Praying with the Pope in December

POST BY DStewart

Pope Francis hugs a young man during a visit to a rehab centre
Pope Francis hugs a young man during a visit to a rehab centre

Each month, we share the Holy Father’s concerns for the world and for the spread of the Gospel. He entrusts his concerns to the Pope’s Global Prayer Network, the Apostleship of Prayer, and asks us to invite all people of good will to pray with and about these intentions. Here we are in December and, of course, we’re in the Christian season of Advent, so perhaps our prayer with the Pope might have an added dimension of hope and expectation so characteristic of this holy season! And there’s more -- during this month, the Holy Year of Mercy begins, on the 8th, so there will be plenty for us to pray about this December, this Advent and throughout the coming year.

This month, his concerns are:
For the whole world, Experiencing God’s Mercy. That all may experience the mercy of God, who never tires of forgiving. The Pope’s Universal Intention for this month touches the same reality as the Jubilee Year of Mercy, beginning in this month.
The Missionary Intention, for the spread of the Gospel, has an Advent theme. It’s for Families: that families, especially those who suffer, may find in the birth of Jesus a sign of certain hope.

A brief reflection for December: Although the Jubilee Year of Mercy begins on the 8th (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception), Pope Francis chose to inaugurate the Holy Year a few days earlier, at a liturgy in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. This was during the first visit of a Pontiff to a country actively at war. It’s a country that has experienced so much suffering and internecine struggle and very little mercy in its recent history. Opening the Holy Doors at Bangui’s Cathedral, Francis noted how, at the heart of our following of Christ, is “the love of our enemies, which protects us from the temptation to seek revenge and from the spiral of endless retaliation”. Mercy, leading to forgiveness is, he said, “the secret of our strength, our hope, and our joy”.

Pope Francis symbolically raised his hands and pushed open those doors. Then he began the celebration of Mass for the first Sunday of Advent. In his homily Pope Francis returned to the need for forgiveness, saying those who want to evangelise must be first and foremost “practitioners of forgiveness, specialists in reconciliation, experts in mercy”. Forgiveness, reconciliation, mercy; it’s a trinity of discipleship that God longs for, as this month’s Universal Intention shows us. Because God never tires of forgiving, this makes it possible for us to pray that all might experience that mercy.

For Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a deep appreciation of God’s mercy is at the heart of the first part of his famous Spiritual Exercises. After meditating at some length on the ills of the world and then our own sinfulness, we are brought to a realisation that almost all of those troubles can be traced to the false promises of greed, pride and riches. We acknowledge that we are involved in those evils and that this alienates us from our truest selves; we feel somewhat helpless. But rather than condemn us, God remains infinitely merciful and when we experience that reality, we feel a surge of sheer joy from deep within. It is that joy, we pray with the Pope this month, that all might experience.
For your own or your group’s reflection: be still, and ask the Holy Spirit to bring you to an interior place of stillness and prayer.

What might the Holy Spirit want to give you to help you make these prayers? What would you most want to happen, as you pay attention to whatever desires you notice coming from the best part of yourself?

Ponder: when I have experienced mercy in my own life, perhaps unexpectedly? Can I bring to mind, once again, in what way that mercy came home to me? Through another person? Who was that person? Hold her or him before God now and ask God’s Holy Spirit to touch them.

As I consider the Missionary Intention for this month, perhaps I might be able to ponder the Nativity scene; not the sugary sight of Christmas cards but the reality of a small refugee family, shunned and outcast, and ask God’s Holy Spirit for a sense of wonder that, out of this situation, our salvation comes.

Scriptural moment:
Micah 7: 18-20  - “You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins.”
The Nativity narratives at the beginning of St.Luke’s Gospel; all the readings of the Advent Season.

See also the wonderful Online Advent retreat at http://pray-as-you-go.org/prayer-resources/advent-retreat-2015/