Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Papal Stir

Have you ever prayed with anything that any pope has written? Most people I meet have never even read a papal document, let alone prayed with it. “Vaticanese” can be off-putting, to be sure. When I look, though, at something as recent as the fifty-year-old documents of the Second Vatican Council and then compare them with the talks or letters of Pope Benedict, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come. For instance, when I first tackled the Vatican II Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops, I had to hunt for the subject and predicate in most of the labyrinthine sentences. About ten years ago, I read an editorial in an Italian Catholic newspaper. It took me a few minutes just to find the period at the end of the opening 100-word sentence. And we wonder why young people are less than pumped by religious literature.

These days though, some of us could profit from papal prose writing classes—and not just in Italy. On Ash Wednesday, one of the sisters in our Boston community kindly made several photocopies of Pope Benedict’s Lenten message, then anonymously left them outside chapel for any of us who wanted one. Great placement. I found myself not only reading, but praying, through it. Seriously. Benedict’s style made me wonder if he was sharing with us some of what he’d been praying.

Want a try? He based his theme on a few verses from the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews, then drew some very practical conclusions from his reflections. As you might have noticed, I normally I don’t quote more than a paragraph or two from papal teaching in a blog article, but in this one I'm doing something different. I quoted that passage from Hebrews, then divided what I thought were the salient points of the pope's message into four days of prayer. You’ll notice that each day begins with a related Scripture text that Pope Benedict refers to in his comments, continues with an abridged version of his reflections, and concludes with another portion of his thought in prayer form. All in all, each day’s prayer could take as little as five minutes, or last as long as you’re fed. If you have the time, don’t stop with what I prepared; take in the whole banquet. Sometimes, though, a little fast food is enough to hit the spot until we can manage more.

“Let us approach [the sanctuary] with true hearts and the full assurance of our faith….Let us hold fast to the profession of our hope without wavering, for the One Who made the promise to us is faithful. Let us also consider how we can rouse one another to love and good works. Don’t neglect your assemblies, as some are in the habit of doing: encourage one another, especially because you can see the day of the Lord drawing nearer” (Heb. 10:22-25).

1.a. “Let us be concerned for each other” (“Let us also consider how we can rouse one another”): responsibility towards our brothers and sisters.

Scripture: “There was a certain rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and who feasted splendidly every day. A certain poor man named Lazarus used to [lie] at his gate, covered with sores, and he longed to fill himself with what fell from the rich man’s table…”(Luke 16:19-20, 21).

Benedict XVI: “This first aspect is an invitation to be ‘concerned’: the Greek verb used here is katanoein, which means to scrutinize, to be attentive, to observe carefully and take stock of something. So the verb…tells us to look at others, first of all at Jesus, to be concerned for one another, and not to remain isolated and indifferent to the fate of our brothers and sisters. All too often, however, our attitude is just the opposite: an indifference and disinterest born of selfishness and masked as a respect for ‘privacy.’ God asks us to be ‘guardians’ of our brothers and sisters (Gen 4:9), to establish relationships based on mutual consideration and attentiveness to the well-being, the integral well-being of others.”

Prayer: Lord, help us to recognize in others our true alter egos, people whom you infinitely love. May we see them as our brothers and sisters, so that “solidarity, justice, mercy, and compassion will well up in our hearts” and we will acknowledge our responsibility toward them, who, like us, are your creatures and your children.

Benedict XVI: “Concern for others entails desiring what is good for them from every point of view: physical, moral and spiritual. The good is whatever gives, protects and promotes life, brotherhood and communion. Sacred Scripture warns us of the danger that our hearts can become hardened by a sort of ‘spiritual anesthesia’ which numbs us to the suffering of others. What hinders this humane and loving gaze towards our brothers and sisters? Often it is the possession of material riches and a sense of sufficiency, but it can also be the tendency to put our own interests and problems above all else.”

Prayer: Merciful God, may my heart never be so wrapped up in my affairs and problems that I fail to hear the cry of the poor. Jesus, bless me and save me: make me humble of heart like you, so that I “can understand the beatitude of ‘those who mourn’ (Mt. 5:5),” so that I can look beyond myself and feel compassion for the suffering of others, then reach out to them and open my heart to their needs.


1.b. “Being concerned for each other”: concern for their spiritual well-being.

Scripture: “If your brother should sin [against you], go show him his error between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you’ve won your brother back; but if he doesn’t listen, take one or two others with you….If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church…” (Mt. 18: 15, 16, 17).

