A reflection from Pope Francis for the Year of Prayer

To read the full reflection and find more resources at dioceseofnottingham.uk/yearofprayer

Consider Abraham, who hears the voice of God and trusts in his word and promises. In obedience to the divine word, he leaves his former life behind to journey wherever God leads him, even to the ultimate test of being asked to sacrifice his own son, Isaac. Through such fidelity, he becomes a member of God’s family, capable even of arguing with him, but always faithful. May we learn from Abraham’s example how to pray with faith: to listen, to journey, to converse and even argue with God, but always prepared to welcome the word and put it into practice.

We consider those times when our prayers appear to go unanswered. We think, for example, of the heartfelt prayers we offer for our sick children, or for our friends who experience great pain. A mature faith trusts in the Lord’s providence, his greater plan for our lives and our world, yet we naturally feel deep disappointment when our petitions seem to go unheard. Jesus shows us by his own example that God understands our sufferings, yet does not always immediately grant our wishes. In Gethsemane, Jesus offered a prayer that seemed to go unanswered; yet his complete trust in the Father’s will led to our salvation and the glory of the resurrection. Evil never has the last word.

Three parables in Luke’s Gospel emphasize how we need to be constant in our prayer. In the first a man asks for help from a friend in the middle of the night and does not give up until his friend responds; in the second a widow persists in asking the unrighteous judge for justice; in the third a publican and a Pharisee pray in the Temple.  We see these three attitudes – insistence, patience and humility – reflected in the saints who persevered in prayer; may we persevere in prayer conscious that we never pray alone, but with Christ himself, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Our parents, who first taught us to pray, planted within us a seed that matures through our experience of the Christian life. Prayer remains the wellspring of the Church’s life and the true source of her strength in bearing witness to the risen Lord. Jesus insists on the need of his disciples to pray tirelessly and without ceasing. To pray and to teach others to pray is essential for the Church’s mission of proclaiming the Gospel, serving Christ in our brothers and sisters, and drawing all people into the unity of his kingdom.

Prayer sows life, small prayers: this is why it is so important to teach children to pray. Children have to be taught to make the Sign of the Cross properly, because it is the first prayer. Perhaps they may forget, take another path, but the first prayers learned as a child remain in the heart, because they are a seed of life, the seed of dialogue with God.

Following the example of Jesus, whenever we pray in silence, so as better to listen to the Lord, we open our hearts to the needs of others.  Although often hidden from the world, our intercessions are never hidden from God, who always hears those who cry to him. Like Christ the Good Shepherd interceding with his heavenly Father for all his children, may our own prayer always be attentive to those most in need.

Prayer leads us into the life of the Holy Trinity, into the eternal mystery of God’s love, which is the source and joy of the entire universe.  Conscious of our unworthiness of so great a gift, we, like the disciples, can cry out “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).  Jesus teaches us not only the words to use in prayer, but shows us the boundless mercy of the Father.  May our prayer draw us ever more fully into the loving communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

: Jesus’ example of praise calls us to respond as he did at times when we feel God is absent or evil seems victorious: in this way we come to view things in a new and greater perspective. Saint Francis of Assisi, praised God for everything, even “Sister Death”; Francis, together with all the saints, teaches us the importance, in all the circumstances of our lives, of praising God who is always faithful and whose love is eternal.

The communion of saints!  Whenever we pray, we find ourselves immersed in a great stream of past, present and future intercessions, for we pray together with all the saints in the communion of the Body of Christ which is the Church.  In Christ too, we sense a mysterious solidarity with our loved ones who have died, for whom we continue to pray. We experience this prayerful solidarity also here below, as we pray for one another and for our brothers and sisters who are poor, suffering and most in need.

We now consider the importance of perseverance in prayer.  Reflecting on Saint Paul’s encouragement to pray unceasingly, the Russian ascetic tradition developed the prayer of the heart, based on repea ting the words, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”, until they become like the air we breathe.  Prayer thus becomes the backdrop against which every action of our lives finds its deepest meaning. If God can find time for each of us, surely we can find time for him!

Jesus taught us to pray to our heavenly Father, acknowledging our total dependence on him and trusting entirely in his providential care. Prayer of petition arises naturally in our hearts. In the Bible we see countless prayers to God to intervene in situations of sickness, injustice, betrayal and despair. Even the simple cry, “Lord, help me!” is itself a powerful prayer. God always hears the cry of those who call upon him.

All our thoughts and activities should be a part of our daily conversation with the Lord.  There is no aspect of our everyday lives, however mundane, that cannot be offered in prayer to God and become an occasion of deeper union with him. In our fragility, prayer is a mark of our supreme grandeur, for prayer can work miracles in our world, transform lives and history, and serve the coming of God’s kingdom of justice and peace.

The beauty and mystery of Creation create in the human heart the first impulse that evokes prayer (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2566).  It is an experience that many of us have had.  If life’s events, with all their bitterness, sometimes risk choking the gift of prayer that is within us, it is enough to contemplate a starry sky, a sunset, a flower…, in order to rekindle a spark of thanksgiving.

Prayer is the rudder that guides Jesus’ course. The stages of his mission were not dictated by success, nor by consensus, or the seductive phrase “everyone is searching for you”. Jesus’ path was charted by the least comfortable one, which obeyed the Father’s inspiration, which Jesus heard and welcomed in his solitary prayer.  From Jesus’ example we can derive some characteristics of Christian prayer.  First and foremost, it possesses primacy: it is the first desire of the day, something that is practised at dawn, before the world awakens. It restores a soul to what otherwise would be without breath.

Saint Luke tells us that of the ten lepers healed by Jesus, only one came back to thank the Lord. This passage reminds us of the importance of gratitude. It shows the great difference between hearts that are thankful and those that are not; between people who see everything as their entitlement and those who receive everything as grace. As Christians, our prayer of thanksgiving is inspired by gratitude for the love of God revealed in the coming of Jesus, his Son and our Saviour.

At the darkest hour of his suffering on the cross, Jesus continues to pray, using the traditional words of the Psalms, identifying himself with the poor and abandoned of our world. In those moments, the crucified Lord takes upon himself the burden of all the sins of the world; of all our sins.

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.

Reflect on how constant prayer was the driving force of the missionary activity of the first Christians.  Saint Luke tells us that they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).  Today too the Church’s life is centred on prayer, which unites us to Christ, and inspires our witness to the Gospel and our charitable service to those in need.

With hands outstretched to God, Moses makes of himself a kind of bridge between earth and heaven, pleading for the people when they are most in need. In this way he prefigures Jesus, our great intercessor and high priest. We Christians are also called to share in this type of prayer, interceding for those who need God’s help, and for the redemption of the whole world.

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.

  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.

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 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.”

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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).

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.

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