John Paul II on Prayer, the Pope’s Prayer

John Paul II on Prayer, the Pope's Prayer

In two chapters in Crossing the Threshold, John Paul II discusses prayer. If religious fear stems from a failure to be who we are as Christians, then we now learn from John Paul that only through prayer can we become what we are through the “opus gloriae,” the work of glory. John Paul dwells on Romans 8 to explain prayer in this way. Man, as the priest of creation, offers back to the Father the creation, now groaning in futility. But this is done through the Holy Spirit, who “comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (cf. Rom 8:26). The Pope explains the significance of this passage in a striking way. He says:

In prayer, then, the true protagonist is God. The protagonist is Christ, who constantly frees creation from slavery to corruption and leads it toward liberty, for the glory of the children of God. The protagonist is the Holy Spirit, who “comes to the aid of our weakness.” We begin to pray, believing that it is our own initiative that compels us to do so. Instead, we learn that it is always God’s initiative within us, just as Saint Paul has written. This initiative restores in us our true humanity; it restores in us our unique dignity. Yes, we are brought into the higher dignity of the children of God, the children of God who are the hope of all creation.

 Human work is a distraction, indeed he says “science and technology” are a distraction, they can “lead away from the goal” of opus gloriae, because being our work,  we think that we are the protagonist of creation and perhaps even of redemption. Descartes and Locke seemed to think so.

In the next chapter  on prayer, he makes an additional striking observation about prayer. He begins with Gaudium et spes, the title of the great document of Vatican II, and explains this as the central theme of his prayer as Pope. What is this we may ask, the superficial optimism of that sixties era document? Quite the contrary, friends.  John Paul is more simple, fresh, profound than our jaundiced musings.

Gospel means “good news,” and the Good News is always an invitation to joy. What is the Gospel? It is a grand affirmation of the world and of man, because it is the revelation of the truth about God. God is the primary source of joy and hope for man. This is the God whom Christ revealed: God who is Creator and Father; God who “so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life”

John Paul II hits then a key theme of his pontificate — “good is greater than all that is evil in the world. Evil, in fact, is neither fundamental nor definitive. This point clearly distinguishes Christianity from all
forms of existential pessimism.” Remember Redemptor hominis — love is greater than sin, it is greater than death. This fundamental truth of faith has much to teach us who dwell in the valley of tears and can easily cling to our sorrow. At the circle it was pointed out, appropriately by a Professor of art history, that John Paul wrote “creation was given and entrusted to humankind as a duty, representing not a source of suffering but the foundation of a creative existence in the world.” In his late work on the Eucharist we find this:

“The Son of God became man in order to restore all creation, in one supreme act of praise, to the One who made it from nothing. He, the Eternal High Priest who by the blood of his Cross entered the eternal sanctuary, thus gives back to the Creator and Father all creation redeemed.” (§8) Such is the opus gloriae. Such are words of a deep priestly joy.

He says that the joy of prayer does not “obfuscate-it actually intensifies-the realistic awareness of the existence of evil in the world and in every man.”

The Pope, like every Christian, must be keenly aware of the dangers to which man is subject in the world, in his temporal future, and in his final, eternal, eschatological future. The awareness of these dangers does not generate pessimism, but rather encourages the struggle for the victory of good in every realm. And it is precisely from this struggle for the victory of good in man and in the world that the need for prayer arises.

The Pope says that he prays for all the Churches and all mankind. He sees the missionary dimension to prayer. But most of all, he prays for the suffering and recollects Saint Paul’s truth about “completing the sufferings of Christ” (cf. Col 1:24). But we “will not cross the threshold of that truth without the help of the Holy Spirit.” We are back to the opening of the reflection on prayer with God as the protagonist of our prayer.  The prayer for the suffering, he says, is a “cry for the victory of good even through evil, through suffering, through every wrong and human injustice.” We are before the mystery of the cross.

The Pope bears a great burden. I am reminded why we must pray for him everyday..

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