How to Pray: Pope Francis Shows Us the Way
The Holy Father’s guide to self-examination will make possible an encounter with Jesus
Navigating the world can be quite the struggle for a Christian. There’s no doubt that evil is manifest all around us, and this can and does lead some Christians to feelings of despondency and despair.
Yet, the Church calls us to live as beacons of light, in the midst of this moral quagmire. We are called to witness to the love of Christ—a light that is within us.
Venting on the latest political intrigue, lamenting the latest brand of moral decadence, and going about with glum faces lifts up no one. What the world needs are concrete examples of authentic lives lived well. This is no easy task when, following the teaching of Christ, living a normal life is no longer normal.
Some of us remember from our early catechism lessons that our purpose on this earth is “to know [God], to love him, and to serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in [heaven].” The order of these three is important; the first is to know him. We cannot love someone we don’t know.
We have to discover who Jesus is, coming to an experiential knowledge of him. Archbishop Fulton Sheen lamented the lack of books on the subject of Our Lord. We have many self-help books; we can read about the spiritual life, but to put it into effect, to spend time at the feet of Our Lord, no one can do that for us. We must do it for ourselves.
Prayer shouldn’t be something left for when we find a little free time. We must pray and we must pray daily, making time especially when we think we do not have it. Once we commit to regular prayer—sometimes described as mental prayer, which is a distinct form of liturgical prayer—we will gain clarity, which gives greater purpose to all of our actions. God will change our hearts to want him more. All we have to do is make a little effort, show a little good will and generosity.
Perhaps this is our first prayer, “Lord, teach us to pray!” as the apostles begged. And we, too, ask our Lord the same.
For contemplation, reflection, and insight, you might begin with The Spirit of Saint Francis: Inspiring Words from Pope Francis. The book begins by encouraging us to commit ourselves to prayer. There, Francis says, we will find joy and an overflowing love of Christ, which we will then reflect to others by living an authentic life, simply and honestly.
The themes Pope Francis suggests for meditation are God’s incredible love for us; His rich mercy and forgiveness; daily prayer leading to a deep, abiding joy that spills over into our evangelizing spirit; and virtues upon which we would do well to focus—simplicity of life and humility.
As we live simply we are better able to care for creation, beginning with those most in need, and extending to the protection of the earth, of which we are stewards. Our charity should be directed toward the poor and the unwanted of society. Our lives ought to speak of God as we live outside of our parish’s walls. It is not enough to cloister ourselves in parishes, especially when those professing and living the Catholic faith are in the minority. We must give witness to our faith and be instruments of peace and pardon, never war or division.
Whether or not we agree with every papal emphasis announced by Pope Francis, he has given us a guide for self-examination. In these reflections, the pope challenges contemporary Christians “to give witness with joy and simplicity to what we are and what we believe in.”
A small sampling of Francis’ words from the book:
“To be friends with God means to pray with simplicity, like children talking to their parents.”
“Let us never tire, therefore, of seeking the Lord―of letting ourselves be sought by him―of tending over our relationship with him in silence and prayerful listening. Let us keep our gaze fixed on him, the center of time and history; let us make room for his presence within us.”
“Miracles happen. But prayer is needed! Prayer that is courageous, struggling and persevering, not prayer that is a mere formality.”
“Being a Christian means having a living relationship with the person of Jesus; it means putting on Christ, being conformed to him.”
“We need to rediscover a contemplative spirit so that the love of God may warm our hearts.”
“The Church urgently needs,” as he calls it, “the deep breath of prayer.” We discover through prayer how infinitely loved we are. It is in prayer that God speaks to us without the noise of words. He comforts us when we are downtrodden, encouraging and strengthening us to persevere another day in the generous service of God.
“When we let the crucified Jesus gaze upon us, we are re-created, we become ‘a new creation.’ Everything starts with this: the experience of transforming grace, the experience of being loved for no merits of our own, in spite of our being sinners.”