Pope Francis’ prayer intention for December: For a life of prayer – We pray that our personal relationship with Jesus Christ be nourished by the Word of God and a life of prayer.
Pope Francis’ intention for December describes perfectly a personal Christian faith. It is centred on our relationship to Jesus and spells out the ways in which that relationship can grow through our familiarity with Scripture and finding space for prayer. It is something worth praying for.
In Christian faith, of course, Jesus is central. We believe that in Him the Son of God joined us and saved us. Our faith in Jesus is not just a matter of believing that He is the Son of God, but is based in a personal relationship with Him. We can see this in the Gospels where the disciples do not join Him only because of what He said and did, but are attracted to Him because of who He is. They are bound together in friendship as well as in service. The relationship is developed perhaps most strongly in the Gospel of John, culminating in the tender scenes after Jesus’ Resurrection, and Jesus’ repeated question to Peter, ‘Do you love me.’ Following Jesus’ way is more than a way of life based on Jesus’ example or His authority. It is a love affair.
We find the same deep relationship with Jesus in Paul’s letters. Paul never knew Jesus during his lifetime, but Jesus occupies his whole attention, his desires and all that he does in his ministry. For him to live is Christ and to lose himself in Christ, and with Christ in God. The same fascination is found in the early saints and particularly in the medieval church that saw in the humanity of Jesus our way to understand and respond to God. Passionate Christians from Francis of Assisi through to Ignatius of Loyola prayed to Jesus and imagined themselves in the stories of his life. The stories described in the windows of churches allowed people to accompany Jesus in the events and the relationships of his life.
As Pope Francis recognises in this month’s intention, people are nourished by prayer and the Word of God, and both these gifts are focused on Jesus. The Word of God is more than a book: it is a body of pictures, of statues, of hymns and of prayers that draw us to Jesus and allow us to enter into his life and death. And more than that the Word of God is Christ himself who, through the Spirit, guides us to find wisdom and encouragement in our reading of the Scriptures. Prayer means more than saying prayer to Jesus. It means making space for the Spirit to pray within us and to lead us along Jesus’ path.
This prayer intention is very attractive. So attractive that we might wonder why Pope Francis should ask us to pray for it. Why don’t we automatically allow prayer and reflection on Scripture to become a central part of our lives? One reason, of course, is that in the pressure of busy lives in which we have so many conflicting desires, people, including Jesus, can fall out of our lives and our relationships can grow cool. Our imagination can be so caught by other things that we leave no space for considering Jesus. As a result, we become completely preoccupied with the immediate demands of our lives and neglect what matters more deeply.
As we are blessed now to be able to put coronavirus at the periphery of our lives and not at their centre, this may be an opportunity for deeper reflection. In that case, Pope Francis’ intention can speak powerfully to us. It suggests something good that we should want enough to ask for, and then to find a place for in our lives.
Madonna magazine, published by the Australian Jesuits, has accompanied Australians in their daily prayer and spiritual growth for more than 120 years. It is an ideal prayer companion and thoughtful gift in this time of isolation and disconnection from parish and community. Subscribe, or give a gift subscription, and help keep our prayer community going in 2021. Go to www.madonnamagazine.com.au for more.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ writes for Jesuit Communications and Jesuit Social Services.