Praying with the pope in September
Each month, Pope Francis entrusts two particular prayer intentions to the Apostleship of Prayer, the Pope’s Prayer Network and asks the AoP to spread these intentions to Christians everywhere. Successive Popes have given this mission to the AoP, which is looked after by the Jesuits, for many years. It is for this reason that the AoP is known as the Prayer Network of the Pope; the Holy Father Francis takes a keen personal interest in this ministry.
Each month, one of the intentions concerns a situation or matter that concerns all of humanity and is an objective that any person of good will could support. This month, the general intention is about Opportunities for the Young: “that opportunities for education and employment may increase for all young people”.
Youth unemployment is a particularly distressing feature of contemporary Europe, with up to 50% of the youth of some countries, such as beleaguered Greece, struggling to find work. Across the continent the average exceeds 16%. Elsewhere in our world the figures are equally distressing. Young people, who have every right to approach adulthood in bright-eyed hope of a full, worthwhile and fruitful life, are instead facing a future devoid of hope, any dreams they ever had lying shattered in the dust. Sadly, for some this loss of hope, before their adult lives have even really begun, will lead them to crime or addiction, or both, perhaps to imprisonment, perhaps to health problems and even low life expectancy.
A significant part of Catholic thought for many years has been that work brings us dignity. Saint Pope John Paul spoke often of this. It means that the essential dignity of each human person is deeply linked to the opportunity to work. Meaningful and gainful employment allows us to begin and to support a family, so there’s another deep link; between assisting young people to find jobs, thus upholding and protecting the family. Unemployment among young people is a direct threat, therefore, to the family.
The intention includes education in this prayer we make, because it not only prepares us for work but sets us free to understand the world. Education draws out of us our capabilities and talents, “the truth that lies within us” as St. Augustine saw; the Latin root of the word means to “lead out, to evoke”. When we pray about opportunities for our young people, we should be concerned about both education and employment; indeed, we should pray to be reminded that each is a fundamental right, just as is the dignity they impart.
Pope Francis has said that “The ‘throw-away culture’ is strong: anything that does not serve profit is cast away. The young are thrown away because they have no work. But like this, the future of a people is thrown away, for the young are the future of the people. And we must say ‘no’ to this ‘throw-away culture.” Our prayer, expressed in the Pope’s General Intention this month, is to be able to resist and actively work against that throwaway culture in this particular manifestation, which devalues and dehumanises younger people.
The second intention of the Pope’s Prayer Network is now known as the Evangelisation Intention; it used to be known as the Missionary Intention, which is still is, but it seemed good to help us all to see the clear link to the “New Evangelisation” so beloved of Saint Pope John Paul II. This month the Evangelisation Intention is about Catechists: “That catechists may give witness by living in a way consistent with the faith they proclaim”.
Catechists are among the greatest of the evangelisers of our day, often working away in our parishes with little or no evident material reward. Their role is to educate, so there is a clear link with the General Intention. In particular they are called (for this is indeed a vocation) not to indoctrinate, as some ill-disposed people might describe their work, but to ensure that their catechumens gain the clearest possible understanding of the mercy of God in Jesus Christ, and thus be moved with a God-given desire to live accordingly, for the greater, more universal good.
We remember too that we are all called, by virtue of our baptisms, to be evangelisers. Pope Francis never tires of reminding us of our baptismal call to be “missionary disciples”; a church that doesn’t evangelise, or catechise, is simply a contradiction, an oxymoron. Here, we pray to be able to avoid that mistake.
This intention this month helps us to remember that how a catechist leads her or his life is just as important, if not even more important, than what they teach. There has to be consistency between what they teach and how they live. OF course, this applies to us all as followers of Christ. In the revised Rite of the Mass, one of the forms given for the dismissal at the end invites us to go out and spread the Gospel by the lives we lead. St.Francis of Assisi famously proposed that we should preach the Gospel always and everywhere, using words only if really necessary! This is an intention that invites each of us to pray that catechists may live lives that are consistent with what they teach. But not only that; it draws all us, whether or not we serve God’s people as catechists, to commit ourselves to the same consistency.
For your own or your group’s reflection: be still, and ask the Holy Spirit to bring you to an interior place of stillness and prayer Then think about some young person you know who is struggling to find meaningful employment and whose hopes and dreams for the future are fading. That young person might be close to you, a member of your own family. That young person might even be you.
Then ponder what are the economic systems and structures that contribute to the denial of work, and of human dignity, to young people in particular? What are the values that underpin these structures and what in them is opposed to the Gospel, to the dignity of each human person? Ask the spirit of God to show you these things, and to show you how you can play your part in opposing this throwaway culture of death.
In another moment of prayer, you might pray about how you are living your life so that others will see the Gospel in how you live. Can I begin to see that my daily living, my interaction with others, is actually a living catechesis; that I can bring Christ to others, and them to Christ, by my actions alone even before I use any words? Then might I be able to recognise, with St.Ignatius of Loyola, that “love shows itself more in actions than in words”? Take these things to Jesus Christ in prayer and ask for the grace to be open to respond.
What might the Holy Spirit want to give you to help you make these prayers? What would you want to happen, as you pay attention to whatever desires you notice coming from the best part of yourself?
Notice whatever feelings and desires arise in your reflection and present them to God in your prayer.
Scriptural moment: John 5:17, how the work of God never ceases; Matthew 21:28-32, actions speak louder than words! Matthew 25, we are judged on how we deal with the weakest and poorest.
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