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Prayer is the one thing necessary

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 4 January 1995 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In the Christian tradition a prominent place has always been given to contemplation as the highest expression of the spiritual life and the culminating moment in the process of prayer. The contemplative act gives the fullness of meaning to religious life of whatever form, as a consequence of the special consecration resulting from the profession of the evangelical counsels. By virtue of this consecration, religious life is--and cannot but be--a life of prayer and thus of contemplation, even when in the form of spirituality and in practice, the time devoted to prayer is not exclusive or predominant.

This is why the Council states: "The members of every community, seeking God solely and before everything else, should join contemplation, by which they fix their minds and hearts on him, with apostolic love..." (PC 5). Thus the Council stresses that contemplation is not only obligatory in institutes that are purely contemplative but in all institutes, even those which are dedicated to very demanding apostolic work. Commitment to prayer is essential in every consecrated life.

2. This is what we learn from the Gospel, to which the Council itself refers. A Gospel episode recalled in particular (cf. PC 5) is that of Mary of Bethany, "who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak." To Martha, who wanted her sister to help her do the serving and so asked Jesus to intervene to urge her to work, the Master replied: "Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her" (Lk 10:38-41). The meaning of this reply is self-evident. The "better part" is listening to Christ, remaining close to him, adhering to him in spirit and heart. This is why in the Christian tradition inspired by the Gospel, contemplation enjoys undisputed priority in religious life. Furthermore, in his reply the Master made Martha understand that adhering to his person, to his words, to the truth which he reveals and offers on God's behalf is "the only thing that is [truly] needed." It is as if to say that God--and also the Son made man--desires the homage of the heart before that of activity, and that the purpose of the religion Jesus instituted in the world is to adore the Father "in spirit and truth" (Jn 4:24). He himself desires this, according to the teaching given to the Samaritan woman.

3. In this priority of the homage of the heart, the Council teaches us to see also the proper response to the love of God who has first loved us (cf. PC 6). Sought in a privileged way by the Father, religious are called in turn to "seek God," to direct their desires to the Father, to maintain contact with him through prayer and to give him their hearts with ardent love.

They realize this intimacy with God in a life with Christ and in Christ. The Council says: "Let them strive to foster in all circumstances a life hidden with Christ in God (cf. Col 3:3)" (PC 6). St. Paul states the basic law of this hidden life: "Think of what is above, not of what is on earth" (Col 3:2). This hidden aspect of the intimate union with Christ will be revealed to us in its profound truth and beauty in the world to come.

4. On the basis of this essential meaning of consecrated life the Council recommends: "Members of religious communities should resolutely cultivate both the spirit and practice of prayer" (PC 6). Here it is sufficient for us to explain that "the spirit of prayer" is identified with the attitude of the soul that thirsts for divine intimacy and strives to live in this intimacy with total self-dedication. This attitude is expressed in concrete prayer to which a certain period is devoted each day of one's life. This too is an imitation of Jesus. Even during the most intense period of his ministry he set aside moments exclusively for dialogue with the Father in solitary prayer (cf. Mk 1:35; Lk 5:16; 6:12).

5. It is known that in the Christian tradition there are various forms of prayer, especially prayer "in common" and "private" prayer. Both are necessary and are generally prescribed. Prayer in common should never cause one to become unaccustomed to private prayer, nor should the latter become so prevalent that community prayer is eliminated or disparaged. A genuine spirit of gospel prayer regulates both forms in a beneficial balance for the soul, a balance which the founders and legislators of religious institutes establish in harmony with the authority of the Church.

The same can be repeated about the distinction between vocal prayer and mental prayer, or "oration" In fact, every prayer must be the prayer of the heart.

Jesus recommended humble, sincere prayer: "Pray to your Father in secret" (Mt 6:6). He warned that it is not the quantity of words which insures that prayers will be heard (cf. Mt 6:7). But it is likewise true that interior prayer tends by human nature itself to be expressed and extended in words and gestures, in a series of acts of so-called external worship, whose soul is always the prayer of the heart.

6. The Council also indicates "the authentic sources of Christian spirituality" and prayer (PC 6). They are reading and meditating on Sacred Scripture, so as to enter more deeply into the mystery of Christ; and the liturgy, especially the celebration of the Eucharist, with its wealth of readings, sacramental participation in the redemptive sacrifice of the cross, and living contact with Christ as our food and drink in Communion. Some institutes also promote the practice of Eucharistic adoration, which fosters contemplation and attachment to the person of Christ, and witnesses to the attraction his presence exercises on humanity (cf. Jn 12:32). They cannot but be praised and held up for imitation.

7. We know that today, as always in the past, there are institutes "entirely dedicated to contemplation" (PC 7).They have their place in the Church's life even "no matter how pressing the needs of the active apostolate may be" (PC 7), which are felt in the world today. This is the concrete recognition of Christ's words about the "one thing that is necessary." The Church needs the prayer of contemplatives to grow in her union with Christ and to obtain the necessary graces for her development in the world. Contemplatives, monks and nuns, and cloistered monasteries are thus also witnesses to the priority which the Church gives to prayer and of the fidelity she wishes to reserve to the reply Jesus gave Martha about the "better part" chosen by Mary.

