Christians should trust in the loving providence of God, even when going through dark periods in life, Pope Benedict XVI said in his Feb. 1 general audience.
“In prayer we must be able to bring before God our fatigue, the suffering of certain situations and of certain days, our daily struggle to follow him and to be Christians, and even the weight of evil we see within us and around us, because he gives us hope, makes us aware of his nearness and gives us a little light on the path of life,” he said.
Pope Benedict offered his reflections to thousands of pilgrims who gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.
His address continued an ongoing series on the subject of prayer and focused on the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, just prior to his arrest, passion and death.
While Jesus previously withdrew from the crowds and his disciples to pray in the wilderness or on a mountain, the Pope noted that this time Jesus did not want to be alone and called Peter, James and John to be closest to him. They were the same disciples who were chosen by Jesus to be with him during his Transfiguration.
“This proximity of the three during prayer in Gethsemane is significant,” explained the Pope, because “their presence is an invitation to every disciple to draw near to Jesus along the way of the Cross.”
Christ’s Fear and Anguish
Christ’s anguish, the Pope said, is articulated in his words to the three disciples – “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Stay here and watch.” His statement is foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament, the Pope taught, highlighting the suffering of the prophets Elijah and Moses. They experienced the same emotion after “finding hostility, rejection, persecution” following God entrusting certain tasks to them.
In the case of Jesus, his words show that he was experiencing the “fear and anguish at that ‘hour’ … the ultimate profound solitude as God’s plan was being accomplished,” said the Pope.
Christ’s fear and anguish also “summarizes all the horror that man feels at the prospect of his own death, its inexorable certainty and the perception of the burden of evil which affects our lives.”
Praying on the Ground
Jesus then moves away from the disciples and lays on the ground. The Pope noted that Christ’s prostration is “a position for prayer which expresses obedience to the Father’s will, an abandonment of self with complete trust in Him.”
Similarly, this is a position assumed by monks when professing vows, or by bishops, priests and deacons at their ordination. It is also the position priests assume when they begin the service for Christ’s passion on Good Friday. As a posture it expresses “in prayer, even bodily, complete reliance on God,” said the Pope.
Christ then asks that, if possible, he be spared his impending ordeal. “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want but what you want.”
Pope Benedict explained that this episode “is not just the fear and anguish of man in the face of death.” It is also the “distress of the Son of God Who sees the terrible accumulation of evil He must take upon Himself, in order to overcome it and deprive it of power.”
The Pope then highlighted three “revealing passages,” contained in this particular Gospel scene.
He first said that Jesus’ use of the Aramaic word “Abba,” which was used by children to informally address their fathers, expresses “Jesus relationship with God the Father, a relationship of tenderness, affection and trust.”
Jesus also teaches people about his Father’s omnipotence, the Pope noted, when he makes “a request in which, once again, we see the drama of Jesus’ human will in the face of death and evil.”
Most importantly, said the Pope, we see that ultimately Christ’s “human will adheres fully to the divine will.” In doing so “Jesus tells us that only by conforming their will to the divine will can human beings achieve their true stature and become ‘divine.’”
Pope Benedict said that if Christians pray the Our Father and ask that God’s will is done, “a little of heaven” is brought to earth as a “place where love, goodness, truth and divine beauty are present” but “only if the will of God is done.”
He concluded by telling the pilgrims that in daily prayer they “must learn to have greater trust in Divine Providence, to ask God for the strength to abandon our own selves in order to renew our ‘yes,’ to repeat to Him ‘your will be done,’ to conform our will to His.”