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Pope recalls old man of great hope: I’ll get to heaven – limping, but I’ll get there

Maundy Thursday

ALESSANDRO DI MEO / POOL / AFP

Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 06/10/20

Francis reflects on metaphor for prayer in Old Testament, says that in the nights of our lives, we each have an appointment with God.

Pope Francis on June 10 continued his catechesis on prayer, offering a side note as he recalled an elderly man he encountered.

He was, the pope said, a good man and a good Christian, who had great trust in God though he knew he was a sinner. “God will help me,” the old man said, as Francis recounted. “He will not leave me alone. I will enter Heaven – limping, but I’ll enter.”

This anecdote helped to illustrate the Holy Father’s reflection on the patriarch Jacob, who spent the night wrestling with an angel in one of the Old Testament’s metaphors for prayer. Though Jacob was a “self-made man,” the pope said, one who was able to use his smarts to find success in life, on this night, he “is beaten; his sciatic nerve is struck by his opponent, and thereafter he will walk with a limp, for the rest of his life.”

The pope explained that this account from Genesis Chapter 32 shows how God is able to change us. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, and he is given God’s blessing. “A change of name, a change in his way of life, and a personality change: he comes out of it a changed man.”

Jacob had been cunning his entire life, but now, “he is no longer a strategic and calculating man. God returns him to his truth as a mortal man who trembles and fears, because in the struggle, Jacob was afraid.”

For once Jacob has only his frailty and powerlessness, and also his sins, to present to God. And it is this Jacob who receives God’s blessing, with which he limps into the promised land: vulnerable and wounded, but with a new heart.

Jacob had been “immune to mercy” in his self-assuredness, the pope said. “He did not think he was in need of mercy. But God saved what had been lost. He made him understand that he was limited, that he was a sinner who was in need of mercy, and He saved him.”

In this same way, Pope Francis said, we all have an “appointment with God” during the dark moments of our lives, when we realize because of sin or disorientation, that we are vulnerable.

We all have an appointment during the night with God, in the night of our life, in the many nights of our life: dark moments, moments of sin, moments of disorientation. And there we have an appointment with God, always. He will surprise us at the moment we least expect, when we find ourselves truly alone. That same night, struggling against the unknown, we will realize that we are only poor men and women – “poor things,” I dare say – but right then, in that moment in which we feel we are “poor things,” we need not fear: because God will give us a new name, which contains the meaning of our entire life; He will change our heart and He will offer us the blessing reserved to those who have allowed themselves to be changed by Him. 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,” every one of us might say. “Lord, You know me. Change me.”
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Pope Francis
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