VATICAN CITY – Learning to pray well is a continual process, but should always start from a place of humility, as Jesus demonstrated in the Gospels, Pope Francis said Wednesday.
“Even if we have been praying for so many years, we must always learn!” the pope said December 5. “The prayer of man, this yearning that is born so naturally from his soul, is perhaps one of the most impenetrable mysteries of the universe.”
And the first step, he continued, is humility. “Go to the Father … go to the Madonna, say: Look at me, I am a sinner, I am a debtor, I am disobedient. … But begin with humility!”
This is in contrast to the prayer of the Pharisee, as told by Jesus in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the Gospel of Luke, Pope Francis said. The Pharisee prayed from a place of pride, thanking God that he was “not like the rest of humanity.”
On the other hand, the tax collector “would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’” According to Jesus, “only the latter, the tax collector, returns home from the temple justified,” the pope noted.
In his catechesis for the weekly general audience, Pope Francis spoke about prayer — and the fact that Jesus himself was a man of prayer — as the first part in a new series on the Our Father.
He noted that despite the urgency of Jesus’ earthly mission and the demands on him by the many people around him, Jesus would still take the time to pray, as is noted in the first chapter of Gospel of Mark: “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.”
This scene, the pope explained, took place in Capernaum, after Jesus had been preaching and healing the sick.
“Here is the essential point,” he said, “Jesus prayed. Jesus prayed intensely in public moments, sharing the liturgy of his people, but he also sought collected places, separate from the spin of the world, places that allowed him to descend into the secret of his soul.”
But though many people pray, the way Jesus prayed “also contained a mystery,” he continued, “something that certainly did not escape the eyes of his disciples, as we find in the Gospels that simple and immediate supplication: ‘Lord, teach us to pray,’” he said.
Jesus, of course, teaches his disciples, and all his children, to pray. “He came precisely to introduce us into this relationship [with] the Father,” Pope Francis said, urging everyone to ask the Lord to teach them to pray.
“Therefore, beginning this cycle of catechesis on the prayer of Jesus, the most beautiful and fair thing that we all have to do is to repeat the invocation of the disciples,” he said: “‘Teacher, teach us to pray!’ It would be nice, in this time of Advent, to repeat it: Lord, teach me to pray!”