Monday, October 22, 2007

Persevere in prayer so that together you may face every day the good battle of the Gospel

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Homily, Pastoral Visit to Naples

October 21, 2007

Meditating on the Biblical readings of this Sunday and reflecting on the realities of Naples, I am struck by the fact that the Word of God today has prayer as its principal theme, "the need to pray always without tiring," as the Gospel says (Lk 18,1).

At first glance, this may seem like a message that is not very pertinent, hardly incisive with respect to a social reality with as many problems as yours. But, reflecting on it, we understand that this Word contains a message that is certainly against the current but destined nevertheless to illuminate profoundly the conscience of your Church and your city.

I would summarize it this way: the power, which in silence and without great clamor, changes the world and transforms it to the Kingdom of God, is faith -- and prayer is the expression of faith. When faith is filled with the love of God, whom we recognize as our good and just Father, prayer becomes persevering and insistent, it becomes a plaint of the spirit, a cry from the soul which penetrates the heart of God.

Thus, prayer becomes the greatest force for transforming the world. In the face of difficult and complex social realities, as yours is certainly, we must strengthen hope, which is founded on faith and is expressed in tireless prayer.

It is prayer which keeps the flame of faith alight. Jesus asks: "When the son of Man returns, will he find faith on earth?" (Lk 18,8). What shall be our reply to this disquieting question?

Today, let us be together in repeating with humble courage: Lord, may your coming to us in this Sunday celebration find us united with the lamp of faith alight. We believe and trust in you! Make our faith grow!

The Biblical readings we heard present us with some models to inspire us in our profession of faith. They are the figures of the widow whom we meet in the Gospel parable, and that of Moses as recounted in Exodus.

The widow of the Gospel (Lk 18,1-8) makes us think of the "little people," the least, but also of so many simple and honest persons who suffer from oppression, who feel helpless in the face of persistent social ills and are prey to discouragement. To them, Jesus says: Look at this poor widow, the tenacity with which she insists and finally gets a hearing from a dishonest judge! How can you think that your heavenly Father, who is good and faithful, who wants only what is good for is children, will not do you justice in his time?

Faith assures us that God hears our prayers and will answer us at the right time, even if our daily experience may seem to belie this certainty. Indeed, before certain facts of daily news, or even all the daily discomforts of life which are not reported in the newspapers, the cry of the ancient prophet comes spontaneously to mind: "How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, 'Violence!' but you do not intervene" (Hab 1,2).

There is only one answer to this heartfelt cry: God cannot change things without our own conversion, and our conversion begins with the cry of the soul, which asks for forgiveness and salvation.

Christian prayer is not the expression of fatalism and inertia. Rather, it is everything but an escape from reality or a comforting intimacy. It is the force of hope, maximum expression of faith in the power of God who is Love and will not abandon us.

The prayer which Jesus taught us, culminating in Gethsemane, has the character of agony, that is, of struggle, because we align ourselves decisively beside the Lord to combat injustice and conquer evil with good. It is the weapon of the little people and the poor in spirit who repudiate every type of violence. Instead, they answer violence with evangelical non-violence, testifying thereby to the truth that Love is stronger than hate and death.

This also emerges in the first Reading -- the famous story of the battle between the Israelites an the Amalekites (Ex 17,8-13a). Decisive for the outcome of that hard battle was prayer addressed with faith to the true God. While Joshua and his men faced the enemy on the battlefield, Moses was on the mountaintop with his hands raised, in the position of one in prayer. The raised hands of the great leader would guarantee the victory of Israel.

God was with His people, He wanted their victory, but He conditioned His intervention on the fact of Moses raising his hands. It seems incredible, but so it was: God needs the raised hands of his servants.

The raised hands of Moses make us think of Jesus's arms on the Cross -- arms open wide, hands nailed down, with which the Redeemer won the decisive battle against the infernal enemy.

His struggle -- the hands raised to the Father and open wide to the world -- demands other arms, other hearts, who will continue to offer themselves with the same love he had, to the end of the world

I address myself particularly to you, dear pastors of the Church in Naples, taking on the words that St. Paul addressed to Timothy: "Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching" (2 Tim 4,2). And like Moses on the mountain, persevere in prayer for and with the faithful entrusted to your pastoral care, so that together you may face every day the good battle of the Gospel.

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