8. At this point it is necessary to remember that the response to the contemplative vocation implies great sacrifices, especially that of giving up direct apostolic activity, which today especially seems connatural to the majority of Christian men and women. Contemplatives are dedicated to the worship of the Eternal and "offer to God a sacrifice of praise which is outstanding" (PC 7) in a state of personal oblation so lofty as to require a special vocation, which must be verified before admission or final profession.

However, it should be noted that contemplative institutes also have an apostolic function in the Church. Indeed, prayer is a service to the Church and to souls. It yields "abundant fruits of holiness" and obtains for the People of God "a hidden apostolic fruitfulness" (PC 7). Indeed, we know that contemplatives pray and live for the Church. They often obtain for her support and progress those heavenly graces and assistance that are far superior to those achieved by activity.

In this respect it is beautiful to end this catechesis by recalling St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. By her prayers and sacrifices she furthered the preaching of the Gospel as much as and more than if she had been totally dedicated to missionary activity, so much so that she was proclaimed patroness of the missions. This highlights the essential importance of institutes of contemplative life. It recalls the need for all these institutes of religious life, even those dedicated to the busiest and most varied apostolates, to remember that activity--even the holiest and the most beneficial to our neighbor--can never dispense with prayer as the homage of one's heart, mind and whole life to God."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese 

Chers frères et sœurs,

Je vous salue cordialement, chers pèlerins de langue française. Que la joie de Noël ne cesse d’illuminer vos cœurs et de vous faire avancer vers le Christ Sauveur! Je demande à Dieu de vous bénir et de vous garder chaque jour.

Ai pellegrini inglesi

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

To all the English–speaking pilgrims and visitors I offer prayerful good wishes for a blessed New Year filled with joy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ad un gruppo di fedeli giapponesi 

Rendiamo grazie a Dio!

Cari pellegrini del Giappone, benvenuti a Roma!

A voi, fratelli in Cristo o ricercatori della radice della cultura, chiedo di contribuire allo sviluppo della cultura dell’amore e alla ricerca della verità. Vi benedico di cuore.

Rendiamo grazie a Dio! 

Ai fedeli di espressione tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit diesen Überlegungen grüe ich Euch, die deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher, sehr herzlich und wünsche Euch allen noch ein gesegnetes und friedvolles Neues Jahr. Euch, Euren lieben Angehörigen zu Hause sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen. 

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Me es grato saludar a todas las personas de lengua española que participan en esta audiencia, especialmente a los grupos de peregrinos de Argentina y México. Que este nuevo año sea propicio para intensificar el espíritu de oración. Os imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica. 

Ai pellegrini di lingua polacca 

Witam serdecznie pielgrzymów z Polski: z archidiecezji wrocławskiej, z diecezji legnickiej i zielonogórsko–gorzowskiej, którzy przygotowują się do uroczystości konsekracyjnej biskupów. Witam kard. Henryka Gulbinowicza oraz biskupów nominatów: z Koszalina Pawła Cieślika i z Legnicy Stefana Regmunta, a także ordynariusza legnickiego bpa Tadeusza Rybaka. Witam grupę prawników polskich z Krakowa, Katowic, Warszawy, Rzeszowa, Przemyśla, Tarnowa (częściowo starych znajomych) wraz z ks. bpem Tadeuszem Pieronkiem, sekretarzem Konferencji Episkopatu Polski. Witam również serdecznie zespół muzyczny z Warszawy. 

Ai croati 

Saluto cordialmente gli alunni e gli insegnanti della Scuola Elementare di Kutina, i profughi di Banja Luka e di Doboj, come pure i bambini di varie località della Bosnia Erzegovina, che in occasione delle Feste Natalizie sono ospiti in Italia delle Parrocchie di Minturno, nei pressi di Latina, e di Casal di Principe, nei pressi di Caserta.

Carissimi, vi auguro che l’anno appena iniziato diventi un anno della vera pace e della giustizia per tutte le care popolazioni della Bosnia Erzegovina e della Croazia, così duramente provate dalla guerra. Vi assicuro che non cesso di pregare per tale intenzione.

Benedico ciascuno di voi e le vostre famiglie.

Siano lodati Gesù e Maria! 

Ai pellegrini di lingua italiana 

Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini italiani, in particolare ai bambini, ai ragazzi e agli adulti della parrocchia del Sacro Cuore in Piano di Mommio (Lucca), e li incoraggio ad operare uniti per un rinnovato annuncio del Vangelo.

Saluto inoltre i responsabili, gli artisti e il personale del circo “Nando Orfei”, ai quali auguro che i loro apprezzati spettacoli in Italia e nel mondo diffondano sempre un messaggio di fraternità, in un clima di serena distensione. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e alle coppie di sposi novelli 

Con l’augurio che la gioia di questo tempo natalizio riempia i pensieri e l’affetto del vostro cuore, saluto infine voi, giovani, malati e sposi novelli, presenti a questa udienza.

Lieti nella speranza ed appassionati del bene, siate, cari giovani autentici testimoni della luce che il Salvatore ha portato ad ogni uomo e che rischiara il cammino della vita. Voi cari ammalati, servite il Signore sopportando con pazienza e nella preghiera il dolore che colpisce i vostri corpi. E voi, cari sposi novelli, perseverate nel reciproco amore, che il sacramento nuziale ha purificato ed elevato, per edificare la vostra famiglia sulla concordia e sull’imitazione della carità divina.

La mia Benedizione Apostolica ottenga a tutti abbondante grazia e pace.

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