Pope Francis, after his catechesis on the prayer of Abraham, reflects on his son Jacob. Famously known for his rivalry with his twin brother Esau, through deceit Jacob manages to obtain the blessing and birthright of their father Isaac (cf. Gen 25:19-34).
Forced to flee far from his brother, he seems to succeed in life, he greatly enriches himself, and with tenacity and patience he marries Laban’s most beautiful daughter, with whom he is in love. Yet Jacob still lacks something, a living relationship with his Lord.
One day Jacob hears the call of home, and sets out on a long journey with a caravan of many people and animals to his ancient homeland. Yet at the final moment, Jacob hesitates, pondering what awaits him when he meets his brother Esau again.
Jacob’s mind is a whirlwind of thoughts…. And, as it is growing dark, a stranger suddenly grabs him and begins to wrestle with him. Jacob wrestles the entire night, never letting go of his adversary. In the end he is defeated, his sciatic nerve is struck by his opponent, and thereafter he will walk with a limp for the rest of his life. That mysterious wrestler blesses him: “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Gen 32:28). As if to say: you will never be the same: God changes his name, changes his life, changes his attitude.
Jacob discovers that his cunning, his strategy and calculating, his ingenuity and deceit are now useless. Instead of being in control, God returns Jacob to the truth of Who is in control. In the struggle, Jacob learns he has nothing but his frailty and powerlessness, and also his sins, to present to God. Before Jacob was a self-assured man who trusted in his own shrewdness and ability; now he enters the promised land vulnerable and wounded, but with a new heart.
Wrestling with God is a metaphor for prayer. 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” (ccc, 2573).
Pope Francis invites us to meditate on the story of Jacob (Gen 32:23-33). Prayer is not always easy; often it demands of us a struggle with God and a recognition of our weakness and frailty before him and his will. Yet it is precisely in that struggle and in our woundedness that we experience the healing power of grace and grow in faith. Let us pray for the gift always to be open to this encounter with God, to the conversion of our hearts, and to the many blessings the Lord wishes to pour upon us.