Praying with the pope in December
December is a full month. There’s Advent, Christmas and New Year’s Eve and so much else in both the Church’s calendar and in the secular world. It’s cold and dark in our northern hemisphere. Our cities and towns try to counter the seasonal gloom by means of the lights, decorations and consumerism of the commercial season. Followers of Christ typically lament how little of Christ there is in Christmas any more, while some in authority make it their business to eradicate what little is left, referring to the “holidays” rather than Christmas and deleting references to the nativity story wherever they can. The power of what you can spend is replacing the wisdom of our forefathers and foremothers in faith.
The Pope’s December prayer intention invites us to consider a different source of wisdom. Pope Francis asks the people of God to pray with him “that the elderly, sustained by families and Christian communities, may apply their wisdom and experience to spreading the faith and forming the new generations”. Many, probably most, cultures in human history have deferred to the elders and their wise experience. In our time, we might be the first to devalue the elderly to the point that serious consideration is given to ending a human life when an older person is no longer deemed to be productive. Ours is, at times, a culture of youth and of the scrapheap – for older humans! But every single one of us can, with a little thought, bring to mind immediately a life-lesson that we have learned from our elders. Without that lesson, born of experience and probably learned in turn from their own elders, our lives would be poorer in some respect. So, a first step in praying with the Pope this month can be to take time to ponder what that lesson is in your own life. Then you will begin to notice others too.
It is also about the context. The Pope makes it clear that families and Christian communities should be sustaining their elderly and, through that support network, providing them with the opportunity to apply all their wisdom. That can’t happen without quite a lot of effort. It is no longer automatic. Our Pope’s Prayer Network monthly booklet, Living Prayer (2018 copies available – see below) suggests that “grandparents add depth and foundation to the experience of family” adding that “older people’s life experience allows belief and faith to be shared in the most natural manner. Going to Mass for young children with Granddad or Nan ... is part of sharing life”. This is sometimes called “intergenerational solidarity” and is really very important in the fragmented and polarised contexts in which many of us live in our time. This means that one dimension of praying with the Pope this month means readiness to examine our own consciences about how we respect our elderly - sustaining them or shunning them?
We can also think about and pray about the ways in which we pass on what we have learned, in forming the new generations. You don’t need to have achieved a great age to do this, but it usually helps! Another action-point can be to think about that: how have I, or how might I, use my own experience and wisdom to form the next generations? Do that, and you begin to see that it is a human duty, a mission, especially for the follower of Christ.
Ask the Spirit of God to lead you to a place of interior stillness. Try to find a few moments and an exterior place where you can be peaceful and prayerful, even if only for a few minutes, away from phones, desktops and potential distractions. Finding time and space like this is often difficult but not impossible; let God’s Spirit lead you there. Let the gaze of the Trinity fall on you and become conscious of God looking at you now. Rest in God’s gaze for a few moments. Then hear the words of this month’s Intention addressed to you and your community – the parish, the chaplaincy, or your friendship-circle or family. How does it touch you? Do you sustain the elderly in your life? Bring one or more of them into your prayer. Ask the Spirit to show you, inwardly, the gifts that they bring, and that they represent.
Challenges to action in the month:
- Think of a life-lesson learned from an older person that has influenced how you are leading your own life better. Something will definitely come to mind if you take a few moments to think about it. Whether or not you have acted on that advice, it is there and, once you have started to think about it a bit, others will come to mind. Let them, especially those you should have followed but didn’t. You might also recall less than helpful advice you received! Resolve to try again, starting now.
- No matter what age you are or what stage of the life-cycle you have reached, there will be opportunities to form new generations in the faith. Bearing in mind the strong warnings of Jesus in the Gospel about being a scandal to the young, you could resolve this month to share life-giving, good experiences with someone younger. You could also take careful note of when someone has been a bad example to you, resolving not to repeat that error. Even think of times when you have not set a good example yourself.
- Let’s examine our consciences to discern when we have not done as much as we could, or should, to foster intergenerational solidarity, or accommodated too much to prevailing trends to dismiss the elderly as well as many other groups of people that our society deems less worthwhile. What can I, what can my family or community do, to change that for the better?
The Pope’s Prayer Network offers our Daily Prayer Pathway that incorporates the traditional Morning Offering to the Heart of Christ, united with the Holy Father’s intention. We’ve our new App, Click-to-Pray that gives you a new set of brief prayers every day – together, we can make each day different! And we have our Living Prayer 2018 booklet, with a tear-off page for each month for your missal or diary, and our wall calendar. The 2018 editions carry lovely pictures of churches around the world dedicated to the Heart of Jesus. Limited special-price multipacks containing a calendar, a booklet and several prayer-cards are available for delivery now at £3 plus P&P (£2, UK only). A good Christmas gift, perhaps? Send order to [email protected] or 020 8442 5232.