VATICAN CITY — Jesus teaches us that we must be consistent in our prayer, Pope Francis said at the general audience Wednesday.

Speaking in the library of the Apostolic Palace Nov. 4, the pope described prayer as an “art” that must be “practiced insistently.”

“We are all capable of sporadic prayers, which arise from a momentary emotion; but Jesus educates us in another type of prayer: the one that knows a discipline, an exercise, assumed within a rule of life,” he said.

“Consistent prayer produces progressive transformation, makes us strong in times of tribulation, gives us the grace to be supported by Him who loves us and always protects us.”

This morning’s audience was the first since August without members of the public present. The Vatican decided to hold the pope’s weekly catechesis behind closed doors amid a rising number of coronavirus cases in Italy and after at least one person attending the pope’s Oct. 21 audience was discovered to have been positive for COVID-19.

Addressing pilgrims via livestream, the pope said: “Unfortunately, we’ve had to return to holding this audience in the library, to defend ourselves against contagion from COVID.”

“This also teaches us that we must be very attentive to the prescriptions of the authorities, both political authorities and health authorities, to defend ourselves against this pandemic.”

He continued: “Let us offer to the Lord this distance between us, for the good of all, and let us think, let us think a lot about the sick, about those who are already marginalized when they enter hospital. Let us think of the doctors, the nurses, the volunteers, the many people who work with the sick at this time. They risk their lives but they do so out of love, love of neighbor, as a vocation. Let us pray for them.”

In his address, Pope Francis continued his catechesis on prayer, which he began in May and resumed in October after a series of audiences devoted to the coronavirus crisis beginning in August.

The pope observed that Jesus’ public life was sustained by solitary prayer.

“There is, therefore, a secret in Jesus’ life, hidden from human eyes, which is the fulcrum of everything else. Jesus’ prayer is a mysterious reality, of which we have a slight intuition, but which allows us to interpret His entire mission from the right perspective,” he said.

He recalled an episode in the town of Capernaum, recorded in Mark 1:35-38, when Jesus spent an evening healing the sick. In the morning, he rose early and withdrew to a deserted place to pray. When his disciples found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you,” to which Jesus replied, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.”

The pope commented: “Prayer was the rudder that guides Jesus’ course. It was not success, it was not consensus, it was not the seductive phrase ‘Everyone is searching for you,’ that dictated the stages of His mission.”

He said that Jesus’ example revealed four essential characteristics of Christian prayer.

First, Jesus shows that prayer must come before all else.

He said: “First and foremost, it possesses primacy: it is the first desire of the day, something that is practiced at dawn, before the world awakens. It restores a soul to that which otherwise would be without breath. A day lived without prayer risks being transformed into a bothersome or tedious experience: all that happens to us could turn into a badly endured and blind fate. ”

When we put prayer first, daily trials turn into opportunities to grow in faith and charity, he explained.

“Prayer has the power to transform into good what in life could otherwise be condemnation; prayer has the power to open the mind and broaden the heart to a great horizon,” he said.

Second, Jesus shows the importance of persistence in prayer.

Third, Christ prayed in solitude, indicating that we should also retreat daily to “deserted places” to pray.

“There, in silence, many voices can emerge that we hide in our innermost selves: the most repressed desires, the truths that we insist on suffocating, and so on. And, above all, in silence God speaks,” he said.

“Every person needs a space for him- or herself, to be able to cultivate the inner life, where actions find meaning. Without the inner life we become superficial, agitated, and anxious -- how anxiety harms us! This is why we must go to pray; without an inner life we flee from reality, and we also flee from ourselves, we are men and women always on the run.”

Fourth and finally, Jesus shows that prayer enables us to see our dependence on God.

“Sometimes we human beings believe that we are the masters of everything, or on the contrary, we lose all self-esteem, we go from one side to another,” he noted. “Prayer helps us to find the right dimension in our relationship with God, our Father, and with all creation.”

Concluding his reflection, the pope said: “Dear brothers and sisters, let us rediscover Jesus Christ as a teacher of prayer in the Gospel and place ourselves in His school. I assure you that we will find joy and peace.”

Following the catechesis, Francis addressed the recent spate of terror attacks in Europe.

He said: “In these days of prayer for the dead, we have remembered and continue to remember the helpless victims of terrorism, which is escalating in its cruelty throughout Europe.”

“I am thinking, in particular, of the serious attack in Nice in recent days, in a place of worship, and of the other one the day before yesterday in the streets of Vienna, which caused dismay and reprobation among the population and those who cherish peace and dialogue.”

“I entrust to God’s mercy the people who have tragically departed and I express my spiritual closeness to their families and to all those who suffer as a result of these deplorable events, which seek to compromise fraternal cooperation between religions through violence and hatred.”

In his greetings to Polish pilgrims, the pope highlighted a global rosary initiative launched in Poland on All Saints’ Day. The “Rosary to the Gates of Heaven” hopes to unite people around the world in prayer for unborn children Nov. 1-8.

“During this week, throughout Poland, the common prayer ‘Rosary to the Gates of Heaven’ unites your families and parishes,” Francis said.

“May this supplication, brought to heaven through the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary, obtain the healing of wounds associated with the loss of unborn children, the forgiveness of sins, the gift of reconciliation, and fill your hearts with hope and peace.”