On Prayer in Part 1 of Revelation

"The Church at prayer, in welcoming the Lord's Word, is transformed"

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 5, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall. The Holy Father reflected on prayer in the first part of the Book of Revelation.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, after a summer holiday break, we resume the Audiences at the Vatican, and I would like to continue in that “school of prayer” that I am living together with you through these Wednesday catecheses.

Today I would like to speak about prayer in the Book of Revelation [also known as theApocalypse], which as you know is the final book in the New Testament. It is a difficult book, but it contains great riches. It puts us in contact with the living and pulsating prayer of the Christian assembly, gathered together “on the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10): Indeed, this is the underlying current in which the text moves.

A reader presents to the assembly a message that has been entrusted by the Lord to the Evangelist John. The reader and the assembly constitute, as it were, the two protagonists in the development of the book. From the outset, to them a festal greeting is addressed: “Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear” (1:3). A symphony of prayer flows from their unbroken dialogue, and it develops through a great variety of forms until the book’s conclusion. In listening to the reader who presents the message, and in hearing and observing the assembly that responds, their prayer tends to become ours.

The first part of Revelation (1:4-3:22) presents — through the attitude of the assembly that prays — three successive stages. The first (1:4-8) consists of a dialogue — the only case of its kind in the New Testament — that takes place between the assembly that has just gathered and the reader, who addresses them with a greeting of blessing: “Grace to you and peace” (1:4). The reader proceeds to highlight the source of this greeting. It comes from the Trinity: from the Father, from the Holy Spirit, from Jesus Christ — who together are involved in carrying out the creative and saving plan for humanity. The assembly listens, and when they hear the name of Jesus Christ there is a burst of joy, and they respond with enthusiasm, raising the following prayer of praise: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (1:5b-6).

The assembly, enveloped by Christ’s love, feels liberated from the bondage of sin and proclaims itself the “kingdom” of Jesus Christ that belongs totally to Him. It recognizes the great mission entrusted to it through baptism, that of bringing the presence of God to the world. And it concludes its celebration of praise by looking once again directly at Jesus, and with growing enthusiasm it acknowledges that to him belong “glory and dominion” for having saved mankind. The final “amen” concludes the hymn of praise to Christ.

Already these first four verses contain a great wealth of pointers for us. They tell us that our prayer should consist, first and foremost, in listening to God who speaks to us. Inundated as we are with so many words, we are little accustomed to listen, and especially to placing ourselves in an interior and exterior state of silence, in order to be attentive to what God wants to tell us. These verses also teach us that our prayer, so often filled only with requests, should instead be filled with praise to God for his love, for the gift of Jesus Christ, who brought us strength, hope and salvation.

A new intervention by the reader then reminds the assembly, which is seized by the love of Christ, of their commitment to grasp the significance of his presence in their own lives. He says: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” (1:7a). After being lifted up to heaven in a “cloud” — a symbol of transcendence (cf. Acts 1:9) — Jesus Christ will return in the same way as he went up into heaven (cf. Acts 1:11). Then all the peoples of the earth will acknowledge him, and as St. John exhorts in the Fourth Gospel, “they shall look on him whom they have pierced” (19:37). They will think of their own sins, the cause of his crucifixion, and as those who participated directly in it on Calvary “they will beat their breasts” (Luke 23:48), asking him for forgiveness in order to follow him in their lives and thus prepare for full communion with Him after his final return. The assembly reflects on this message and says: “Yes. Amen!” (Revelation 1:7b). With their “yes” they express their full acceptance of all that has been communicated to them, and they ask that this may truly become a reality. It is the prayer of the assembly that meditates on the love of God supremely manifest on the Cross and asks to live consistently as disciples of Christ.

Then there is God’s response: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (1:8). God, who reveals himself as the beginning and end of history, receives and takes to heart the assembly’s prayer. He was, is, and will be present and active with his love in human events — in the present and in the future, as in the past, until the final goal has been attained. This is God’s promise. And here we find another important element: constant prayer reawakens in us the sense of the Lord’s presence in our lives and in history, and his is a presence that sustains us, guides us and gives us great hope, even amid the darkness of certain human events. Furthermore, every prayer, even the one offered in the most radical solitude, is never isolated and is never barren; rather, it is the lifeblood that nourishes a more committed and coherent Christian life.

The second stage of the assembly’s prayer (1:9-22) further deepens their relationship with Jesus Christ: the Lord makes himself seen, he speaks, he acts, and the community, ever closer to Him, listens, responds and receives. In the message presented by the reader, St. John recounts one of his own personal experiences of an encounter with Christ: he is on the island of Patmos on account of “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (1:9), and it is the “Lord’s day” (1:10) Sunday, when the Resurrection is celebrated. And St. John is “taken by the Spirit” (1:10a). The Holy Spirit permeates him and renews him, expanding his capacity to receive Jesus, who invites him to write. The prayer of the assembly that is listening gradually assumes a contemplative attitude punctuated by the verbs “it sees,” “it gazes”: it contemplates, that is, all that the reader proposes to it, interiorizing it and making it its own.

John hears “a loud voice like a trumpet” (1:10b). The voice commands him to send a message “to the seven Churches” (1:11) located in Asia Minor, and through these to all the Churches of all times, together with their Pastors. The expression “voice, like a trumpet,” which is taken from the book of Exodus (cf. 20:18), recalls the divine manifestation to Moses on Mount Sinai and it indicates the voice of God, who speaks from his heaven, from his transcendence. Here it is attributed to Jesus Christ the Risen One, who from the glory of God the Father speaks with the voice of God to the assembly gathered in prayer. Turning “to see the voice” (1:12) John catches sight of “seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a Son of man” (1:12-13) — a particularly familiar expression for John which indicates Jesus himself. The golden lampstands, with their candles alight, indicate the Church of every age, in an attitude of prayer in the Liturgy: the Risen Jesus, the “Son of man,” is in her midst and, clothed in the vestments of the High Priest of the Old Testament, he carries out the priestly role of mediator near the Father.

