Wednesday, February 06, 2008

"No Prayer, No Hope" Says Pope

Keeping with the time-honored custom of the Eternal City, Roman Lent kicked off in the evening, with the Pope making the traditional walk across the Aventine Hill from the Benedictine mother-church of Sant'Anselmo to the Dominican hub of Santa Sabina -- the first "station church" -- for 5pm Mass. There the church's titular, the retired prefect of the Propaganda Fide Cardinal Josef Tomko, performed his usual role of imposing ashes on the pontiff.

As the liturgy took place after the Sala Stampa closed for the day, homily fulltext won't be released 'til tomorrow, but there are some reports....

Prayer, "the engine of the world" and the first weapon for winning the battle against evil, together with penance and fasting, characterise the period of Lent, which is "a providential occasion for making our hope more vibrant and firm". This is also accomplished through suffering, which opens the way to participating in the consolation of God....

Prayer, in the words of the pope, "nourishes hope, because nothing expresses the reality of God in our lives better than prayer with faith. Even in the solitude of the harshest trials, nothing and no one can prevent me from turning to the Father 'in the secret' of my heart, where He alone 'sees', as Jesus says in the Gospel (cf. Mt. 6:4,6,18)".
"Prayer," Benedict XVI continued, "is a crucible in which our expectations and aspirations are exposed to the light of the Word of God, are immersed in dialogue with the One who is truth, and are freed from hidden deceptions and compromises with various forms of egoism (cf. Spe Salvi, 33). Without the dimension of prayer, the human ego would end up closing in upon itself, and the conscience, which should be the echo of the voice of God, is in danger of being reduced to the reflection of the ego, such that the interior dialogue would become a monologue, giving rise to thousands of self-justifications. Prayer is thus a guarantee of openness to others, and frees one for God and his demands, opening one at the same time to others, to the brother who knocks at the door of one's heart and asks for listening, attention, forgiveness, sometimes for correction, but always in fraternal charity. True prayer is never egocentric, but is always centred upon the other. As such, it trains the one who prays in the "ecstasy" of charity, in the capacity to come out from oneself in order to become neighbour to the other in humble and disinterested service. True prayer is the engine of the world, because it keeps it open to God. For this reason, without prayer there is no hope, only illusion. It is not, in fact, the presence of God that alienates man, but his absence: without the true God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, hopes become illusions that induce one to hide from reality. To speak with God, to remain in his presence allows us to be enlightened and purified by his Word, it introduces us into the heart of reality, into the deep engine of cosmic transformation; it introduces us, so to speak, into the pulsing heart of the universe".

"In harmonic connection with prayer", the pope continued, "fasting and almsgiving can also be considered places where Christian hope is learned and exercised". "Thanks to the joint action of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, Lent in its entirety forms Christians to become men and women of hope, following the example of the saints".

The last topic that Benedict XVI addressed was that of suffering, "because, as I wrote in the encyclical Spe Salvi, 'The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer' (Spe Salvi, 38). Easter, toward which Lent is ordered, is the mystery that gives meaning to human suffering, beginning from the overabundance of God's com-passion, realised in Jesus Christ. The journey of Lent, therefore, being completely suffused with the light of Easter, makes us to relive what happened in the divine-human heart of Jesus while he went up to Jerusalem for the last time, to offer himself an expiation (cf. Isaiah 53:10). Suffering and death fell like the darkness as He gradually drew near to the cross, but the light of love was also aflame.
The suffering of Christ is, in effect, entirely permeated by the light of love (cf. Spe Salvi, 38): the love of the Father who permits his Son to proceed with trust toward his last 'baptism', as He himself defines the culmination of his mission (cf. Luke 12:50). Jesus received that baptism of suffering and love for us, for all of humanity. He suffered for truth and justice, bringing into human history the Gospel of suffering, which is the other side of the Gospel of love. God cannot suffer, but he can and wants to suffer-with. From the passion of Christ, all human suffering can receive con-solatio, 'the consolation of God's compassionate love - and so the star of hope rises' (Spe Salvi, 39)".
In his homily, the pope focused on the importance of prayer and sacrifice during Lent.

Prayer is a powerful weapon with which to "victoriously face the battle against the spirit of evil," he said.

"Before great danger, one needs an even greater hope," and this can only be found in the hope that comes from knowing one can rely on God for everything, he said.

Through prayer, one's dreams and longings "are exposed to the light of the word of God," he said, thus freeing them from hidden lies and compromises rooted in egoism.

Without prayer, the human individual "ends up closed inside oneself, and the conscience, which should be God's voice, risks reducing itself to being a mirror of the I, so that the inner conversation becomes a monologue, giving rise to thousands of self-justifications," said the pope.
It is for this reason, he said, that "without prayer there is no hope, but only illusion."

Without God, all hopes become "illusions that lead one to escape reality," he said.

The more one's hope is rooted in Christ, the greater the individual's ability to suffer and sacrifice "for the love of truth and the good," he said.

The prayers offered at the Mass included a special intention for God to "open the heart and eyes of all searchers of the truth so that they see and recognize he whom (God) sent to illuminate the darkness of the world, Jesus Christ."
PHOTOS: L'Osservatore Romano(1); AP/Filippo Monteforte(2,3); AP/Plinio Lepri(4)