Praying with the Pope in July
July is the height of summer for most of us in the northern hemisphere; schools and colleges complete their syllabi for the year and, for the minority of us who can afford it, holidays and August beckon. So many of us have no chance of a holiday, either in the sense of going away somewhere different or in the sense of respite from a lived reality marked by suffering, by poverty or by violence. Sometimes, too, we’re tempted to take a holiday from our lived faith, from the obligations that we accept when we choose to be followers of Christ; but we come to see that this isn’t possible, that you can’t take a break from living as a Christian should.
The pope’s first intention for July refers us not to those who have, as it were, taken a holiday from Christian faith but who have drifted away more permanently. And it is highly likely that they have done so for the good reason that others of us have indeed gone on holiday from the Christian life – because of counter-examples that demonstrate anything but the “beauty” of that life that this month’s intention names.
Very often, because they have not had much experience of other people behaving as Christians, some have drifted away and others have made a deliberate choice for a different pathway. This intention asks us to join with the Pope in praying “that our brothers and sisters who have strayed from the faith, through our prayer and witness to the Gospel, may rediscover the merciful closeness of the Lord and the beauty of the Christian life”.
That must involve an examination of our own consciences, individually and ecclesially, and honestly, to name and admit what in our behaviour has repelled people from following this pathway. It is about us at least as much as it is about them. We might not have admitted how negative and hostile attitudes to, for example, LGBTQ people and refugees, send a message that is hardly Christian and is rather different from the inclusive, merciful example of Jesus of Nazareth.
A feature of our times is regret and pain among older generations that younger people have drifted away. Many are the worries of a parent that the children have stopped attending church and have no longer got a sense of the graces of the sacramental life. Many are the prayers to God for them and their children in turn. Many are the voices of the young themselves who, idealistically and wonderfully looking for authenticity, state that these are not to be found in the Christian churches as they perceive them. The sacramental life, source of wonder and doorway to the deepest reality of all, no longer attracts.
This sorrow, this sadness – any priest, any pastoral minister recognises it for it is voiced, in pain, so often. Being attentive to the signs of the times means we take these concerns, these sorrows, extremely seriously. Pope Francis’s first intention for July is a petition, not that those who have “strayed” may return, but more that those of us still on this pathway might “through our prayer and witness to the gospel” show forth a reason to rediscover life in Christ, in the community of His church. And it should keep us honest in our own living as examples of what a disciple should be, not least for the younger people around us who search for that authenticity.
Prayer Moment: ask the Spirit of God to lead you inwards to a place of inner calm, where you can sense yourself more deeply experiencing your own living being, your own reality. Become aware of God’s gaze on you at this moment – let the Trinity gaze on you in love. Then, having gently sat or stood for a few moments in that gaze, bring to mind just one person, younger or older, whom you know to have “strayed from the faith” and hold that person in the gaze of God for a few moments. Ask God to touch that person in a way that only God will know. Ask for yourself the grace to know what, in your own life or that of your parish, worshipping community or the larger church, acts as a counter-witness to the Christian life, repelling instead of attracting.
Reflection Moment: return to that important point about witnessing to authentic Christian faith and ponder what, in your own living, might have been a less than helpful way of living as a follower of Christ. Does what I say and do give anyone a reason for asking to know more about my faith? And what about those who might be open to a return to the “beauty of the Christian life”. Could I do anything to support that person’s movement and progress? Where would I start? Again, it would be how I live, of course, but there could be more, if I think about it. I could, for example, take an interest in programmes such as “Landings”, which are carefully and sensitively designed to aid those who feel they might want to return. Do I, or does my parish, constantly and permanently show a welcome to new faces? And finally, what are the prohibitions and exclusions that we impose – our openness or otherwise to people who are different – LGBTQ people and refugees are but two groups who so often experience the closed door of the church rather than the welcome they should receive.
Scripture Moment: Just one verse to ponder this month! 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, with gentleness …”
Our Living Prayer 2018 booklets and our 2018 Wall calendars will be available to order from mid-August, for delivery from September onwards. This year’s prices are held for next year; special rates for bulk-orders to Parishes and Chaplaincies could be negotiated. To order, just send a text to (direct-line) 074 3259 1117 including delivery address and postcode and we’ll bill you with your delivery.
Parish visits: sometimes our National Director is able to come to parishes and Chaplaincies to talk about the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer), at Sunday Mass or on other occasions. Just ask! We can discuss, too, other available programmes such as workshops on Ignatian prayer and decision-making, one-day Reflection Days or longer Weeks of Guided Ignatian Prayer.