In our darkest moments God awaits us and is ready to transform us, Pope Francis said at his general audience on Wednesday.
Reflecting on Jacob’s struggle with an angel described in the Book of Genesis, the Pope said that the episode offered an insight into prayer.
“We all have an appointment in the night with God, in the night of our lives, in the many nights of our lives: dark moments, moments of sin, moments of disorientation,” he said.
“There is an appointment with God there, always. He will surprise us when we do not expect it, when we find ourselves truly alone.”
The pope said that in this moment of trial we will become aware of our poverty before God. But we will have nothing to fear “because in that very moment God will give us a new name, which contains the meaning of our whole life.”
“He will change our hearts and give us the blessing reserved for those who let themselves be changed by Him,” he explained.
“This is a beautiful invitation to let ourselves be changed by God. He knows how to do it, because He knows each one of us. ‘Lord, You know me,’ each one of us can say. ‘Lord, You know me. Change me.’”
The pope was speaking in the library of the Apostolic Palace, where he has held his general audiences since the coronavirus pandemic struck Italy in March.
Continuing his cycle of catechesis on prayer, he reflected on the life of Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham. He noted that Jacob had a difficult relationship with his brother Esau.
He said: “From an early age, there was rivalry between them, and it will never be overcome later. Jacob is the second son — they were twins — but by deception he manages to obtain the blessing and birthright from his father Isaac. It is only the first of a long series of ploys of which this unscrupulous man is capable.”
After Jacob was forced to flee, the pope said, he became a successful “self-made man,” excelling at business and marrying a woman he loved.
But one day he felt a call to return home, where his brother awaited him. He made the long journey with a caravan of people and animals, stopping to rest by the stream at Jabbok.
The pope said: “Here the Book of Genesis offers us a memorable page. It tells us that the patriarch, after having made all his people and all the cattle — which was a lot — cross the stream, remains alone on the foreign shore. And he thinks: what awaits him the next day? What will be the attitude of his brother Esau, from whom he stole the birthright?”
“Jacob’s mind is a whirlwind of thoughts… And as it gets dark, suddenly a stranger grabs him and begins to fight with him. The Catechism explains: ‘From this account, the spiritual tradition of the Church has retained the symbol of prayer as a battle of faith and as the triumph of perseverance.’”
The pope noted that according to Genesis 32:23-33 Jacob struggled with the stranger throughout the night, never letting go of his opponent. But although he finally won the battle, he received a crippling injury.
The “mysterious wrestler” declared that now Jacob would be known as Israel. But when Jacob asked the stranger for his name, the stranger did not reveal it, but simply blessed him. Jacob then realized that he had met God, Pope Francis explained.
He said: “Wrestling with God: a metaphor for prayer. At other times Jacob had shown himself capable of dialogue with God, of feeling Him as a friendly and close presence. But on that night, through a struggle that lasted a long time and which saw him almost succumb, the patriarch came out changed. He changed his name, changed his way of life and changed his personality: he came out changed.”
“For once he is no longer master of the situation — his cunning is no longer necessary — he is no longer the strategist and calculating man; God brings him back to his truth as a mortal who trembles and is afraid, because Jacob was afraid in the struggle.”
“For once Jacob has nothing else to present to God but his frailty and powerlessness, even his sins. And it is this Jacob who receives the blessing from God, with which he enters the promised land with a limp: vulnerable, and wounded, but with a new heart.”
Summing up the patriarch’s transformation, the pope said: “Jacob was a self-assured man before; he trusted in his own shrewdness. He was a man impermeable to grace, immune to mercy; he did not know what mercy was. ‘Here I am, I am in command!’ He did not think he needed mercy.”
“But God saved what was lost. He made him understand that he was limited, that he was a sinner who needed mercy and saved him.”
The pope concluded his general audience with an appeal to end child labor. Noting that Friday, June 12, is the World Day Against Child Labor, an observance introduced by the UN’s International Labor Organization in 2002, he said that boys and girls who were forced to work were deprived of their childhoods.
“In the current health emergency situation, in several countries many children and young people are forced into jobs that are inappropriate for their age, to help their families in conditions of extreme poverty,” he said.
“In many cases these are forms of slavery and imprisonment, resulting in physical and psychological suffering.”
He continued: “I appeal to institutions to make every effort to protect minors, filling the economic and social gaps that underlie the distorted dynamic in which they are unfortunately involved.”
“Children are the future of the human family: it is up to all of us to foster their growth, health and serenity.”