A reflection from Pope Francis for the Year of Prayer

The world is divided in two: those people who do not give thanks and those who do; those who take everything as if it is owed them, and those who welcome everything as a gift, as grace. The prayer of thanksgiving always begins from here: from the recognition that grace precedes us.

To God who blesses, we too respond by blessing — God has taught us how to bless and we must bless – through the prayer of praise, of adoration, of thanksgiving.  The Catechism writes: “The prayer of blessing is our response to God’s gifts: because God blesses, the human heart can in return bless the One who is the source of every blessing” (n. 2626).

Very often it happens that we do not pray, we don’t feel like praying, or many times we pray like parrots, with the mouth, but our heart is not in it. This is the moment to say to the Spirit: “Come, come Holy Spirit, warm my heart. Come and teach me to pray, teach me to look to the Father, to look to the Son. Teach what the path of faith is like. Teach me how to love and, above all, teach me to have an attitude of hope.”

There is no better way to pray than to place oneself like Mary in an attitude of openness, with a heart open to God: “Lord, what you want, when you want, and how you want”. That is, a heart open to God’s will. And God always responds.

There is no better way to pray than to place oneself like Mary in an attitude of openness, with a heart open to God: “Lord, what you want, when you want, and how you want”. That is, a heart open to God’s will. And God always responds.

Christ is the Mediator, the bridge that we cross to turn to the Father.  He is the only Redeemer, He is the Mediator par excellence.  Each prayer we raise to God is through Christ, with Christ and in Christ, and is fulfilled thanks to his intercession.  The Holy Spirit extends Christ’s mediation to every time and every place: there is no other name by which we can be saved.  Jesus Christ, the only Mediator between God and humanity.

Prayer is dialogue with God; and every creature, in a certain sense, “dialogues” with God. Within the human being, prayer becomes word, invocation, hymn, poetry… The divine Word is made flesh, and in each person’s flesh the word returns to God in prayer.

If during prayer we feel sluggish and empty, we must at that moment beg that Jesus’ prayer also become our own. “I cannot pray today, I don’t know what to do: I don’t feel like it, I am unworthy”. In this moment Jesus is before the Father, praying for us; let us trust in this! If we are trustful, we will then hear a voice from heaven, “You are God’s beloved, you are a child, you are the joy of the Father in heaven”.

All human suffering is sacred to God. So praise the prayer of Psalm 56: “You have kept an account of my wanderings; you have kept a record of my tears! Are they not written in your book?” (v. 8). Before God we are not strangers, or numbers. We are faces and hearts, known one by one, by name.

The Pope recalled an occasion when someone said to him: “You talk too much about prayer. It is not necessary”.  The Pope’s reply was emphatic: “Yes, it is necessary.  Because if we do not pray, we will not have the strength to go forward in life.  Prayer is like the oxygen of life.  Prayer draws down upon us the presence of the Holy Spirit who always leads us forward.  For this reason, I speak a lot about prayer.”

The Psalms do not always use refined and genteel language, and that they often bear the scars of existence. And yet, all these prayers were first used in the Temple of Jerusalem and then in the synagogues; even the most intimate and personal ones. “The Psalms’ many forms of prayer take shape both in the liturgy of the Temple and in the human heart” (Catechism 2588). And thus, personal prayer draws from and is nourished first by the prayer of the people of Israel, then by the prayer of the Church.

  The saints recognize that prayer is not always easy, for our human nature is frequently distracted or tempted by seemingly more important priorities.  Many of the saints experienced long periods of spiritual dryness and even darkness.  They teach us that the only response to these temptations is greater perseverance.  In our daily efforts to persevere in prayer may we trust that our own spiritual combat, like that of Jacob and the angel (Genesis 28:16), will bear fruit in a deeper and more mature relationship with the Lord.

Contemplative prayer is an act of the heart by which we fix our gaze in faith upon Jesus, quietly pondering his word and his saving mysteries.  In praying before the Tabernacle, “I look at him and he looks at me”. By gazing on our Lord in this way, we come to feel his loving gaze upon us and our hearts are purified. This in turn enables us to see others in the light of that truth and compassion which Jesus brings to all.

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