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Prayer

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II      
General Audience, Wednesday 14 March 1979 - in English, French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. During Lent we often hear repeated the words: prayer - fasting - almsgiving, which I have already mentioned on Ash Wednesday. We are used to thinking of them as pious and good works, which above all in this season every Christian must accomplish. This way of thinking is correct, but not complete. Prayer, almsgiving and fasting must be understood more deeply, if we want to insert them more deeply into our lives, and not consider them simply as passing practices which demand from us only something momentary or which only momentarily deprive us of something. With such a way of thinking we will not reach the true meaning and the true strength that prayer, fasting, and almsgiving have in the process of conversion to God and of our spiritual maturation. The one goes hand in hand with the other: we mature spiritually by converting ourselves to God, and conversion takes place through prayer, as well as through fasting and almsgiving, properly understood.

It should perhaps be said at once that it is not only about momentary "practices", but constant attitudes, which give
a lasting form to our conversion to God. The liturgical time of Lent lasts only forty days each year: we must, instead, tend always towards God; this means we must continually convert. Lent must leave a strong and indelible imprint on our lives. It must renew in us the consciousness of our union with Jesus Christ, who makes us see the necessity of conversion and indicates to us the ways to realize it. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are precisely the ways that Christ has indicated to us.

In the meditations that follow, we will seek to glimpse how deeply these ways penetrate into man: what they mean for him. The Christian must understand the true meaning of these ways, if he wants to follow them.

2. First, then, the way of prayer. I say "first" because I wish to talk about it before the others. But by saying "first" I want to add
today that in the total work of our conversion, that is, of our spiritual maturation, prayer is not isolated from the other two ways which the Church defines with the evangelical terms of "fasting and almsgiving". The way of prayer is perhaps more familiar to us. Perhaps we understand more easily that without it it is not possible to convert to God, to remain in union with Him, in that communion which makes us mature spiritually. Among those of you who are listening to me now, there will certainly be a great many who have your own experience of prayer, who know its various aspects and can make others participate in it. We learn, in fact, to pray by praying. The Lord Jesus taught us to pray first of all by praying himself: "he spent the night in prayer" (Lk 6, 12); another day, as St Matthew writes, "he went up the mountain, alone, to pray. When evening came, he was still alone up there" (Mt 14, 23). Before his passion and death he went up to the Mount of Olives and encouraged the Apostles to pray, and he himself, kneeling down, prayed. Seized by anguish, he prayed more intensely (cf Lk 22, 39-46). Only once, when requested by the disciples: "Lord, teach us to pray" (Lk 11, 1), he gave them the simplest and most profound content of his prayer: the "Our Father".

Since it is impossible to include in a short speech all that can be said or has been written on the theme of prayer, today I would like to highlight only one thing. All of us, when we pray, are disciples of Christ, not because we repeat the words that he once taught us — sublime words, the complete content of prayer — we are disciples of Christ even when we do not use these words. We are his disciples only because we pray: "Listen to the Master who prays; learn to pray. He prayed, in deed, for this reason, to teach us how to pray", St Augustine affirms (Enarrationes in Ps. 56, 5). And a contemporary author writes: "Because the end of the pathway of prayer is lost in God, and no one knows the pathway except the One who comes from God, Jesus Christ, it is necessary ... to fix one's eyes on him alone. He is the way, the truth and the life. He alone has traveled the pathway in both directions. We must put our hand in his and start out" (Y. Raguin, Chemins de La contemplation, Desclée de Brower, 1969, p 179). To pray means to speak with God — I would dare even to say more — to pray means to find oneself in that one eternal Verb through whom the Father speaks and who speaks to the Father. This Verb was made flesh, so that it would be easier for us to find ourselves in him, even with our human word of prayer. This word can sometimes be very imperfect, it can at other times even fail us, yet this incapacity of our human words is continually completed in the Verb who was made flesh so as to speak to the Father with the fullness of that mystical union, which each man who prays forms with him; which all those who pray form with him. In this particular union with the Verb lies the greatness of prayer, its dignity and, in some way, its definition.

Above all, it is necessary to understand well the fundamental grandeur and dignity of prayer. The prayer of every man. And also that of all the praying Church. Thus the Church reaches, in a certain way, as far as prayer. Wherever there is a man who prays.

