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Mgr Francesco Follo, 17 Déc. 2018 © Mgr Francesco Follo

Archbishop Follo: Prayer is Freedom

With the wish to experience prayer in the heart of freedom

Roman rite

XXIX Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – October 20, 2019

Ex 17, 8-13a; Ps 120; 2 Tim 3, 14 – 4, 2; Lk 18, 1-8

We need to pray insistently without getting tired.

 

Ambrosian rite

Dedication of the Milan Cathedral,

Is 60,11-21; Ps 117; Heb 15-17.20-21; Lk 6.43-48

One lives where he is loved.

 

1) The need for prayer

On this Sunday the readings of Mass offer us a fundamental teaching: the need to pray always without getting tired.

However, before trying to understand how it is possible to pray always and tirelessly, it is advisable to answer this question “What is prayer?”

Praying has the same root of the adjective precarious: it means that we can have a thing only if we ask it and someone gives it to us. In fact, our relationship with God, as with people, is always precarious. Every relationship is precarious: we have it because we want it, we can’t expect it, and the others gives it to us for free. Therefore, prayer is the fundamental act of a relationship that exists between people; in fact, the first thing the child is taught is to ask and say thank you, always.

Christ says that “we must” pray always. Too often we get tired of praying and we have the impression that prayer is not very useful for life and that it is not very effective. Therefore, we are tempted to dedicate ourselves to activity, to employ all human means to achieve our goals, and we do not resort to God. Jesus instead affirms that “we must pray always”.

Anything that is not prayer, anything that is not part of the relationship of grace and gift, is dead. Everything that is not obtained through prayerful love and is not given because of free love, is given for selfishness.

Constant prayer makes our lives a constant gift and establishes us in a constant filial relationship with God, Creator, and Father. Furthermore, let us not forget that prayer is not intended to inform God about our needs, which He knows infinitely better than us. Prayer does not even want to convince Him to consent to the satisfaction of our needs, but rather allows us to make our will coincide with his, so that his love has an ever more perfect response in our mind.

Prayer is a surrender and an abandonment of oneself to God the Father, who frees us and gives us new life. Prayer, which many consider to be slavery, in truth is the consecration of our freedom. In fact, it means that we are no longer enclosed in the determinism of the physical world, we are freed from the impersonal grip of unconscious forces, embraced by a vivifying Presence and sustained by an infinite tenderness, with the possibility of incessantly transforming our dependence into an offer of love.

In short, prayer is our communion with the Son and with the Father that puts us in communion with creation as a gift and with the others as brothers. It is human life, fully realized. Therefore, we must always pray without being discouraged if God seems deaf to listen to our prayer. In fact, what He gives us is not important: it is important that we stay with him and trust him. This is the true fruit of prayer

2) Prayer must be insistent.

In the first reading and in today’s Gospel we are presented with two people who “use” prayer[1]: Moses who makes the Jews win the battle and obtains justice from God against the enemies because he prays insistently with his hands raised, and the widow who, with her persistent constancy, obtains justice from an unjust judge.

Today’s Gospel passage speaks to us of the Messiah, who, to teach about prayer, uses a figure of a widowed woman that is almost an outcast because of the mentality of the time. In fact, the Bible defends “the orphans[2] and the widows”[3] because they are the weakest and most vulnerable people, the most exposed to every arrogance and to every injustice and the most defenseless. Jesus values ​​this poverty and tells of this helpless woman who has long suffered from injustice but does not get discouraged and confronts an arrogant judge, one of those whom the great prophet Isaiah stigmatized: ” Ah! Those who enact unjust statutes, who write oppressive decrees, depriving the needy of judgment, robbing my people’s poor of justice, making widows their plunder, and orphans their prey“(Is.10,1-2).

With astonishing obstinacy, the widow’s voice rises against the arrogance of this magistrate: “Give me justice against my adversary” (Lk 18: 3).

