebrates it in the sacramental liturgy (Part Two), so that the life of the faithful may be conformed to Christ in the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father (Part Three). This mystery, then, requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer. [emphasis added]

Our Holy Father echoes this teaching:

Prayer, which is the opening and raising of the heart to God, becomes a personal relationship with Him. And even if man forgets his Creator, the living and true God does not fail to call man to the mysterious encounter of prayer.

Given the Pope’s teaching, it might be good to evaluate our own attitude toward our personal prayer time:

Are we eager to have prayer time?
Do we look forward to it?
Are we enthusiastic about having a personal encounter with Jesus?
Or….is our prayer time simply one more task on our daily “To Do” list?
Are we reluctant to spend time praying?

The answers to these questions might serve as a barometer of our personal relationship with the Lord.

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UPDATE 5/14/11:
While watching this video of Fr Francis Martin (in preparation for tomorrow’s Mass readings), I heard Fr Martin speak about having desire for the Lord (from about 3:20 to 4:00 in the video).  In the last five minutes or so, he talks about the importance of prayer in our growth in holiness.


B16’s school of prayer is now in session

May 8, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI this week began a new series of teachings.  He wants them to be a “school of prayer.” 

The subject will be

the prayer that Jesus taught us and that the Church continues to teach us. It is in Jesus, in fact, that man is made capable of approaching God with the depth and intimacy of the relationship of fatherhood and sonship.

The goal is

that our relationship with [God] in prayer [be] ever more intense, affectionate and constant.

This is gonna be good!


The gift of tongues

May 6, 2011

Here’s the video of Tim Staples taking a recent call on the “Catholic Answers Live” radio show on the question of tongues.  A good resource to pass on to sceptical Catholics.