Benedict XVI: “I would like to mention an aspect of the Christian life, which I believe has been quite forgotten: fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation. Today, in general, we are very sensitive to the idea of charity and caring about the physical and material well-being of others, but almost completely silent about our spiritual responsibility towards our brothers and sisters. This was not the case in the early Church or in those communities that are truly mature in faith, those which are concerned not only for the physical health of their brothers and sisters, but also for their spiritual health and ultimate destiny. Christian admonishment, for its part, is never motivated by a spirit of accusation or recrimination. It is always moved by love and mercy, and springs from genuine concern for the good of the other.”

Prayer: Lord, grant us the grace “to help others and to allow them to help us, so that we can be open to the whole truth about ourselves, improve our lives, and walk more uprightly in your ways.” Let us welcome and share your “gaze that loves and admonishes, knows and understands, discerns and forgives,” as you have done and continue to do with each of us.


2. “Being concerned for each other”: the gift of reciprocity.

Scripture: “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19).

Benedict XVI: “This ‘custody’ of others is in contrast to a mentality that, by reducing life exclusively to its earthly dimension, fails to see it in an eschatological perspective and accepts any moral choice in the name of personal freedom. A society like ours can become blind to physical sufferings and to the spiritual and moral demands of life. This must not be the case in the Christian community! Both our sins and our acts of love have a social dimension….the community constantly does penance and asks for the forgiveness of the sins of its members, but also unfailingly rejoices in the examples of virtue and charity present in her midst. As Saint Paul says…we all form one body.

Prayer: Lord, we belong to you as your People. So, together we offer you our Lenten acts of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. We praise you in the good that you are doing in others, and we thank you for the wonders of grace you accomplish in all your children. Like Jesus, who rejoiced  in the Holy Spirit at the good you did through his disciples (Luke 10:17ff.), we cannot but rejoice and give glory to you, heavenly Father!


3. “To stir a response in love and good works”: walking together in holiness.

Scripture: “The gifts [God] gave were….for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:11, 12, 13).

Benedict XVI:  Heb. 10:24 urges us “to reflect on the universal call to holiness, the continuing journey of the spiritual life. Being concerned for one another should spur us to an increasingly effective love which makes us live each day as an anticipation of the eternal day awaiting us in God. The time granted us in this life is precious for discerning and performing good works in the love of God. In this way the Church herself continuously grows towards the full maturity of Christ (cf. Eph 4:13). Our exhortation to encourage one another to attain the fullness of love and good works is situated in this dynamic prospect of growth.

“Sadly, there is always the temptation to become lukewarm, to quench the Spirit. All of us have received spiritual or material riches meant to be used for the fulfilment of God’s plan, for the good of the Church and for our personal salvation (cf. Lk 12:21b; 1 Tim 6:18). The spiritual masters remind us that in the life of faith those who do not advance inevitably regress. Dear brothers and sisters, let us accept the invitation, today as timely as ever, to aim for the ‘high standard of ordinary Christian living’ (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 31).”

Prayer: Father, we praise you in your saints, who inspire us to imitate them. This is the best way we can “anticipate one another in showing honor” to them (Rom. 12:10). “In a world that demands of [us] a renewed witness of love and fidelity” to you, “may all of us feel the urgent need to anticipate one another in charity, service, and good works.” May the prayer of Mary Ever Virgin guide, strengthen, and comfort us.

See inside here.

There you have it. Actually, “papal prayer” is not beyond the reach of the Church’s younger members, either. The pope’s publisher, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, gave us the nod when we asked about paraphrasing the words of several recent popes and collecting them as prayers into a series of small prayer book size volumes for older kids. With an appealing layout, Praying With the Holy Father joins Adoring Jesus With the Holy Father, and Honoring Mary With the Holy Father in connecting young people with the pastor of their Church.

Sr. Giovanna Galaverna, one of the English-speaking Daughters who staffs our international Pauline Center in Rome, said that the books fly off the table. Last October she told me that Italian priests and bishops who stopped in were disappointed that they weren’t available in Italian. It did no good to tell them that they could use the books to practice their English! Maybe they, too, recognize that the time has come to limit “Vaticanese” only to heavy duty theology and make the life-giving words of the Church’s pastor accessible to more than the young.

Photo credits: Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP

1 comment:

  1. Three A's for Sister Margaret's reflections on Pope Benedict's Lenten Message.
    Awareness, Appreciation, Acknowledgemnt of the goodness that is present in those around me. Sometimes I can be absorbed in my own thoughts, and deeds and fail to notice the goodness of others. Thank you, Sister Margaret, for spotlighting the Papal Prayers.


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