In the words of the woman there is the extraordinary strength of the “prayerful” who wants to reach the goal at all costs; there is an insistence that seems intrusive, annoying, but it is the sign of a hope that does not die: it is the profound certainty that, sooner or later, his supplication will be granted. And so it happens: the unjust judge says: “ ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me ” (Lk 18:4- 5).

If an unjust man answers an insistent prayer, infinitely more an untiring and tenacious prayer will be granted by God, the just Judge.

Therefore, because of our prayer, Jesus is interlocutor, friend, witness, and teacher. “Jesus teaches us to pray not only with the Our Father but also when he prays. In this way he teaches us, in addition to the content, the dispositions necessary for every true prayer: purity of heart that seeks the Kingdom and forgives one’s enemies, bold and filial faith that goes beyond what we feel and understand, and watchfulness that protects the disciple from temptation. “(Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 544). Today Christ adds another disposition: insistence and asks for an apparently impossible thing: to pray always.

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that, in order to obtain with certainty what each one asks with prayer, “one requires the concurrence of these four conditions: 1 – that you pray for yourself, 2- that you ask for things necessary to save yourself, and do it 3- with pity and – with perseverance “[4].

 

3) We must pray always.

The teaching to pray with persevering insistence is easy enough to understand and put into practice, but the statement at the beginning of today’s Gospel “We must pray always, without ever getting tired[5] “(Lk 18: 1)and without becoming discouraged, not only does seem difficult, it seems impracticable. Since it is Jesus himself who says so, let’s not dare to say that it is impossible for us to put this indication into practice because our attention cannot concentrate for such a long time in a such a high action[6] as prayer.

There is a psalm that, more than others, helps us to understand substantially what it is to pray always: it is the psalm, in which the person praying is presented as a child who “performs the action” of being in the arms of his mother “I have stilled my soul. Like a weaned child to its mother, weaned is my soul. Israel, hope in the LORD, now and forever” (Ps. 131,2-3) This child is the person praying, that is the person who hopes always in the Lord s a child always hopes in his father and mother. The biblical comparison is perfect because prayer, even though it is the highest and most sublime action, is also the simplest. Indeed, in the thought of the Psalmist it is the most natural, as it is natural that a small child in the arms of the mother always and first of all contemplates her face that reassures him, and feels those arms around him that welcome him, protect him, give him confidence and give him love.

Simple and trusting prayer is the certainty that the gaze of God is upon us like that of our mother. To pray is to experience the love of God, which envelops us like the arms of those who have brought us into the world, who hold us by the hand and guide us even when we seem to be alone.

To our prayer, God responds with his love. He takes us in his arms tenderly, when we grow up, he takes us by the hand, when we fall, he lifts us up and puts us on his shoulders. When it seems that the waves of life overwhelm us, he reaches out and saves us from death. As the Psalmist remembers today: ” May he not suffer your foot to slip; may he slumber not who guards you: indeed he neither slumbers nor sleeps, the guardian of Israel The LORD is your guardian; the LORD is your shade; he is beside you at your right hand… The LORD will guard you from all evil; he will guard your life. “(Ps 121, 3).

Prayer is like the breath of life and expresses the indubitable certainty that God is with us, is for us and we are the creature dearest to him. Therefore, prayer must always be done constantly.

To the objection that it is impossible to pray always, I would answer not with a speech, but with the advice not to be stingy in giving time to God. The more one prays and the more he remains in prayer.

