Continuing his catechesis on Christian prayer at the weekly General Audience in the Vatican, Pope Francis explains that prayer belongs to the very essence of the Church, without which she cannot carry out her evangelising mission and service to others.
By Robin Gomes
In his Catechesis at Wednesday’s General Audience, the Pope explained how the Church is a great school of prayer. As children, he said, we learn our first prayers on the laps of grandparents and parents, who also give their advice inspired by the Gospel. Later, the experience of faith and prayer is deepened through encounters with other witnesses and teachers of prayer, such as in the life of a parish and every Christian community which is marked by liturgical and community prayer.
Prayer and difficulties of life
“The garment of faith,” the Pope said, “is not starched, but develops with us.” It is not rigid, it grows, even through moments of crisis and resurrection. And “you cannot grow without moments of crisis, because crisis makes you grow.”
He continued, “And the breath of faith is prayer: we grow in faith inasmuch as we learn to pray.” After certain moments in life, we become aware that without faith we could not have made it through and that our strength was prayer. We realize that not only personal prayer, but also that of our brothers, sisters and the community, whom we requested, also accompanied and supported us.”
Community and prayer
The Pope explained, “This is also why communities and groups dedicated to prayer flourish in the Church. Monasteries, convents, hermitages often become centres of spiritual light, small oases in which intense prayer is shared and fraternal communion is constructed day by day.” The Pope said, “They are cells that are vital not only for the ecclesial fabric, but that of society itself.” In this regard, he recalled the role of monasticism in the birth and growth of European civilization as well as other cultures. “Praying and working in community keeps the world going. It is a motor.”
“Everything in the Church,” the Pope continued, “originates in prayer and everything grows thanks to prayer.” He pointed out that certain groups while carrying out reforms and changes in the Church, put great effort in terms of organization and the media but prayer is sometimes missing. “Prayer,” the Pope said, “is what opens the door to the Holy Spirit, which is what inspires us to go forward.” He continued, “Changes in the Church without prayer are not Church changes, they are group changes. And when the Enemy wants to fight the Church, he does so, first of all, by trying to dry up its sources, by preventing it from praying, and [inducing it to] make these other proposals.” When prayer ceases, he said, “the Church realizes it has become like an empty shell, lost its bearings and no longer has its source of warmth and love.”
Prayer – oil for the lamp of faith
The Pope pointed out that holy women and men also have problems in their lives, and often face opposition. “But their strength is prayer” through which they nourish the flame of their faith, like oil used for lamps. Thus, they move ahead walking in faith and hope, “not with the weapons of money and power, or of the media and the like, but with the weapon of prayer.”
Evangelization and service
“In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus poses a dramatic question that always makes us reflect,” the Pope said: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” Or, the Pope asked, “will He only find organizations, like a group of ‘faith entrepreneurs,’ all well organized, doing charity and many things?” That, he said, is why Jesus insists on the “need to pray with perseverance without getting tired.” Hence, “the lamp of faith will always be lit on earth as long as there is the oil of prayer.”
The Pope said it is prayer that carries forward our prayer and our poor, weak, sinful life with certainty. Therefore, Christians should ask themselves whether they pray and how they pray. “Do I pray like a parrot or from the heart? Do I pray feeling part of the Church and praying for its needs, or do I pray a little according to my needs, letting my ideas become prayer,” the Pope asked. “This is pagan prayer, not Christian prayer,” he said.
The essential task of the Church, then, is to pray and to teach how to pray, transmitting “the lamp of faith and the oil of prayer from generation to generation.” Without the light of this lamp, he said evangelization would not be possible and we would not be able to draw near and serve our brothers and sisters. “For this reason,” the Pope said, “the Church, as the house and school of communion, is the house and school of prayer.”