Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — When a community is faced with crisis, persecution and trouble, it should come together in prayer for strength from God, not formulate strategic plans to defend itself from difficulties, Pope Benedict XVI said.
Unity is fundamental, he said, and the community needs to come together and ask “only to proclaim the word of God fearlessly in the face of persecution,” not to avoid tests, trials and tribulation.
There was a festive atmosphere during the pope’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square April 18 — two days after the pope turned 85 years old.
Thousands of pilgrims sang “Happy Birthday” when a Bavarian band struck up the tune, and smaller groups of the 22,000 people present sang or shouted “Happy Birthday” in their native languages.
The pope also thanked people for their well-wishes marking the seventh anniversary of his pontificate April 19.
“I ask that you always support me with your prayers so that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I may persevere in my service to Christ and the church,” he said.
During his main audience talk, the pope continued his cycle of talks on prayer.
He looked at how the early Christian community prayed when the apostles Peter and John were released after being arrested for teaching in the name of Jesus.
The fledgling community “raised their voices to God with one accord,” St. Luke says in the Acts of the Apostles, asking the Lord to note the threats being made against them and give them the power and courage “to speak your word with all boldness.”
“Facing danger, difficulties and threats, the first Christian community does not seek to analyze how to react or devise a strategy in how to defend itself, what measures to adopt,” the pope said.
The vulnerable community did not pray to God to for revenge or “to be defended, be spared trials and suffering, it is not a prayer to be successful,” but just to be able to proclaim the word of God with candor, freedom and courage and make “God’s bounty visible.”
An important aspect of their prayer was that it took place in unison and harmony, he said, underlining how important such unity is for the church.
“The community didn’t get scared and didn’t split up, but it was deeply united in prayer,” he said. “Unity is consolidated rather than be compromised because it is sustained by unfaltering prayer.”
At the end of their prayer, the Gospel says, “the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
The pope said the trembling building is meant to show that “faith has the power to transform the earth, the world” and that being filled with the Holy Spirit pushed the disciples to proclaim the Gospel everywhere.
The pope asked that people’s prayers be inspired to seek “God’s loving plan in light of Christ and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” to find answers to life’s questions and difficulties, and better discern the correct direction of one’s life and vocation.
People need to reflect on Scripture and to help make sense of daily events, especially when encountering problems and difficulties.
“Let us be enlightened by the word of God to learn God is present in our lives even in difficult moments and that even trials are part of a divine plan of love.”
“Guided by the spirit of Jesus Christ we will be able to live through every situation with serenity, courage and joy,” the pope said, “knowing that troubles bring about patience” and the Holy Spirit brings hope which doesn’t disappoint.