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Pope Francis: Prayer opens the door for God



October 8, 2013: In his homily at daily Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis explained that a Christian is a person who has a heart that knows how to pray and knows how to forgive. The Gospel of the day was dedicated to the story of Saint Martha, the titular saint of his residence. The Pope took the Gospel story as the starting point, reminding us that “prayer works miracles” as long as it is not a purely mechanical act.

The very human figures of Saint Martha, from the New Testament, and the Prophet Jonah of the Old, the central characters of the day’s readings, are united by a common incapacity: they did not know to pray. Pope Francis built his homily on this aspect, beginning with the famous scene in the Gospel where Martha asks Jesus, in an almost critical tone, to have her sister to help her do the serving, rather than sitting at His feet listening to Him. Jesus replied, “Mary has chosen the better part.” This part, Pope Francis said, is “that of prayer, that of the contemplation of Jesus”:

“To the eyes of the sister, this was time lost, it even seemed, perhaps, a bit of a fantasy: gazing upon the Lord as if she were a awestruck child. But who wants that? The Lord: ‘This is the better part,’ because Mary heard the Lord and prayed with her heart. And the Lord tells us: ‘the first task in life is this: prayer.’ But not the prayer of words, like a parrot; but the prayer, the heart: gazing on the Lord, hearing the Lord, asking the Lord. We know that prayer works miracles.”

And prayer produces a miracle even in the ancient city of Niniveh. Jonah, on God’s instructions, had preached the imminent destruction of the city; the city, though, was saved because the inhabitants, believing the prophet, were converted, and from the greatest to the least called upon the divine forgiveness with all their strength. However, even in this story of redemption, the Pope took note of the erroneous attitude of Jonah, who was more disposed to justice without mercy. His attitude was similar to Martha’s, inclining to service that excludes interiority:

“And Martha does this. Does what? But she didn’t pray! But there are others like this stubborn Jonah, who are the executioners. He went, he prophesied, but in his heart he said: ‘But if they deserve it. If they deserve it. If they were asking for it!’ He prophesied, but he didn’t pray! He didn’t ask the Lord to forgive him. Only to beat them. They are executioners, those that believe themselves to be just! And in the end, the book of Jonah continues, it is seen that he was a selfish man, when the Lord saved Nineveh through the prayer of the people, he was angry with the Lord: ‘You are always like that. You always forgive!’”

And so, the Pope concluded, prayer that is only a formula, without heart, as well as pessimism or the desire for justice without forgiveness, are the temptations a Christian must always guard against in order to be able to choose “the better part”:

“And we ourselves, when we don’t pray, what we’re doing is closing the door to the Lord. And not praying is this: closing the door to the Lord, so that He can do nothing. On the other hand, prayer, in the face of a problem, a difficult situation, a calamity, is opening the door to the Lord so that He will come. So that He builds things, He knows to arrange things, to reorganize things. This is what praying is: opening the door to the Lord, so that he can do something. But if we close the door, God can do nothing! Let us think on this Mary who has chosen the better part, and makes us see the way, as the door is opened to the Lord.”




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