Even if people have always prayed, today there is still a "need to learn to pray”. Prayer should not be taken for granted "even masters of spiritual life must always learn and renew" this art, said Pope Benedict XVI Wednesday as he introduced a new series of lessons for his General Audience, inviting the 40 thousand people gathered in a sun kissed St Peter’s Square to join him over the coming week in a veritable ‘school of prayer proper to Christians’.
However, introducing this latest cycle of catechesis, the Pope surprisingly reached back beyond the Christian era to highlight what we can learn about man’s thirst for an inner dialogue with God from ancient cultures: “Christian prayer is grounded in the gift of new life brought by Christ; it is an “art” in which Christ, the Son of God, is our supreme teacher. At the same time, prayer is a part of the human experience, as we see from the ancient cultures of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome”.
He continued “There we find eloquent expressions of a desire to see God, to experience his mercy and forgiveness, to grow in virtue and to experience divine help in all that we do. In these cultures there is also a recognition that prayer opens man to a deeper understanding of our dependence on God and life’s ultimate meaning”.
In comments in Italian the Pope gave an example of the ancient Greek culture where, “the great philosopher Plato tells of a prayer of his teacher, Socrates, who is rightly considered one of the founders of Western thought: grant that I may become beautiful within, and that whatever outward things I have may be in harmony with the spirit inside me. May I understand that it is only the wise who are rich, and may I have only as much money as a temperate person needs. For me, that prayer is enough”.
Pope Benedict continued “the pagan religions, however, remain a plea for divine help, an expression of that profound human yearning for God which finds its highest expression and fulfilment in the Old and New Testaments. Divine revelation, in fact, purifies and fulfils man’s innate desire for God and offers us, through prayer, the possibility of a deeper relationship with our heavenly Father. With the disciples, then, let us ask the Lord: “Teach us to pray” (cf. Lk 11:1)”.
Finally the Holy Father welcomed all the English-speaking visitors present at the Audience, especially those from Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Nigeria, Japan, Singapore and the United States. My particular greeting goes to the pilgrimage group from the Archdiocese of Kampala, led by Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga. “Upon all of you I invoke an abundance of joy and peace in the Risen Christ!”.
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