That’s how prayer works
A few months ago, I saw the above meme circulating on Facebook, and I immediately loved it and went to find the full text of his remarks. The only problem is that I can’t find them – this appears to be more of a summary of Pope Francis’ words than an actual excerpt, but it’s very much in line with things he has said. The closest quote I could find is from a speech he gave at the Plaza de San Pedro in July 2013, where he said (translated from the original Spanish by the Vatican):
In our Christian life too, dear brothers and sisters, may prayer and action always be deeply united. A prayer that does not lead you to practical action for your brother — the poor, the sick, those in need of help, a brother in difficulty — is a sterile and incomplete prayer. But, in the same way, when ecclesial service is attentive only to doing, things gain in importance, functions, structures, and we forget the centrality of Christ. When time is not set aside for dialogue with him in prayer, we risk serving ourselves and not God present in our needy brother and sister. St Benedict sums up the kind of life that indicated for his monks in two words: ora et labora, pray and work. It is from contemplation, from a strong friendship with the Lord that the capacity is born in us to live and to bring the love of God, his mercy, his tenderness, to others. And also our work with brothers in need, our charitable works of mercy, lead us to the Lord, because it is in the needy brother and sister that we see the Lord himself.
While not as succinct, I think I love these words even more than the original (which is still a useful summary). I love this idea that a prayer without action is incomplete; after all, religious people are often criticized for offering prayers in place of action. This was particularly highlighted after a recent mass shooting in the US where politicians were swiftly criticized for tweeting their prayers rather than taking action to enact stricter measures to prevent mass shootings in the future. Yet Pope Francis goes further, claiming not only that prayer without action is incomplete, but that action without prayer is also incomplete. He suggests that there is an anchoring influence in prayer – that our actions will be most effective after contemplation and communing with the Divine. The language he uses evokes the image of the cross – that we must maintain both the vertical (prayers) and the horizontal (actions) if we are to consider ourselves disciples of Christ.
As the New Year approaches, I’ve been contemplating Pope Francis’ words and how best to enact them in making my resolutions. If I pray for peace, for example, how do I best implement peace in my life within my sphere of influence? If I am praying for a friend to feel comfort in her time of distress, what actions can I take to physically and emotionally comfort her? If I want to regain the hope I’ve largely lost in the institutional church over the past few months, how can I shape my prayers around that? What actions can I take to make that happen? (seriously, though. suggestions welcome.)
I’m not usually one to find a yearly mantra for myself, but I think that in 2016, I might try to make Pope Francis’ meme-d words my mantra. I need help both praying to a God whose involvement in earthly affairs I understand less and less, and help acting on the things I pray for – making myself a more active and responsible agent in creating the things I hope for. I need to pray for the hungry, the downtrodden, the despondent, and the poor. And then I need to do my best to feed, to lift, to comfort, and to enrich them. I’m hopeful to discover for myself that this is, indeed, how prayer works.