Catholic World News

Jacob's struggle illustrates the problem of prayer, Pope tells audience

May 25, 2011

At his weekly public audience on May 25, Pope Benedict XVI recounted the story of Jacob’s struggle with the unknown at the ford of Jabbok, and likened that experience to the Christian’s life of prayer.

At Jabbok, the Pope recalled, Jacob wrestled all through the night with a figure whose identity he did not know. "Only at the end, when the struggle is finished and that 'someone' has disappeared, only then will Jacob name him and be able to say that he had struggled with God.”

Toward the end of the struggle, the stranger asks Jacob to reveal his name. “In the Biblical mentality, knowing someone's name entails a type of power because it contains the person's deepest reality, revealing their secret and their destiny,” the Pope pointed out. Thus when Jacob does give his name, “he is putting himself in his opponent's hands.”

Jacob, the Pope continued, is a man “who had defrauded his brother out of the first-born’s blessing by deceit.” His name suggests the word for “deceit.” But now, because he has surrendered himself to God’s power, he receives a new name: Israel, which suggests God’s power and victory.

Pope Benedict summed up the way in which this episode illustrates the challenge of Christian prayer:

Our entire lives are like this long night of struggle and prayer, passed in the desire of and request for God's blessing, which cannot be ripped away or won over through our strength, but must be received with humility from Him as a gratuitous gift that allows us, finally, to recognize the face of the Lord. And when this happens, our entire reality changes: we receive a new name and God's blessing.

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  • Posted by: New Sister - May. 26, 2011 6:19 AM ET USA

    May the LORD have mercy upon His Church and bless us even more, by granting His Holiness Benedict XVI a very long, very healthy life - Amen.

  • Posted by: Justin8110 - May. 25, 2011 10:00 PM ET USA

    That's a really nice reflection on prayer. I hadn't ever looked at this episode from Holy Writ like that before so it is surprising in a good way. Holy Scripture is inexhaustible.