Pope Francis urged Catholics on Wednesday to praise God not only in happy times, “but above all in difficult moments.”
In his general audience address on Jan. 13, the pope compared those who praise God to climbers who breathe in oxygen that enables them to reach the summit of a mountain.
He said that praise “must be practiced not only when life fills us with happiness, but above all in difficult moments, in moments of darkness when the path becomes an uphill climb.”
After undergoing these “demanding passages,” he said, we are able to see “a new panorama, a broader horizon.”
“Giving praise is like breathing pure oxygen: it purifies the soul, it makes you look far ahead so as not to remain imprisoned in the difficult moment, in the darkness of difficulty,” he explained.
In Wednesday’s address, Pope Francis continued his cycle of catechesis on prayer, which he began in May and resumed in October following nine addresses on healing the world after the pandemic.
He dedicated the audience to the prayer of praise, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes as one of the principal forms of prayer, alongside blessing and adoration, petition, intercession, and thanksgiving.
The pope meditated on a passage in St Matthew’s Gospel (11:1-25), in which Jesus responds to adversity by praising God.
“After the first miracles and the involvement of the disciples in the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, the mission of the Messiah goes through a crisis,” he said.
“John the Baptist doubts and makes Him receive this message -- John is in jail: ‘Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ (Matthew 11:3) because he feels this anguish of not knowing whether he is mistaken in his proclamation.”
He continued: “Now, precisely in this disappointing moment, Matthew relates a truly surprising fact: Jesus does not lift up a lament to the Father, but rather He raises a hymn of jubilation: ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,’ says Jesus, ‘that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes’ (Matthew 11:25).”
“So, in the midst of a crisis, amid the darkness of the soul of so many people, such as John the Baptist, Jesus blesses the Father, Jesus praises the Father.”
The pope explained that Jesus praised God, above all, because of who God is: his loving Father. Jesus also praised Him for revealing himself to the “little ones.”
“We too must rejoice and praise God because humble and simple people welcome the Gospel,” he said. “When I see these simple people, these humble people who go on pilgrimages, who go to pray, who sing, who praise, people who perhaps lack many things but whose humility leads them to praise God…”
“In the future of the world and in the hopes of the Church there are the ‘little ones’: those who do not consider themselves better than others, who are aware of their own limitations and their sins, who do not want to lord it over others, who, in God the Father, recognize that we are all brothers and sisters.”
The pope encouraged Christians to respond to their own “personal defeats” in the same way as Jesus.
“In those moments, Jesus, who highly recommended the prayer of asking questions, at the very moment when He would have had reason to ask the Father for explanations, instead begins to praise Him. It seems to be a contradiction, but it is there, it is the truth,” he said.
“To whom is praise helpful?” he asked. “To us or to God? A text of the Eucharistic liturgy invites us to pray to God in this way, it says this: ‘Although you have no need of our praise, yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift, since our praises add nothing to your greatness, but profit us for salvation.’ By giving praise, we are saved.”
“The prayer of praise serves us. The Catechism defines it this way -- the prayer of praise ‘shares in the blessed happiness of the pure of heart who love God in faith before seeing Him in glory.’”
The pope then reflected on a prayer by St. Francis of Assisi, known as the “Canticle of Brother Sun.”
“The Poverello did not compose it in a moment of joy, in a moment of wellbeing, but on the contrary, in the midst of hardship,” he explained.
“Francis was by then almost blind, and he felt in his soul the weight of a solitude he had never before experienced: the world had not changed since the beginning of his preaching, there were still those who let themselves be torn apart by quarrels, and in addition, he was aware that death was approaching ever nearer.”
“It could have been the moment of disillusionment, of that extreme disillusionment and the perception of his own failure. But Francis prayed at that instant of sadness, in that dark instant: ‘Laudato si’, mi Signore…’ (‘All praise is yours, my Lord...’)”
“He prays by giving praise. Francis praises God for everything, for all the gifts of creation, and even for death, which he courageously calls ‘sister.’”
The pope commented: “These examples of saints, of Christians, and also of Jesus, of praising God in difficult moments, open to us the gates of a great road towards the Lord, and they purify us always. Praise always purifies.”
In conclusion, Pope Francis said: “The saints show us that we can always give praise, in good times and bad, because God is the faithful Friend.”
“This is the foundation of praise: God is the faithful friend, and His love never fails. He is always beside us, He always awaits us. It has been said, ‘He is the sentinel who is close to you and keeps you going with confidence.’”
“In difficult and dark moments, let us have the courage to say: ‘Blessed are you, O Lord.’ Praising the Lord. This will do us so much good.”