January 02, 2019. ‘Prayer is done from the heart, from within’
This morning’s General Audience was held at 9:20 in Paul VI Hall, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and from all over the world.
Taking up the series of catecheses on the “Our Father,” in his address in Italian the Pope focused his meditation on that prayer “at the center of the Sermon on the Mount” (Biblical passage: form the Gospel according to Matthew 6:5-6).
After summarizing his catechesis in several languages, the Holy Father expressed special greetings to groups of faithful present.
The General Audience ended with the singing of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing.
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The Holy Father’s Catechesis
Dear Brothers and Sisters. God morning and Happy New Year!
We continue our catechesis on the “Our Father,” illumined by the Christmas mystery that we just celebrated.
Matthew’s Gospel places the text of the “Our Father” in a strategic point, at the center of the Sermon on the Mount (Cf. 6:9-13). Meanwhile we observe the scene: Jesus goes up the mount near the lake, He sits down; He has around him the circle of his closest disciples, and then a great crowd of anonymous faces. It’s this heterogeneous assembly that receives first the delivery of the “Our Father.”
The placement, as I said, is very significant, because in this long teaching, which goes under the name of “Sermon on the Mount” (Cf. Matthew 5:1-7, 27), Jesus condenses the fundamental aspects of His message. The beginning is like an arch decorated festively: the Beatitudes. Jesus crowns with happiness a series of categories of persons that, in His time — but also in ours! — were not greatly regarded. Blessed are the poor, the meek, the merciful, the humble of heart . . . This is the revolution of the Gospel. Wherever the Gospel is, there is revolution. The Gospel doesn’t leave us still, it pushes us, it’s revolutionary. All people capable of love, the peacemakers who up to then had ended on the margins of history, are instead the builders of the Kingdom of God. It’s as if Jesus said: come forward you who bear in your heart the mystery of a God who has revealed His omnipotence in love and in forgiveness!
From this entrance door, which overturns the values of history, issues the novelty of the Gospel. The Law must not be abolished but is in need of a new interpretation, which takes it back to its original meaning. If a person has a good heart, predisposed to love, then he understands that every word of God must be incarnated to its ultimate consequences. Love has no borders: one can love one’s spouse, one’s friend, and even one’s enemy from an altogether new perspective. Jesus says: “But I say to you. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in Heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45). Here is the great secret that is at the base of the whole Sermon on the Mount: be children of your Father who is in Heaven. Apparently, these chapters of Matthew’s Gospel seem to be a moral sermon; they seem to evoke such demanding ethics as to appear impracticable, <but> instead we discover that they are above all a theological discourse. A Christian is not one who commits himself to be better than others: he knows he is a sinner like all. A Christian is simply a man who pauses in front of the new Burning Bush, the revelation of a God who doesn’t bear the enigma of an unpronounceable name, but who asks His children to invoke Him with the name “Father,” to allow themselves to be renewed by His power and to reflect a ray of His goodness to this world so thirsty for good, so in expectation of Good News.
See, therefore, how Jesus introduces the teaching of the “Our Father” prayer. He does so, distancing Himself from two groups of His time — first of all, the hypocrites. “You must not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the street corners, they like to pray standing, that they may be seen by men” (Matthew 6:5). There are people that are able to weave atheist prayers, without God, and they do so to be admired by men. And how often we see the scandal of those people who go to church and are there all day or go every day and then live hating others or speaking badly of people. This is a scandal! <It’s> best not go to church, if one lives this way, as if one were an atheist.
But, if you go to church, live as a son, as a brother and give true witness, not a counter-witness.
Christian prayer, instead, has no other credible witness than one’s conscience, where a continuous dialogue with the Father is intensely woven. “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6).
Then Jesus distances Himself from the prayer of pagans. “Do not heap up empty phrases [. . . ] they think they will be heard for their many words’ (Matthew 6:7). Here, perhaps, Jesus alludes to that “captatio benevolentiae,” which was the necessary premise of so many ancient prayers: the divinity had to be in some way appeased by a long series of praises, also of prayers. We think of that scene of Mount Carmel, when the prophet Elijah challenged the priests of Baal. They were shouting, dancing, asking for so many things so that their god would listen to them. And, instead, Elijah was silent and the Lord revealed Himself to Elijah. Pagans think that one prays by talking, talking, talking. And I also think of so many Christians who think that to pray is — excuse me — “to talk to God as a parrot.” No!
Prayer is done from the heart, from within. Instead, Jesus says, turn to God as a son to his father,” who knows what you need before you ask Him” (Cf. Matthew 6:8).
The “Our Father” could also be a silent prayer. Basically, it’s enough to put oneself under God’s gaze, to remember his love as Father, and this is sufficient to be heard. It’s good to think that our God doesn’t need sacrifices to win His favour! Our God doesn’t need anything! He only asks that, in prayer, we have a channel of communication open to Him, to discover ourselves ever His most beloved children. And He loves us so much.
[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]