“I entrust myself to your prayers.”
“After the great Pope John Paul II, the Cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord. The fact that the Lord knows how to work and to act even with inadequate instruments comforts me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers. Let us move forward in the joy of the Risen Lord, confident of His unfailing help. The Lord will help us and Mary, His most holy Mother, will be on our side. Thank you.”
These are the first words our present Holy Father Benedict XVI directed to the faithful at Saint Peter's Square and to all of us throughout the world. They fill us with deep joy. He entrusts himself to our prayers, fully aware that all the faithful through their prayers participate in the fulfillment of his immense mission. Accordingly, we share in his responsibility for the entire Church.
A woman once said to her father: "We need to pray for priests." He answered straight out: "What? Why should we pray for priests? They are supposed to pray for us!" Similarly, someone might respond to the Holy Father: "Why should we pray for you, Holy Father? Have you not already reached the summit of the spiritual life? How is it, that you still need prayers? Did not God call you and make you His friend, so that you readily receive everything from Him? And because He called you, will He not be a good Father to you and provide all you need for your mission?"
Many people think like this and apply this conclusion to all our spiritual leaders, the bishops and priests. They just assume that priests receive from God all the help and graces they need. And being much nearer to God than the rest of the faithful—so goes this logic—the whole burden lies with them: They have to pray for the Christian faithful in the midst of the world, bringing the laity nearer to God?
How many think in this way. Of course, we are dealing here with a half-truth, which permits the complacent to excuse themselves and withdraw into their "snail shell". For bishops and priests do have the sacred duty to pray for the faithful. Moreover, they have the sacred and most difficult responsibility to influence, teach, guide and govern the faithful towards the Kingdom of God. And for all these, they render an accounting of their sacred stewardship before God. The other half of the truth is the grave obligation of the faithful to pray and be solicitous for their bishops and priests. While God—in His omnipotence—could easily have chosen to give bishops and priests directly all the strength and grace they require for the fulfillment of their ministry, in fact—in His wisdom—He ordained that all members of the Mystical Body of Christ be solicitous for and contribute to the well being of the other members. For this reason, Our Lord Himself, though truly GOD, in the weakness of the flesh, called upon His disciples to pray with Him, when it came time to embrace His holy Passion and Death: "My soul is sorrowful even unto death. Stay you here and watch with Me" (Mt 26:38).
Likewise, He foresaw the trials and weakness of His disciples; that all, for fear of the Cross, would leave Him: "All you shall be scandalized in me this night. For it is written: I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock shall be dispersed" (Mt 26:31). Here again, He did deign to sustain them not with a direct and immediate outpouring of divine power, but chose, as our Mediator according to His humanity, to sustain them by His prayers and example. Because of their exposed position, He knew that the leaders in the Church are especially exposed to spiritual battle and temptations. Jesus foretold to Peter: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat!" But Jesus assured Peter of His prayers: "I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail" (Lk 22:31-32). Did not Jesus want to give us herewith an example to be imitated?
St. Paul, himself also an apostle and most gifted, openly confessed his sense of insufficiency and weakness (cf. 1 Cor 2:3; 4:10; 2 Cor 12:10). Hence, we are not surprised that he repeatedly asked for prayers: "Brethren, pray for us!" (1 Thes 5:25). To the Christians of Ephesus he wrote that they have to pray for themselves and for him: "Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak" (Eph 6:18-20). "Brethren, pray for us, that…we may be delivered from wicked and evil men; for not all have faith" (2 Thes 3:1-2; cf. Phil 1:19; Col 4:3).
When, therefore, our new Holy Father asks for our prayers and, indeed, entrusts himself to our prayers, he follows the example of the Apostles. He does not presumptuously rely on his own talents, knowledge and experience. Rather, he humbly submits himself to the omniscience and omnipotence of God, Who preferentially chooses the lowly as the instruments of His grace. And in this same wisdom, He also provides that the fulfillment of His will may come about through the cooperation of the faithful, namely, through their prayers. It is not because God needs our prayers to carry out His will; rather, having deigned to call us to collaborate in the work of salvation, He ordained such prayers and suffering as means of collaboration. God stands above the weaknesses of man, as St. Paul experienced and made clear for all times: "The weakness of God is stronger than men."
...We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor 1:17 – 29)
In a homily at the Holy Mass just before the Cardinals entered the Conclave, the then Cardinal Ratzinger said: "We so often feel, and it is true, that we are only useless servants (cf. Lk 17:10). …[And] Christ shows us His tenderness. He feels for us a passionate love that goes even as far as the folly of the Cross. He entrusts Himself to us; He gives us the power to speak in His name: 'this is My Body…', 'I forgive you…' …To our weak minds, to our weak hands, He entrusts His truth" (Monday, April 18, 2005).
How much more is Benedict XVI aware of his own weakness now that the responsibility for the universal Church weighs upon his shoulders! He accepted this mission in obedience to the will of God. More than ever he can identify with St. Paul's words: "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling…" (1 Cor 2:2-3). Out of this deep awareness of his limitations came the words: "and above all I entrust myself to your prayers." Pope Benedict does not turn back to himself, for he immediately added: "Let us move forward in the joy of the Risen Lord, confident of His unfailing help. The Lord will help us and Mary, His most holy Mother, will be on our side." Just as the Lord wants to work through the Pope as an instrument of His divine omnipotence, even so does He wish to grant His grace and help in conjunction with our intercessory prayer. Both of these moments reveal His tender love for man. Therefore, we too who are far away from Rome, who may or may not ever meet Benedict XVI in this life, we too share in the mission and responsibility God has entrusted to him. In and through our prayers we are called to minister to the sacred ministers of Christ, as the most recent "Doctor of the Church", the Little Flower explains:
Another discovery I made concerned priests. Until then I hadn't been able to understand the main purpose of Carmel. I loved praying for sinners, but I was astounded at having to pray for priests. I thought their souls were without blemish. It was in Italy that I came to understand my vocation, and it wasn't too far to travel to learn that. I met many holy priests during the month I was away, but I saw that some of them were still men, weak and subject to human frailty, even though the sublime dignity of the priesthood raised them above the angels. Now if prayers are needed for those holy priests whom Jesus called "the salt of the earth," how much more is it needed for priests of lukewarm virtue. For did not Jesus also ask: "If salt loses its taste, what is there left to give taste?" What a wonderful vocation we Carmelites have! It is up to us to preserve the salt of the earth. We offer our prayers and penance for God's Apostles and we are their apostles, while, by word and deed, they bring the Gospel to our brethren. (St. Thérèse de Lisieux, The Story of a Soul, ch. 6)
It is true, that the Little Flower speaks here about the vocation of cloistered nuns in Carmel. But it is also true, that Benedict XVI did not say "I entrust myself to your prayers" only to the Carmelite nuns. He was speaking "Urbi et Orbi", to the immense crowd of faithful at Saint Peter's Square and to all who waited in the entire world for this moment. He spoke also to us and expects that we take it seriously. He will sincerely thank us for every prayer or sacrifice we offer for him and any of his co-workers, bishops and priests.
Let us, therefore, confirmed in our resolution and strengthened with this confidence of our new Pope Benedict XVI in our help, continue in this most valuable contribution to the glorification of God, the coming of His Kingdom and the salvation of the souls.
(Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC)
Suggested reading: Maurice & Thérèse. The Story of a Love. The Inspiring Letters Between Thérèse of Lisieux and a Struggling Young Priest. Patrick Ahern, ed. Doubleday, New York, 1998.
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