By Virginia M. Forrester

This morning’s General Audience was held at 9:30 am from the Library of the Apostolic Vatican Palace.

Continuing with the series of catecheses on prayer, in his address in Italian the Pope focused his meditation on the theme: “The prayer of the righteous” (Psalm 17:1-3.5).

After summarizing his catechesis in several languages, the Holy Father expressed special greetings to the faithful.

The General Audience ended with the recitation of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing.

* * *

The Holy Father’s Catechesis

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

We dedicate today’s catechesis to the prayer of the righteous.

God’s plan for humanity is good but in our daily affairs we experience the presence of evil: it’s an experience of every day. The first chapters of the Book of Genesis describe the progressive expansion of sin in human affairs. Adam and Eve (Cf. Genesis 3:1-7) doubt God’s benevolent intentions, thinking that it had to do with an envious divinity, which impeded their happiness. Hence the rebellion: I no longer believe in a generous Creator that desires their happiness. Yielding to the Evil One’s temptation, their heart is seized by delusions of omnipotence: “if we eat the fruit of the tree, we will become like God” (Cf. v. 5). And this is temptation; this is the ambition that enters the heart. However, the experience goes in the opposite direction: their eyes open and they discover that they are naked (v. 7), without anything. Don’t forget this: the tempter is a bad payer; he pays badly.

The evil becomes more explosive with the second human generation, it is stronger: it is the story of Cain and Abel (Cf. Genesis 4:1-16). Cain is envious of his brother: it’s the worm of envy. Although he is the firstborn, he sees Abel as a rival, one who undermines his primacy. Evil appears in his heart and Cain is unable to control it. Evil begins to enter the heart: the thoughts are always to look badly at the other, with suspicion. And this happens also with the thought: “This is evil, he will harm me.” And this thought enters the heart . . . And so the story of the first brotherhood ends in a homicide. I think today of human brotherhood . . . wars everywhere.

In Cain’s lineage crafts and arts are developed, but violence also develops, expressed by Lamech’s sinister canticle, which sounds like a hymn of revenge: “I have slain a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me [. . . ] Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold” (Genesis 4:23-24). Revenge: “He did it he’ll pay for it.” However, the judge doesn’t say this, I say this. And I make myself judge of the situation. And so evil spreads like an oil stain, until it occupies the whole picture: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). The great frescoes of the universal deluge (chapters 6-7) and of the Tower of Babel (chapter 11) reveal that there is need of a new beginning, like a new creation, which will have its fulfilment in Jesus Christ.

And yet, in these first pages of the Bible, another story is written, less striking, much more humble and devout, which represents the rescue of hope. If almost all behave in a brutally, making hatred and conquest the great engine of human affairs, there are persons capable of praying to God sincerely, capable of writing man’s destiny in a different way. Abel offers God a sacrifice of first fruits. After his death, Adam and Eve had a third son, Seth, of whom Enosh was born (which means “mortal”), and it’s said: “At that time men began to call upon the name of the Lord” (4:26). Then Enoch appears, personality who “walked with God” and was taken to Heaven (Cf. 5:22.24). And finally, there is the story of Noah, a righteous man who “walked with God” (6:9) before whom God holds back His intention to blot out humanity Cf. 6:7-8).

Reading these stories, one has the impression that prayer is the levee, man’s refuge in face of the wave full of evil that grows in the world. On closer inspection, we also pray to be saved from ourselves. It’s important to pray: “Lord, please, save me from myself, from my ambitions, from my passions.” The men of prayer of the first pages of the Bible are men operators of peace. In fact, when prayer is genuine, it frees from the instincts of violence and is a look turned to God, so that He will turn and take care of man’s heart. One reads in the Catechism: “This kind of prayer is lived by many righteous people in all religions” (CCC, 2569). Prayer cultivates flowerbeds of rebirth in places where man’s hatred has only been capable of enlarging the desert. And prayer is powerful, because it attracts God’s power and God’s power always gives life — always. He is the God of life, and He revives. See why God’s lordship passes in the chain of these men and women, often misunderstood or marginalized in the world. However, the world lives and grows thanks to God’s strength, which these servants of His attract with their prayer. They aren’t at all a noisy chain, which rarely catches the headlines, yet is so important to restore trust in the world! I remember the story of a man: an important head of government, not of this time, of past times; an atheist who didn’t have a religious sense in his heart, but as a child had heard his grandmother praying, and that stayed in his heart. And, in a difficult moment of his life, that memory returned to his heart and he said: “But grandmother prayed . . . “ So he began to pray with his grandmother’s formulas and he found Jesus there. Prayer is a chain of life — always. Many men and women that pray sow life. Prayer sows life, a little prayer: therefore, it’s very important to teach children to pray. It pains me when I meet children that don’t know how to make the sign of the cross. It’s necessary to teach them to do the sign of the cross well, because it is the first prayer. It’s important that children learn to pray. Later, perhaps, they might forget, take another path; however, the first prayers learned as a child stay in the heart, because they are a seed of life, a seed of dialogue with God. The journey of God in the history of God passes through them: it has passed through a “remnant” of humanity, which has not conformed to the law of the strongest, but has asked God to fulfil His miracles, especially to transform our heart of stone into a heart of flesh (Cf. Ezekiel 36:26). And this helps prayer, because prayer opens the door to God transforming our heart, so often of stone, into a human heart. And so much humanity is needed and with humanity one prays well.

© Libreria Editrice Vatican

[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

In Italian

I greet the Italian-speaking faithful. Day after tomorrow we will celebrate the liturgical Memorial of Pope Saint Paul VI. May the example of this Bishop of Rome, who reached the heights of holiness, encourage each one to embrace generously the evangelical ideals.

My thought goes to the elderly, to young people, to the sick and newlyweds. In the atmosphere of preparation for the now close Solemnity of Pentecost, I exhort you to be always docile to the action of the Holy Spirit, so that your life is always warmed and illumined by the love that the Spirit of God pours in hearts. My blessing to all of you!

© Libreria Editrice Vatican

[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

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