Catholics should take courage in the fact that even as Jesus was dying on the cross, his most agonizing moment on earth, he was praying for them, Pope Francis said Wednesday.
Speaking during his weekly general audience June 16, the pope noted that “even in the most painful of our sufferings, we are never alone.”
“Jesus prays for me: each one of us can take this to heart. We must not forget. Even in the worst moments. We are already welcomed into Jesus’ dialogue with the Father in the communion of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
The general audience, which was held in the Vatican’s San Damaso Courtyard, was Francis’ final catechesis on prayer before starting a new theme next week.
Pope Francis said it was beautiful to remember that not only do we receive grace through our own prayers, but that we have also been prayed for by Jesus to the Father.
“We were willed by Christ Jesus, and even in the hour of His passion, death, and resurrection, everything was offered for us,” he observed.
“And so, with prayer and with life, there remains only to have courage and hope, and with this courage and hope, to feel the prayer of Jesus strongly and to keep on going,” he said, “so that our life may be one of giving glory to God in the knowledge that he prays for me to the Father, that Jesus prays for me.”
In his address, Pope Francis recalled the importance of prayer in the course of Jesus’ life and mission, as testified by the Gospels.
“Jesus immersed himself in [prayer], because the dialogue with the Father was the incandescent core of all his existence,” he said, noting that Jesus’ prayer became even more intense as he neared the time of his passion and death.
“These culminating events constitute the central core of Christian preaching,” he explained. “Those last hours lived by Jesus in Jerusalem are the heart of the Gospel not only because the Evangelists reserve proportionally greater space to this narrative, but also because the event of His death and resurrection -- like a flash of lightning -- sheds light on the rest of Jesus’ life.”
The pope also emphasized that Jesus was not a mere philanthropist who cared about human suffering: In Jesus, there is “total salvation, messianic salvation, that gives hope in the definitive victory of life over death.”
“In the days of His last Passover, we therefore find Jesus fully immersed in prayer,” the pope said. “He prays dramatically in the garden of Gethsemane, we heard, assailed by mortal anguish. And yet Jesus, precisely in that moment, addresses God as ‘Abba,’ Father. This word, in Aramaic, which was Jesus’ language, expresses intimacy and trust. Just as He feels the darkness gather around Him, Jesus breaks through it with that little word: Abba!”
“Jesus also prays on the cross, obscurely shrouded in the silence of God. And yet once again the word ‘Father’ emerges from his lips,” he said.
According to Francis, “it is the most ardent prayer, because on the cross Jesus is the absolute intercessor: He prays for others, he prays for all, even for those who have condemned him, even though no one apart from a poor delinquent takes his side. Everyone was against him or indifferent, only that criminal recognized the power.”
“‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ In the midst of the drama, in the excruciating pain of soul and body, Jesus prays with the words of the psalms,” he said, “with the poor of the world, especially those forgotten by all, he pronounces the tragic words of Psalm 22: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”
Pope Francis said that “the cross is the fulfillment of the gift of the Father, who offers the unreserved love of his Son as the price of our salvation: Jesus, laden with all the sin of the world, descends into the abyss of separation from God. Yet, still he turns to him invoking: ‘My God!’ Jesus remains immersed in his sonship even at that extreme moment, until his last breath, when he says: ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’”
“Jesus therefore prays in the decisive hours of his passion and death. With the resurrection, the Father will answer His prayer,” the pope reflected.
“The prayer of Jesus is intense,” he added. “The prayer of Jesus is unique and also becomes the model of our prayer. Jesus prayed for everyone. Jesus prayed for me and for each of you. Each of us can say: On the cross, Jesus prayed for me. He prayed.”