Jesus Is the Model of Prayer

Author: Pope John Paul II

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 24 January 1986, the Holy Father began a series of catecheses on the work of redemption, which was the “summit and center” of the mission of Christ. 

Jesus Christ is the Redeemer. The center and summit of his mission, that is, the work of the redemption, includes also this aspect: he became the perfect model of man's salvific transformation. Indeed, all the preceding catecheses in this series have been developed from the perspective of the redemption. We have seen that Jesus announced the Gospel of God's kingdom. But we have also learned from him that the kingdom definitively enters human history only in the redemption through the cross and resurrection. Now he "will hand over" this kingdom to the apostles, so that it may last and be developed in the world's history by means of the Church. The redemption carries in itself the messianic liberation of man, who passes from the slavery of sin to life in the freedom of God's children.

Jesus Christ is the perfect model of this life, as we have learned from the apostolic writings quoted in the previous catechesis. He is the Son who is consubstantial with the Father, united with him in the divinity ("I and the Father are one," Jn 10:31). By means of all which "he did and taught" (cf. Acts 1:1), Jesus is the only model of filial life directed toward, and united with, the Father. Referring to this model, and reflecting him in our conscience and conduct, we can develop in ourselves a similar form and direction of a "Christlike" life, in which the true "freedom of God's children" (cf. Rom 8:21) is expressed and realized.

Actually, the whole life of Jesus of Nazareth was directed toward the Father, as we have noted many times. This already appears in the answer given by the twelve-year-old Jesus to his parents on the occasion of the finding in the Temple: "Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father's affairs?" (Lk 2:49). Toward the end of his life, on the first day of the passion, "when he knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father" (Jn 13:1), that same Jesus was to say to the apostles, "I go to prepare a place for you; and when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.... In my Father's house are many rooms" (Jn 14:2-3).

From beginning to end this theocentric direction in Jesus' life and action was clear and univocal. He led his followers to the Father, creating a clear model of life oriented toward the Father. "I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love." Jesus considers abiding in the Father's love, that is, fulfilling his will, to be his food: "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work" (Jn 4:34). Thus does he speak to his disciples at Jacob's well at Sychar. Before that, in the course of his conversation with the Samaritan woman, he had indicated that this "food" should become the spiritual heritage of his disciples and followers: "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him" (Jn 4:23).

The true adorers are, first of all, those who imitate Christ in what he does, and he does everything in imitation of the Father: "The works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me" (Jn 5:36). Also, "The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise" (Jn 5:19). In this way we find a perfect basis for the Apostle's words, according to which we are called to imitate Christ (cf. 1 Cor 11:1; 1 Thess 1:6), and consequently, God himself: "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children" (Eph 5:1). The "Christlike" life is at the same time a life like that of God, in the fullest sense of the word.

The concept of Christ's "food," which throughout his life was to fulfill the Father's will, introduces us to the mystery of his obedience which went as far as death on a cross. Indeed, it was a bitter food, as appears especially during the prayer in Gethsemane, and afterward during the course of his whole passion and agony on the cross: "Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what you will" (Mk 14:36). To understand this obedience and why this "food" had to be so bitter, it is necessary to look at the whole story of man on earth, marked by sin, or rather by disobedience toward God, Creator and Father. Therefore, "the Son who makes us free" (cf. Jn 8:36), makes us free by means of his obedience unto death. He did it, showing to the very end his submission full of love: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Lk 23:46). In this self-offering, in this total "self-abandonment" to the Father, the simultaneous divine union of the Son with the Father ("I and the Father are one," Jn 10:31) is affirmed above the whole story of human disobedience. This expresses what we can describe as the central outline of the imitation to which man is called in Christ: "Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother" (Mt 12:50; cf. Mk 3:35).

In his life, totally oriented "toward the Father" and deeply united to him, Jesus Christ is the model also of our prayer, of our life of mental and vocal prayer. He not only taught us to pray, principally in the Our Father (cf. Mt 6:9 f.), but the example of his prayer offers us an essential occasion to reveal his bond and union with the Father. One can say that in his prayer the fact that "no one knows the Son except the Father" and "no one knows the Father except the Son" (cf. Mt 11:27; Lk 10:22) is confirmed in a very special way.

Let us recall the more important occasions in his life of prayer. Jesus spent much time in prayer (cf. Lk 6:12; 11:1), especially during the night, seeking places suitable for this (cf. Mk 1:35; Mt 14:23; Lk 6:12). By prayer he prepared himself for baptism in the Jordan (Lk 3:21), and to appoint the twelve apostles (cf. Lk 6:12-13). Through the prayer in Gethsemane he prepared himself to face the passion and death on the cross (cf. Lk 22:42). The agony on Calvary was borne completely through prayer: from Psalm 22:1, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" to "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34), to the final act of abandonment: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Lk 23:46). Yes, in life and in death, Jesus was a model of prayer.

Concerning Christ's prayer, we read in the Letter to the Hebrews that "in the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered" (Heb 5:7-8). This statement signifies that Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled the Father's will, God's eternal design concerning the world's redemption at the price of the supreme sacrifice for love. According to John's Gospel this sacrifice was not only a glorification of the Father by the Son. It was also a glorification of the Son, in accordance with the words of the priestly prayer of the upper room: "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him power over all flesh to give eternal life to all whom you have given him" (Jn 17:1-2). This is what was fulfilled on the cross. The resurrection after three days confirmed and expressed the glory with which "the Father glorified the Son" (cf. Jn 17:1). Christ's whole life of obedience and filial devotion was based on his prayer, which therefore gained for him the final glorification.

This spirit of a loving, obedient, and devoted child stands out also from the episode already recalled, when the disciples requested Jesus "to teach them to pray" (cf. Lk 11:1-2). He passed on to them, and to all the generations of their followers, a prayer which commences with that verbal and conceptual synthesis which is so expressive: "Our Father." These words manifest Christ's spirit directed as a Son toward the Father and engaged to the very end with "the Father's affairs" (Lk 2:49). In giving us this prayer for all times, Jesus has passed on to us, in and with it, a model of life united in a filial way to the Father. If we are to make our own this model for our life, in particular, if we are to participate in the mystery of the redemption by imitating Christ, it is necessary that we do not cease to pray to the Father as Jesus has taught us.