Praying the Francis way

A peek into the Pope’s heart

Rev. José Mario O. Mandía

“Let me tell you something very personal …” Pope Francis has, on more than one occasion, departed from his prepared text, opened his heart to his audience, and revealed something of his soul. Through these spontaneous off-the-cuff remarks, we are afforded a peek into the heart of the Pope. Let us enumerate some of the things we find there.

On the top of the list is his great awareness of being the child of such a loving and forgiving Father. Just once more, in one of his latest homilies a few days back, he said, “There is no sin which [God] won’t pardon. He forgives everything… if you go [to confession] repentant, he will forgive everything.” Then he repeated for the nth time that “God never tires of forgiving, but we get tired of asking for forgiveness.”

Then comes his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Once the Holy Father said, “I think – I say this humbly – that maybe we Christians have lost a little the sense of adoration, and we think: we go to the Temple, we come together as brothers – that’s good, it’s great! – but this is where God is. And we worship God.” Thus, he never misses his daily hour-long appointment with Jesus before his morning Mass and Eucharistic adoration from 7 to 8 PM.

And the Holy Spirit is not far behind in his priorities. When the Pontiff arrived in Manila and saw the throngs of people who came to welcome him (estimates of the welcome crowd range from 1 to 3 million), he confided to Cardinal Tagle, “The Holy Spirit will have to work to touch all the hearts of these people that we see.”

After the Trinity comes his devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He was inspired by Saint John Paul II to pray all the mysteries of the Rosary everyday. Every time he leaves Rome, he drops by Saint Mary Major and uses about half an hour in prayer, and does the same on his return. In typhoon-devastated Leyte, he recommended, “Let us look to our Mother and, like a little child, let us hold onto her mantle and with a true heart say – ‘Mother’. In silence, tell your Mother what you feel in your heart.”

Saint Joseph is also on the list. When speaking to families in Manila, he admitted, “I like St Joseph very much. He is a strong man of silence. On my desk I have a statue of St Joseph sleeping. While sleeping he looks after the Church. Yes, he can do it! We know that. When I have a problem or a difficulty, I write on a piece of paper and I put it under his statue so he can dream about it.”

On the flight from Sri Lanka to the Philippines, we are afforded another glimpse into the soul of Francis. A journalist from a French publication, Caroline Pigozzi, surprised him with the gift of a bas-relief of St Therese to the Holy Father. Many people noticed the Pontiff’s reaction of delight. He explained, “I have the habit of, when I don’t know how things will go, to ask of St Therese of Jesus, to ask her if she takes a problem in hand, some thing, that she send me a rose. I asked also for this trip that she’d take it in hand and that she would send me a rose. But instead of a rose she came herself to greet me.”

What do all these tell us about Pope Francis? A good number of people see him as a hyperactive reformer, but that is not the real Francis. Indeed, many of his unscripted remarks show us a childlike devotion. This is one aspect of his spirituality.

There is another: the recognition of his sinfulness (quite striking for a Pope but so instructive for all of us). On the flight back to Rome, he acknowledged, “To see all of God’s people standing still, praying, after this catastrophe, thinking of my sins and those people, it was moving, a very moving moment. On the moment of the Mass there, I felt as though I was annihilated, I almost couldn’t speak.” He was thinking of his sins! At Mass, the priest prays, “Look not on my sins, but on the faith of your Church.”

Childlike trust and acknowledging oneself to be a sinner are indispensable conditions for effective prayer. It leads us not only to ask, not only to say, “Give me this, give me that. Amen.” It leads us to worship, to be grateful, to ask pardon, and also, to listen. Yes, to listen. It is one aspect of prayer that we often forget. It is one more lesson we learn from Pope Francis. He told the victims of the Leyte catastrophe: “I do not know what to tell you. But surely he knows what to tell you! … To each of you the Lord responds from his heart on the Cross.”

At the time of prayer, let us learn to say to Him, “Tell me what you want to say. Tell me what I need to hear.” And let us not be in a hurry to leave. Let us give him time to reply.

If we pray this way, he will reveal his plans to us. When speaking to families, the Pontiff stressed the importance of this kind of prayer. “If we do not pray,” he said, “we will not know the most important thing of all: God’s will for us. And for all our activity, our busy-ness, without prayer we will accomplish very little.”

On January 27, he posed this question in his homily at the Casa Santa Marta: “Do I pray that the Lord gives me the desire to do his will, or do I look for compromises because I’m afraid of God’s will?  Another thing: praying to know God’s will for me and my life, concerning a decision that I must take now… there are so many things.  The way in which we handle things…. Praying for the desire to do God’s will and praying to know God’s will.  And when I know God’s will, praying again for the third time, to follow it.  To carry out that will, which is not my own, it is His will.  And all this is not easy.”

The Gospels tells us that Jesus always spoke in parables: “he said nothing to them without a parable.” (Matthew 13:34) The apostles did not always understand the parables. When they were alone with Jesus, they would ask him to “explain the parable to us” (Matthew 15:15).

God speaks to us through the parables of daily life. But we need to find time to sit with Him and listen, and let him explain the parables to us.

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