Prayer: Fostering Faith & Family
“Pray for me. Don’t forget! Pray for me.”
These were the final words of Pope Francis as he concluded Mass for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and brought an end to his incredible visit to our country. Almost 900,000 people were present for the Mass. Many, many more than that witnessed it on television. It was a wonderful climax to a week of experiences which were heartening and uplifting even as they reminded us of our communion in faith in one Church.
While he was in Washington, it was my privilege to meet Pope Francis personally with the other bishops of the Administrative Committee of the Bishops’ Conference. It is always good to be prepared for these special meetings. They last only briefly and often, without preparation, one finds oneself tongue-tied. In this instance, in courtesy to the Holy Father’s difficulty with English, I also wanted to speak with him in Italian. As I thought of what I would say, I was reminded of the many people who had spoken to me in the days leading up to the visit. All over Maine people were telling me to bring their love and prayers to Pope Francis. And that is what I did in my moment with him. I assured him that I was carrying the affection and prayers of the people of Maine to him. He was very grateful and expressed his thanks. I felt privileged to bring such a welcoming message to him on behalf of all of you.
Now, with the visit over and the excitement dying down, I am returning to reflect on the speeches and homilies Pope Francis gave while he was among us. There was so much happening during that time that it was hard to keep up with all that he said. It is worthwhile, therefore, to return to his words and see the simple beauty of his counsel to us as shepherd and pastor. Recall that, from the beginning of his trip, he reminded us that he was particularly concerned to strengthen family life with his visit. At the Festival of Families in Philadelphia, he did that as he addressed all families: husbands, wives, children, grandparents, aunts and uncles. As we draw near the holidays, traditional times for gathering families, it would be helpful to recall his words: “We are celebrating the Festival of Families. The family has a divine identity card. Do you see what I mean? God gave the family an identity card, so that families could be places in our world where His truth, love and beauty could continue to take root and grow. … In families, there are difficulties, but those difficulties are resolved by love. Hatred doesn’t resolve any difficulty. Divided hearts do not resolve difficulties. Only love is capable of resolving difficulty. Love is a celebration; love is joy; love is perseverance.”
In speaking of families, Pope Francis was always realistic about the hardships involved in the tasks he set before us. He reminded us that difficulties are overcome in deepening our relationship with Jesus, who wants for us to experience joy “and wants to help us to feel that joy every day of our lives.” Jesus is ever with us, strengthening us in our service to one another in families and in the community.
It is for that reason that I think those words Pope Francis spoke at the conclusion of Mass are so important to understand his message. “Pray for me.” Not only did he end this Mass with that request, but he repeated it throughout the visit including from the balcony of Congress as he addressed the crowds outside. Again, when he was with the children in the school in Harlem he gave them “homework.” “Please don’t forget to pray for me so that I can share with many people the joy of Jesus.”
By asking everyone to pray for him what was he saying to us? In a very real way he was summarizing the joyful message of the Gospel. His request reminds us that prayer makes a difference. It signifies that we know that God is with us. If we can pray for each other, we can see ourselves as part of a community, together, before our loving God. When we pray for each other, we grow closer to each other because we recognize our common identity as children of God. We are not alone. We are called by God to be with each other, in the community of the family and of the Church. We come to know that we need one another. Pope Francis’ simple request, “Pray for me,” contains within it a theology; it is the heart of our Christian faith. So, as we move forward, don’t forget to pray for Pope Francis, pray as well for me, and pray for one another.