The example of the early Church should inspire 21st-century Christians to pray during tough times in the trust and knowledge that Jesus is “the hope which does not disappoint,” Pope Benedict XVI said.
“May we learn to see that God is present in our lives, even at moments of difficulty, and that everything, even things incomprehensible, is part of a plan of love in which the final victory over evil, sin and death is truly that of goodness, grace, life and God,” he said April 18.
Pope Benedict was addressing more than 25,000 pilgrims gathered in the sunshine of St. Peter’s Square during the traditional Wednesday general audience. Continuing his catechesis on Christian prayer, the Pope dwelt upon an episode in the history of the early Church often referred to as “little Pentecost,” which took place between Easter and Pentecost itself.
Chronicled in the Acts of the Apostles, the incident occurred after the release of Peter and John following their arrest for preaching the Gospel.
“In the face of danger,” noted the Pope, the community, along with Mary, “does not seek to analyze how to react or defend themselves or on what measures to adopt.” Instead, “in that moment of trial, they all raised their voices together to God” in prayer.
In response, God sent the Holy Spirit upon them, such that “the place where they were gathered together was shaken” and all of them now “spoke the word of God with boldness.”
“This was the unanimous and united prayer of the whole community, which was facing persecution because of Jesus,” said the Pope. “In suffering persecution for Jesus’ sake,” he continued, “the community not only did not give way to fear and division, but was profoundly united in prayer.”
Pope Benedict noted how this unity, which is “consolidated rather than undermined because it is supported by unshakeable prayer,” has been a consistent feature of the Church since earliest times.
Therefore, the Church “must not fear the persecutions she is forced to suffer in her history, but must trust always, as Jesus did in Gethsemane, in the presence, help and strength of God, invoked in prayer.”
The early Church did not pray “to be defended, to be spared from trials or to enjoy success, but only to be able to proclaim the word of God frankly, freely and courageously.”
It also prayed to “read events in the light of faith” and, subsequently, found “the key to understanding persecution” in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.
“We too,” concluded the Pope, “must bring the events of our daily lives into our prayer, in order to seek their most profound significance.”
Prior to today’s audience, Pope Benedict toured St. Peter’s Square in his popemobile, where he was met with enthusiastic cheers of “ad multos annos” to mark his 85th birthday earlier this week and his seventh anniversary as Pontiff tomorrow.
“I would like to express my gratitude for the good wishes you have been sending me for the seventh anniversary of my election,” he said in remarks to pilgrims after the audience.
“I ask you to support me always with your prayers, so that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I may continue my service to Christ and the Church.”