Catechesis: 6. Jacob’s Prayer

Por: Papa Francisco

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

We continue our catechesis on the subject of prayer. The book of Genesis, through the experiences of men and women from distant times, tells us stories in which we can reflect our lives. In the cycle of the patriarchs we also find that of a man who had made sagacity his best quality: Jacob. The biblical account tells us about Jacob’s difficult relationship with his brother Sau. From a young time there is rivalry between them and they will never overcome it. Jacob is the second son—they were twins—but through deception he manages to snatch from his father Isaac the blessing and gift of birthright (cf. Genesis 25:19-34). It’s just the first in a long series of squirrels this unscrupulous man is capable of. Also the name “Jacob” means someone who has sagacity when moving.

Forced to flee away from his brother, he seems to succeed in every scenario of his life. He is adept at business: he gets very rich, becoming the owner of a huge herd. With tenacity and patience he manages to marry the most beautiful daughter of Laban, of which he was really in love. Jacob – we would say with modern language – is a man who “has done himself”, with wit, sagacity, is able to conquer everything he desires. But he’s missing something. He lacks the living relationship with his roots.

And one day he feels the call of the home, of his former homeland, where Esaú, the brother with which he had always maintained a terrible relationship, still lived. Jacob leaves and makes a long journey with a caravan number of people and animals, until he reaches the last stage, to the ford of Yabboq. Here the book of Genesis offers us a memorable page (cf. 32:23-33). He recounts that the patriarch, having crossed the river to all his people and all the cattle—which was a lot—is left alone on the foreign shore. And he thinks: What awaits him for tomorrow? What attitude will your brother Sau, who had stolen the birthright, take? Jacob’s mind is a turbine of thoughts… And, as it gets dark, suddenly a stranger clings to him and starts fighting with him. The Catechism explains: “The spiritual tradition of the Church has taken from this account the symbol of prayer as a battle of faith and a victory of perseverance” (CIC, 2573).

Jacob fought throughout the night, never letting go of his opponent. In the end he is defeated, beaten by his rival on the sciatic nerve, and since then he will be lame for life. That mysterious fighter asks the patriarch the name and says, “From now on you will not be called Jacob but Israel; for you have been strong against God and against men, and you have overcome Him” (v. 29). As if to say: you will never be the man who walks like this, but straight. It changes his name, it changes his life, it changes his attitude. Your name is Israel. Then Jacob also asks the other, “Please tell me your name.” He does not reveal it to him, but, in compensation, blesses him. And Jacob understands that he has found God “face to face” (cf. vv. 30-31).

Fight with God: a metaphor for prayer. Other times Jacob had been able to dialogue with God, to feel it as a friendly and close presence. But on that night, through a long-lasting struggle that almost saw him succumb, the patriarch came out changed. Change of name, change of way of life and change of personality: it comes out changed. For once he no longer owns the situation—his sagacity does not work—he is no longer the stratatic and calculating man; God returns him to his mortal truth that trembles and is afraid, because Jacob in the struggle is afraid. For once Jacob has nothing else to present to God but his fragility and helplessness, but also his sins. And it is this Jacob who receives from God the blessing, with which he limping into the promised land: vulnerable and violated, but with a new heart. I once heard an old man say—good man, good Christian, but sinner who had so much confidence in God—he said, “God will help me; he won’t leave me alone. I’ll go into paradise, limping, but I’ll go in.” Before, he was someone who was sure of himself, trusted his own sagacity. He was a man impervious to grace, refractory to mercy; I didn’t know what mercy is. “Here I am, I command!” I did not consider that I 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.

All of us have a date at night with God, on the night of our lives, on the many nights of our lives: dark moments, moments of sin, moments of disorientation. There’s a date with God, always. He will surprise us the moment we don’t expect him, when we’re really alone. On the same night, fighting the unknown, we will become aware of being only poor men—I allow myself to say “poor” — but precisely then we must not fear: because at that moment God will give us a new name, which contains the meaning of our whole life; It will change our hearts and give us the reserved blessing to those who have been changed by Him. This is a beautiful invitation to let us change for God. He knows how to do it, because he knows each of us. “Lord, you know me, ” can be said by each of us. “Lord, you know me. Change me.”

Best regards:

I cordially greet the Spanish-speaking faithful, who follow this catechesis through social media. Let us ask the Lord to give us the strength to let ourselves be surprised by his mercy, to accept our fragility without fear, knowing that even if it is night and we are alone, fighting against the unknown, God can give meaning to our whole lives and give us the blessing he reserves to those who let themselves be transformed by Him. God bless you.


World Day Against Child Labour is celebrated next Friday, 12 June, a phenomenon that deprives children of their childhood and jeopardizes their integral development. In the current situation of health emergency, in several countries many children and young people are required to do inappropriate work at their age, to help their families in conditions of extreme poverty. In not a few cases these are forms of slavery and seclusion that cause physical and psychological suffering. All of us are responsible for it.

I call on the institutions to make every effort to protect minors, filling the economic and social gaps that form the basis of 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 promote their growth, health and serenity.

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