Praying with the pope in March
At the beginning of this month we mark Ash Wednesday, when we ourselves are marked with ashes in one of the best-known Catholic traditions of all. Churches are busy on Ash Wednesday. Something about the simple liturgy of the “Imposition of Ashes” calls to us in a deeper place in our souls. What might that be? Might it be its reminder that we, in the words of one of the prayers that can be used, are “dust, and unto dust we will return”?
Or perhaps it’s Lent’s call to repentance and renewal, touching a deeper reality that most of us recognise, that we’ve still got areas of unfreedom, and our felt need to put things right. We make decisions and resolutions to enact that repentance, by some action or foregoing something, “giving it up for Lent”. It is worth thinking about, pondering, praying. For Ash Wednesday, and Lent, are all about three elements – prayer, fasting (or going without something) and giving to the poor. You need all three to do it correctly!
Pope Francis, inviting us as he does each month to join our prayers to his for the concerns that are in his own heart, asks this month that we pray that persecuted Christians may be supported by the prayers and material help of the whole Church. That would be a great Lenten act of prayerful repentance and action. His Worldwide Prayer Network spreads his intentions in the Church and beyond, asking the prayerful help of all people of good will.
We have become more aware of modern persecution and know that we cannot ignore it, because these are our brothers and sisters in faith. Indeed, some of us are persecuted at home too, but not murderously; mocked and jeered for daring to hold on to belief in Christ. It is important to note that the pope asks us for both prayers and material help, and that he asks this of the whole church, not just some of us. Not many of us can physically go to the help of persecuted Christians. But to hear and to listen to this concern of the Holy Father is to begin to think about what material help, as well as our prayers, we might be able to offer.
The reflection for this month in our “Living Prayer 2017” booklet draws our attention to an international organisation, “Open Doors”, that heightens awareness of Christian persecution. They note that a significant increase in attacks against Christians has occurred since 2014. Last year, more than 7,000 were killed for their faith, which is “almost 3,000 more than the previous year”. The “culture of indifference” is how the Holy Father has often described our world in our times.
The Living Prayer reflection notes that “world leaders offer little more than condolences after major attacks on Christians” and that people are truly suffering in unthinkable ways for holding Christian beliefs. Pope Francis points out that “Today, there are more Christian martyrs than in the first years of the Church”. The pope’s intention seeks to marshal both prayer and action. Might it be, therefore, that here is an opportunity to do something for Lent?
Prayer Moment: ask the Spirit of God to lead you to an inner place of calm, and ask the Good Spirit to show you our world as God sees it. Ask the Spirit to remind you that God is gazing on you now and on this world. Allow God to look at you, now, for a quiet moment. Draw to mind the suffering of Christians. Think of an instance that you have heard about, where contemporary Christians have suffered and been martyred, such as the young Coptic Christians last year. Askfor an inner awareness of how the Trinity experiences this suffering, this persecution. Stay with whatever emerges and offer it to God, for healing, for purification, for the good of all.
Reflection Moment: How have I experienced the increase in numbers of Christians killed for their faith since 2014? Or, how have I experienced persecutions myself; perhaps in the family, perhaps in the workplace or in other relationships? Might I have been part of any form of persecution; for example, mocking others for their faith, or because they live, love or pray differently? It is worth pondering that I could be, perhaps without realising it, that globalised culture of indifference against which the Pope has repeatedly warned. Perhaps there were moments when I have felt helpless or given in to helplessness, thinking that there is nothing I can do about it? Offer these things to God, to fill with Christian hope.
Scripture Moment: There are many places in scripture where we can read about suffering and persecution, because it was a present reality for those early followers of Christ as well as for our forefathers in faith before Christ. Here are three: John 15:18, where Jesus noted that, if we feel hated by the world on account of our faith, then he was hated already, before us; Mark 12:7, where the plot against the heir to the vineyard is a clear reference to those suffering Roman Christians among whom St.Mark probably ministered; Mark 13:9, where a passion-prediction of Jesus would have been recognised, by Mark’s first readers, as highly relevant to their situation.
A suggested Daily Offering: (from the Living Prayer booklet of the Pope’s Prayer Network 2017):
Loving Father, you are the true light of the world, enlighten us as we start a new day and guide us in all our actions. Grant me the courage, strength and grace to build a world of justice and peace. I offer you this day for the Pope’s monthly Intention. Our Father … Hail Mary … Glory Be … .
* In our Living Prayer booklet for 2017 you will find:
- An explanation of the spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer, the Global Prayer Network
- Suggested forms of the daily Offering Prayer
- The Monthly Intention of the Pope for the needs of the Church and the world
- A brief thought-provoking reflection, written by a specialist, on that month’s Intention
- A calendar with the principal feast-days and the Gospel of each day’s mass.
Each month’s page is perforated so may be easily detached and placed in your diary, missal or prayer-book for easy use.
Copies available from the National Office at a special price of £1.70 while stocks last. We’ve also our annual wall calendar available at £2.20 and, for a very limited time, bumper-packs of a calendar, a booklet and two prayer-cards for only £3.00! Limited stocks; please add £2 P&P (UK only).