Praying with the Pope in April
Here in the northern hemisphere, spring arrives around now yet many of us feel anything but spring-like, despite the fact that the Lord is risen indeed and that plant-life in our gardens, city squares and window-sills is burgeoning, even blooming. There just seems too much to sadden, even terrify us, too many reasons to repudiate hope. It feels that our days are darker, not brighter. But the new life is springing; “now the green blade riseth”, as we can sing. We can learn much from that natural cycle of life and death and rebirth because it speaks to some very basic aspects of our living and our consciousness. Our urban lifestyles, so dependent on possessions and consumption, risk breaking the connection between human and natural ecology. More and more of us live in cities; we forget what the farmer knows so well.
This month Pope Francis asks us all, through his Global Prayer Network, the Apostleship of Prayer, to consider small farmers. Statistics show that over two-thirds of the world’s farms are small, less than 2.5 acres. The Universal Intention this month asks that we take into our prayer these small farmers: “that small farmers may receive a just reward for their precious labour”.
We might wonder if there are not more pressing matters for us to pray about in these days but here is a prayer intention that directs our attention towards an array of vital concerns. Just one example: we find in this intention an issue of justice. Are we paying enough attention to the payments small farmers get for their produce? Some may well receive less than a just remuneration because the big supermarket companies dictate their payment; we really should make ourselves aware of how well they are treated, just as we should investigate whether our shopping habits support companies who exploit their workers by refusing to pay a living wage or who reject fair-trade goods. When we think about how we shop for food, as much as for other needs, we can actually open ourselves to engaging with Catholic Social Thought, putting it into action and working for justice for all.
The global economic system is, as Pope Francis has observed, geared to the concept of profit (for the few) at any price, regardless of the effect on the smallest and least powerful. As the Pope has said, we must “say ‘no’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules, rather than service. That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth”. If we join with the Holy Father in this month’s Universal Intention, we open ourselves to an examination of our consciences about how we should be resisting these evils.
The Evangelisation Intention for April concerns African Christians, “that Christians in Africa may give witness to love and faith in Jesus Christ amid political-religious conflicts”.
It is a witness that we are all called to give, whatever our location or circumstances; our baptismal call is not to proselytise but to seek to influence society for the better. That witness is what being a “missionary disciple” is all about. The particular focus this month is on the African continent where almost 40% are Christian, a number that is growing. There is persecution and violence towards Christians. In this continental arena, hope is difficult so it is important to remember what the Pope said last year in Kenya, that “the Church must always be true to her mission as an instrument of reconciliation, justice, and peace ...”. Africa is a wonderful continent, full of beauty, promise and hope, barely recognised in the western world. Uniting our prayers this month to the Holy Father’s missionary intention will help us to deepen that awareness.
Scriptural moments: Ezekiel 28:18, “by the immense number of your crimes, by the dishonesty of your trading, you have defied your sanctuary”; Matt.21:12-13, Jesus’s anger at exploitative conduct in the Temple.
Reflect: have I considered whether the people who produce the food for my table are adequately rewarded, or are they exploited? What about those who work in the shops – are they paid fairly? Perhaps I struggle to afford proper nourishment, or am aware of someone who struggles; what is there in our system that needs to change to ensure fairness and justice for all? Do I feel powerless in the face of such injustice? What would give me power?
Prayer moment: ask the Spirit of God to take you to a place of interior stillness; let yourself be led to that place. Become aware of God’s regard of you at this moment. Resolve to spend a few moments soon after waking up to make the Morning Offering of the Pope’s Global Prayer Network, uniting your prayer to the Pope’s and that of Christians all round the world. If you’ve got your smartphone or tablet to hand, log on to the new Prayer Network app (downloadable from www.clicktopray.org) for today’s Morning Offering prayer, which changes each day. Try to do that before logging on to any other sites; your social media, for example! Offer the day ahead to Jesus; ask, in the power of the Spirit, that your day might be to God’s service and the good of all.
During the day, bring to mind that offering and renew it; give thanks that your offering has been accepted. Towards the end of the day, try to return to that place of inner stillness and remind yourself that God’s loving regard of you has been constant throughout the day. Prayerfully review the day now ending, asking God to show you its inner meaning; give thanks for what you now see was given all though the day and, if necessary, say sorry if you missed a grace or didn’t accept it, for whatever reason. Finally, express your hope that the new day to follow will be just as filled with graces and resolve to be open to receive them, by offering the new day for Christ’s service in the world.
David Stewart SJ