3. We must pray basing ourselves on this essential concept of prayer. When the disciples asked the Lord Jesus: "Teach us to pray", he answered by pronouncing the words of the prayer 'Our Father', thus creating a concrete and also universal model. In fact, all that can and must be said to the Father is contained in those seven requests, which we know by heart. There is such a simplicity in them, that even a child learns them, and at the same time such a depth, that an entire life can be spent meditating on the meaning of each of them. Is this not so? Does not each of them speak to us, one after the other, of that which is the essential for our existence, turned totally to God, to the Father? Do they not speak to us of our "daily bread", of "forgiveness of our sins as we also forgive those who trespass against us", and of "preservation from temptation" and "deliverance from evil"?

When Christ, responding to the disciples' request "Teach us to pray" pronounces the words of his prayer, he teaches not only the words, but teaches that in our colloquy with the Father there must be total sincerity and full openness. Prayer must embrace everything that is part of our life. It cannot be something supplementary or marginal. Everything must find in it its own voice. Even everything that aggravates us; that we are ashamed of; that by its nature separates us from God. Precisely this above all. It is prayer that always, first and essentially, demolishes the barrier
between us and God, which sin and evil can have put up.

Through prayer all the world must find its right reference: that is, its reference to God: my interior world and also the objective world, the one in which we live, and thus as we know it. If we convert to God, everything in us is turned towards him. Prayer is the expression of such a turning towards God; and it is, at the same time, our continual conversion: our life. Holy Scripture says: "For as the rain and the snow / come down from heaven and do not return on high / without having irrigated the earth, / without having made it fruitful and sprout / so as to give seed to the sower and bread to the eater / thus shall it be of the word that comes from my mouth: / it shall not return to me without effect, / without having performed that which I desire / and without having accomplished that for which I sent it" (Is 55, 10-11).

Prayer is the way of the Verb who embraces everything. The way of the eternal Verb who traverses the depth of so many hearts; who leads back to the Father all that which in Him has its origin.

Prayer is the sacrifice of our lips (cf Heb 13, 15). It is, as St Ignatius of Antioch writes
(cf Letter to the Romans, VII, 2), "Living water that murmurs within us and says: come to the Father."

With my Apostolic Blessing."

Alla comunità del Pontificio Collegio Spagnolo di Roma

"Quiero ahora saludar con especial afecto a los superiores y sacerdotes del Pontificio Colegio Español de Roma, exhortándoles vivamente a continuar la tradición secular de la Iglesia de España de mantener siempre una estrecha comunión de sentimientos con la Sede de Pedro y con el Vicario de Cristo."

A un gruppo di Diaconi della diocesi di Paderborn e di Seminaristi di Mainz

"Unter den deutschsprachigen Gruppen grüße ich herzlich die anwesenden Diakone aus der Erzdiözese Paderborn sowie die Hausleitung und Alumnen des Bischöflichen Priesterseminars Mainz.Ich begleite euren Weg zum Priestertum mit meinem Gebet und besonderen Segen."

A un gruppo di studenti della Open University

"I wish to extend a special greeting to the disabled students of the Open University Students’ Association in England, together with those who assist them. Keep in mind that the efforts you make to overcome any disadvantage and to be of service to other are of great value. And remember always the part God our Father has in your lives, how close he is to you, and how much he loves each one of you."

Ai malati

"Il mio animo si apre ora, con paterna tenerezza, a quanti tra voi soffrono a causa della malattia: sappiate che non siete soli nel calvario in cui siete incamminati per un misterioso disegno, la Chiesa tutta soffre con voi in fraterna, solidale partecipazione al vostro dramma che vi affligge. Voi, a vostra volta, sappiate rivolgervi nelle prove dolorose a Colui che ha vinto la sofferenza con la propria croce e offrire a lui il dono del vostro pianto e delle vostre lacrime, che così non cadranno invano, ma saranno redentrici dell’umanità. Vi assista sempre la mia Benedizione."

Ai giovani sposi

"A voi sposi novelli, che avete iniziato una nuova vita sotto il segno benedicente del Signore per rendere sacro e indistruttibile il vostro amore coniugale, auspico di cuore che possiate sentire sempre più la bellezza della gioia cristiana, vissuta nelle vostre famiglie in piena concordia e armonia, a imitazione della Famiglia di Nazaret. A questo fine vi benedico di gran cuore."