To those who asked her how to learn to pray, Mother Teresa replied: “Praying“. For Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, “to pray always” had become “to pray the Rosary always“, that is, Mary always in his life. Don Luigi Giussani explained “to pray always” with the statement “pray as much as you can“. Blessed Stefan, a Maronite lay brother, lived repeating to himself and to others “God sees you“: that is, he sanctified himself constantly living in the conscious certainty that God always has his gaze of love on each human being. In the tradition of the Eastern Churches, the incessant prayer is the one used particularly in the Hesychasm[7] monastic movement. It is a prayer closely linked to the prayer of the heart, it is called the prayer of Jesus and consists in saying as frequently as possible “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me a sinner”. This way of praying saying “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me a sinner” so frequently that it coincides with the breath of the body, is particularly practical and is, according to Eastern spiritual theology, necessary and even indispensable for the efficacy of prayer. It is a prayer within the reach of all Christians who live with pity and seek salvation, be they monks or laypeople.

Prayer is a relationship. Praying means turning to someone; it is living this relationship, a relationship that becomes ever greater, more intimate and truer so we transform us into the One we pray, so we become one with the Christ.

To this are called the consecrated Virgins as the Bishop prays over them during the prayer of consecration: “Let them burn with love and love nothing outside of You … In You may they possess all because it is You who prefer them to everything” (Rite of the consecration of the Virgins, n. 24). These women are called to give testimony of fidelity to personal and liturgical prayer so that they do not allow themselves to be caught up in whirling activism.

With the example of a non-occasional but constant prayer, full of trust in God-Love “that grants us what it makes us ask” (see Saint Anselm), the consecrated Virgins communicate to the people who are close to them and to those who meet in the parish or at work, the joy of the constant encounter with the Lord, light for the existence of the whole world.

With fidelity to the way prayer, these consecrated persons also help others to follow it: even for Christian prayer, it is true that walking, open are paths of infinite truth and love, whose apex is the relationship of communion that becomes prayer.

 

[1] See the prayer entry in The Critical Theology Dictionary (Rome 2006 – [Paris 2007 3rd edition]) published under the direction of Jean-Yves Lacoste.

[2] from the Greek ὀρϕανός (orphanòs), from the Latin orphănus, akin to the etymology of the Latin orbus that is “deprived”, the one to whom the parents are kidnapped from death, therefore indicates the child without family, a small being that doesn’t belong to anyone and of which nobody cares.

[3] From the Latin viduus / a that properly means “lacking”, therefore being empty, missing something or someone. Even the Greek word χῆρος, -α, -ον [chéros] means “lacking, empty, missing” and therefore without husband or wife. Therefore “widow” would mean ” without”, that is, she lacks her part. Now since the bride is such if she has the bridegroom, without the bridegroom is nothing, the widow is without what would make her what she is: a “bride”.

 

[4] Summa Theologica, IIa-IIae, q. 83, a 15 ad 2.

[5] In the Greek text there is ἐγκακεῖν (egkakeìn) which means to be completely dejected, exhausted, so mè egkakeìn is translated but could literally be translated “without losing heart”.

[6] I wrote action and not speech, because prayer is not a pure and simple talk, it is a work (see Divo Barsotti, “Preghiera lavoro del Cristiano”, Milan 2005, pp. 144).

[7] The Hesychasm practice the so-called prayer of Jesus or prayer of the heart, which consists in the incessant repetition of this formula, until it coincides with the rhythm of the breath: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”. Provided that you are protected from distractions and that peace of soul is preserved, this practice allows you to get closer to God and to join him.

Hesychasm (from the Greek ἡσυχασμός hesychasmos, from ἡσυχία hesychia, calm, peace, tranquility, absence of worry) is a doctrine and ascetic practice widespread among the monks of the Christian East since the time of the Desert Fathers (4th century). The aim of the Hexychasm is the search for inner peace, in union with God and in harmony with creation. Disseminated by Evagrio Pontico (4th century) and by other spiritual masters including Saint John Climacus, author of “Ladder of Divine Ascent” in the 6th century, the practice of Hesychasm is still alive on Mount Athos and in other Orthodox monasteries. On Athos it received a decisive impulse from the work of Gregory Palamas (died 1359) and in the following centuries from the writings of theologians and mystics gathered in the Philokalia.

About Archbishop Francesco Follo

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