In John’s symbolic message, there then follows a luminous manifestation of the Risen Christ, with characteristics belonging to God that hearken back to the Old Testament. He speaks of “hair … white as white wool, white as snow” (1:14), which is the symbol of God’s eternity (Daniel 7:9) and of the Resurrection. A second symbol is that of fire, which in the Old Testament is often attributed to God in order to indicate two properties. The first is the jealous intensity of His love that animates His covenant with man (cf. Deuteronomy 4:24). And it is this same burning intensity of love that we read in the gaze of the Risen Jesus: “His eyes were like a flame of fire” (Revelation1:14a). The second is the unrelenting ability to overcome evil like a “devouring fire” (Deuteronomy 9:3). Thus, even “the feet” of Jesus, on the way to confronting and destroying evil, have the glow of “burnished bronze” (Revelation 1:15). Then, the voice of Jesus Christ, “like the sound of many waters” (1:15c), has the impressive roar “of the glory of the God of Israel” that moves toward Jerusalem, spoken of by the prophet Ezekiel (cf. 43:2).

Three more symbolic elements follow thereafter and reveal how much the Risen Jesus is doing for the Church: He holds her firmly in his right hand — which is a very important image: Jesus holds the Church in his hand — He speaks to her with the penetrating power of a sharp sword, and he reveals the splendor of His divinity to her: “His face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:16). John is so taken by this marvelous experience of the Risen One, that he feels himself failing and falls as though dead.

After this experience of revelation, the Apostle has before him the Lord Jesus, who speaks with him, reassures him, lays his hand on his head, discloses His identity as the Crucified and Risen One, and he entrusts him with the task of transmitting one of his messages to the Churches (cf. Revelation 1:17-18). How beautiful is this God before whom he falls as though dead. He is the friend of his life, and he lays his hand on his head. And so it will be for us as well: we are friends of Jesus. Therefore, the revelation of the Risen God, of the Risen Christ, will not be terrifying; rather, it will be an encounter with the friend. The assembly experiences with John the special moment of light before the Lord, united, however, with the experience of the daily encounter with Jesus, thereby tasting the richness of contact with the Lord, who fills every space of existence.

In the third and final stage of the first part of Revelation (2-3), the reader proposes a sevenfold message in which Jesus speaks in the first person. Addressed to the seven Churches located in Asia Minor around Ephesus, Jesus’ address begins with the particular situations of each of the Churches, and then expands to include the Churches of every age. Jesus enters immediately into the heart of the situation of each Church, emphasizing lights and shadows and addressing them with a pressing invitation: “Repent” (2:5,16; 3:19c); “hold fast what you have” (3:11); “do the works you did at first” (2:5); “be zealous and repent” (3:19b) … This word of Jesus, if listened to in faith, immediately begins to be effective: The Church at prayer, in welcoming the Lord’s Word, is transformed. All the Churches must place themselves in attentive listening to the Lord by opening themselves to the Spirit as Jesus insistently asks, seven times repeating this command: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches” (2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22). The assembly hears the message and is moved to repentance, to conversion, to perseverance, to an increase in love, and to guidance for their journey.

Dear friends, Revelation presents to us a community united in prayer, for it is precisely in prayer that we increasingly experience the presence of Jesus with us and in us. The more and better we pray with constancy, with intensity, the more we become like him, and he truly enters into our lives and guides them, bestowing joy and peace. And the more we know, love and follow Jesus, the more we feel the need to take time out in prayer with him, thus receiving serenity, hope and strength in our lives. Thank you for your attention.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we consider the theme of prayer as found at the start of the Book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse. In some ways, it is a difficult book, but it contains many riches. Even the opening verses of the Book contain a great deal: they tell us that prayer means, above all, listening to the God who speaks to us. Today, amid the din of so many useless words, many people have lost the habit of listening, even to God’s word. The opening lines of the Apocalypse teach us that prayer is not just more words, asking God to grant our various needs, but rather it must begin as praise to God for his love, and for his gift of Jesus Christ, who has brought us strength, hope and salvation. We are to welcome Jesus into our lives, to proclaim our “Yes!” to Christ and to nourish and deepen our Christian living. Constant prayer will reveal to us the meaning of God’s presence in our lives and in history. Prayer with others, liturgical prayer in particular, will deepen our awareness of the crucified and risen Jesus in our midst. Thus, the more we know, love and follow Christ, the more we will want to meet him in prayer, for he is the peace, hope and strength of our lives.

* * *

I am pleased to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present today, including those from England, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, and the United States. I am especially pleased to welcome the group of Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit as well as the young men and women of the Focolare Movement who have been participating in this year’s Genfest in Budapest. Dear young people, you have taken to heart Christ’s call to promote unity in the human family by courageously building bridges. I therefore encourage you: be strong in your Catholic faith; and let the simple joy, the pure love, and the profound peace that come from the encounter with Jesus Christ make you radiant witnesses of the Good News before the young people of your own lands. God bless all of you abundantly!

© Copyright 2012 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

[In Italian, he said:]

Lastly, I greet all the young people here present, those persons who are ill, and newlyweds. Dear young people, in returning to the usual daily activities after the summer holidays, may you also resume the regular rhythm of your conversation with God, who pours light into you and around you. Dear sick, may you find support and comfort in the Lord Jesus, who continues his work of redemption in the life of every man. And may you, dear newlyweds, learn how to cultivate the spiritual dimension [in your life together], so that your union may be ever stronger and deeper. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]