Paul VI Hall
Wednesday, 2 January 2019
Catechesis on "Our Father": 3. At the center of the mountain's speech
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning and also happy new year!
We continue our catechesis on the "Our Father", illuminated by the mystery of Christmas that we have just celebrated.
The Gospel of Matthew places the text of "Our Father" at a strategic point, at the center of the mountain's discourse (cf. 6: 9-13). Meanwhile, let's observe the scene: Jesus goes up the hill near the lake, sits down; around him has the circle of his most intimate disciples, and then a large crowd of anonymous faces. It is this heterogeneous assembly that first receives the delivery of the "Our Father".
The placement, as mentioned, is very significant; because in this long teaching, which goes under the name of "discourse of the mountain" (cf. Mt 5: 1-7, 27), Jesus condenses the fundamental aspects of his message. The debut is like a decorated bow for the party: the Beatitudes. Jesus crowns with happiness a series of categories of people who in his time - but also in ours! - they were not very considered. Blessed are the poor, the meek, the merciful, the humble people of the heart ... This is the revolution of the Gospel. Where there is the Gospel, there is revolution. The Gospel does not leave quiet, it pushes us: it is revolutionary. All the people capable of love, the peacemakers who had hitherto been on the margins of history, are instead builders of the Kingdom of God. It is as if Jesus were saying: forward you bring into the heart the mystery of a God who has revealed his omnipotence in love and forgiveness!
From this entrance portal, which overturns the values of history, comes the newness of the Gospel. The Law should not be abolished but needs a new interpretation, which leads it back to its original meaning. If a person has a good heart, predisposed to love, then he understands that every word of God must be incarnated until its last consequences. Love has no boundaries: one can love one's spouse, one's friend and even one's enemy with a completely new perspective. Jesus says: «But I say to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; he makes his sun rise on the bad and on the good, and makes it rain on the just and on the unjust "(Mt 5,44-45).
Here is the great secret that underlies all the talk of the mountain: be sons of your Father who is in heaven. Apparently these chapters of the Gospel of Matthew seem to be a moral discourse, seem to evoke such an exacting ethic that it seems impracticable, and instead we find that they are above all a theological discourse. The Christian is not one who is committed to being better than others: he knows that he is a sinner like everyone else. The Christian is simply the man who pauses before the new Burning Bush, to the revelation of a God who does not carry the enigma of an unpronounceable name, but who asks his children to invoke him with the name of "Father", to let himself be renewed by his power and to reflect a ray of his goodness for this world so thirsty for good, so waiting for good news.
Here is how Jesus introduces the teaching of the prayer of the "Our Father". He does this by distancing himself from two groups of his time. First of all the hypocrites: "Do not be like the hypocrites who, in the synagogues and in the corners of the squares, like to pray standing upright, to be seen by the people" (Mt 6: 5). There are people who are able to weave atheistic prayers, without God and they do it to be admired by men. And how many times we see the scandal of those people who go to church and stay there all day or go every day and then live hating others or talking badly about people. This is a scandal! Better not to go to church: live like that, like I was an atheist. But if you go to church, live as a son, as a brother and give a true testimony, not a counter-testimony. Christian prayer, on the other hand, has no other credible witness than its own conscience, where a continuous dialogue with the Father intertwines intensely: «When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is in secret »(Mt 6: 6).
Then Jesus distances himself from the prayer of the pagans: "Do not waste words [...]: they believe they are heard by words" (Mt 6: 7). Here perhaps Jesus alludes to that "captatio benevolentiae" which was the necessary premise of many ancient prayers: the divinity had to be somewhat tamed by a long series of praises, even of prayers. Think of that scene of Mount Carmel when the prophet Elijah challenged the priests of Baal. They shouted, danced, asked for so many things for their god to listen to them. And instead Elijah was silent and the Lord revealed himself to Elijah. The pagans think that speaking, speaking, talking, speaking, praying. And I also think of many Christians who believe that praying is - excuse me - "talking to God like a parrot". No! Praying is done from the heart, from within. Instead - says Jesus - when you pray, turn to God as a son to his father, who knows what things he needs before he asks them (cf. Mt 6: 8). It could also be a silent prayer, the "Our Father": it is enough to put ourselves under the gaze of God, to remember his Father's love, and this is enough to be fulfilled.
It is good to think that our God does not need sacrifices to win his favor! He does not need anything, our God: in prayer he asks only that we keep open a channel of communication with him to always discover his beloved children. And He loves us so much.
Greetings in Various Languages:
I extend a cordial welcome to Italian-speaking pilgrims.
I am pleased to welcome the Capitulars of the Santa Caterina da Siena Union of the School Missionaries and the Camp Participants promoted by the Lions Club International.
I greet the parish groups, in particular those of Caserta; of Santa Croce of Torre del Greco and of San Michele of Aprilia; the ministrants of San Bonaventura di Cadoneghe - but you are numerous -; the Friends and volunteers of Fraterna Domus and in a special way I want to greet and thank the Circus Artists of Cuba. They bring beauty with their show; a beauty that requires so much effort - we have seen it -, so much training, so much to go on ... But beauty always elevates the heart, beauty makes us more good, everyone; beauty leads us to goodness, it also leads us to God. Thank you so much and continue like this, offering beauty to the whole world. Thank you!
A particular thought I address to the young, the elderly, the sick and the newlyweds.
Next Sunday we will celebrate the solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. Like the Magi, we also raise our gaze to the sky; only in this way will we be able to see the star that invites us to walk the paths of goodness. Happy New Year to all.