Pope Francis: ‘Say Abba, Father, but with the trust of a child’

“In the New Testament, the prayer seems to seek to arrive at the essential, to the point of being concentrated in a single word: Abba, Father. We have heard what Saint Paul writes in the Letter to the Romans: “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him, we cry, “Abba, Father” (8: 15). And to the Galatians, the Apostle says: “Because you are His sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit Who calls out, “Abba”, Father (Gal 4: 6). Twice there returns the same invocation in which all the newness of the Gospel is condensed. After having known Jesus and listened to His preaching, the Christian can no longer consider God as a tyrant to fear; he is no longer afraid but rather feels the trust in Him flourish in his heart: he can speak to the Creator, calling Him “Father”. The expression is so important for Christians that often it is conserved intact in its original form: “Abba”.

“It is not only about using a symbol – in this case, the figure of the father – to link to the mystery of God; it is instead about having, so to say, all Jesus’ world poured into our heart . . . To say “Abba” is something much more intimate and more moving than simply calling God “Father”. . . We continue to say “Our Father”, but with the heart we are invited to say “Papa”, to have a relationship with God like that of a child with his father, who says “Papa” and says “Dad”. Indeed these expressions evoke affection, they evoke warmth, something that is projected to us in the context of childhood: the image of a child completely wrapped in the embrace of a father who feels infinite tenderness for him . . . Like a child in the arms of his father, his daddy.

“What does it mean for Jesus, this word? The “Lord’s Prayer” takes on meaning and color if we learn to pray it after having read the parable of the merciful father in the fifteenth chapter of Luke (cf. Lk 15: 11-32) . . . Then we discover how those words take on life, take on strength. And we ask: how is it possible for You, O God, to know only love? Do you not know hatred? No, God would answer, I know only love. Where in You is the vendetta, the demand for justice, the anger for your wounded pride? And God would answer: I know only love.

“The father of that parable has in his way of acting something that reminds many of the heart of a mother. It is above all mothers who excuse their children, who cover up for them, whose empathy towards them is uninterrupted, who continue to love them even when they no longer deserve anything. It is enough to evoke this single expression – Abba – for Christian prayer to develop. And Saint Paul, in his letters, follows this same road, and it could not be otherwise, as it is the road taught by Jesus in this invocation that is a force that attracts all the rest of the prayer.

“God looks for you even if you do not seek Him. God loves you even if you have forgotten about Him. God perceives in you a beauty even if you think you have squandered all your talents in vain. God is not only a father; He is like a mother who never ceases to love her creations. On the other hand, there is a “gestation” that lasts forever, well beyond the nine months of the physical one; it is a gestation that generates an infinite circuit of love. For a Christian, to pray is simply to say “Abba”, to say “Papa”, to say “Dad”, to say “Father” but with the trust of a child.

“It may be also that we find ourselves walking on paths far from God, as happened to the prodigal son; or that we fall into a solitude that makes us feel we are abandoned in the world, or even to make a mistake and be paralyzed by a sense of guilt. In those difficult moments, we can still find the strength to pray, starting from the word “Father”, but said with the tender meaning of a child: “Abba”, “Papa”. He will not conceal His face from us.

“Remember this well: perhaps someone has ugly things within themselves, things they do not know how to resolve, great bitterness for having done this or that. He will not conceal His face. He does not close up in silence. If you say “Father” to Him, He will answer you. You have a father. “Yes, but I am a delinquent…”. But you have a Father Who loves you! Say “Father” to Him, start praying in this way, and in the silence He will tell you that He has never lost sight of you. “But, Father, I have done this…” – “I have never lost sight of you, I have seen everything. But I have always remained there, close to you, faithful to my love for you”. That will be the answer. Never forget to say “Father.””

(Pope Francis, General Audience, 1/16/19, Vatican City State).