People who pray for others are like God’s antennas, Pope Francis said at the general audience Wednesday.
In his address Dec. 16, the pope insisted that those who seek solitude and silence to intercede for others are not evading reality.
“Whoever can knock on the door of someone who prays finds a compassionate heart which does not exclude anyone,” he said, seated beside a traditional depiction of the nativity.
He added: “These people pray for the entire world, bearing its sorrows and sins on their shoulders. They pray for each and every person: they are like God’s ‘antennas’ in this world.”
In his audience address, the pope continued his cycle of catechesis on prayer, which he began in May. He dedicated the address to the prayer of intercession, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes as one of the principal forms of prayer, alongside blessing and adoration, petition, thanksgiving, and praise.
Speaking via livestream from the library of the Apostolic Palace due to coronavirus restrictions, the pope underlined that prayer was not a form of escapism.
He said: “Those who pray never turn their backs on the world. If prayer does not gather the joys and sorrows, the hopes and the anxieties of humanity, it becomes a ‘decorative’ activity, a superficial, theatrical attitude, an intimist attitude.”
“We all need interiority: to retreat within a space and a time dedicated to our relationship with God. But this does not mean that we evade reality.”
The pope noted that when Christians pray behind closed doors, as Jesus recommended in Matthew 6:6, they still “keep the doors of their hearts wide open.”
“In every poor person who knocks at the door, in every person who has lost the meaning of things, the one who prays sees the face of Christ,” he said.
He quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says that intercession is “characteristic of a heart attuned to God’s mercy.”
“This is beautiful,” he said. “When we pray we are in tune with God's mercy.”
Speaking off the cuff, he added: “Jesus is our intercessor, and praying is a bit like doing as Jesus did: interceding in Jesus to the Father, for others. And this is very beautiful.”
The pope said that to pray seriously one must love one’s neighbors, no matter what errors they have made.
“It can be said: in a spirit of hatred one cannot pray; in a spirit of indifference one cannot pray. Prayer is only given in a spirit of love. Those who do not love pretend to pray, or they think they are praying, but they do not pray, because they lack the very spirit that is love.”
He continued: “When a believer, moved by the Holy Spirit, prays for sinners, no selection is made, no judgment or condemnation is uttered: they pray for everyone. And they pray for themselves. At that moment they know they are not that different from those for whom they pray: they feel they are a sinner among sinners and they pray for everyone.”
The pope highlighted the parable of the Pharisee and the publican, recorded in Luke 18:9-14, in which Jesus contrasts the prayer of a self-satisfied Pharisee with that of a humble tax collector.
“The lesson of the parable of the Pharisee and the publican is always alive and current: we are not better than anyone, we are all brothers and sisters who bear fragility, suffering and being sinners in common,” he said.
The pope observed that those who intercede for others are largely unknown to the world, but not to God, and they help to sustain the world.
“The Church, in all of her members, has the mission of practicing the prayer of intercession. This is especially so for those who exercise roles of responsibility: parents, teachers, ordained ministers, superiors of communities…. Like Abraham and Moses, they must at times ‘defend’ the persons entrusted to them before God,” he said.
“In reality, we are talking about protecting them with God’s eyes and heart, with His same invincible compassion and tenderness. Praying with tenderness for others.”
He concluded: “Brothers and sisters, we are all leaves on the same tree: each one that falls reminds us of the great piety that must be nourished in prayer, for one another. Let us pray for one another: it will do us good and do good to all.”
In his greetings to Polish-speaking Catholics, the pope noted that the Novena to the Child Jesus begins on Dec. 16, nine days before Christmas.
He said: “In your Advent journey this year, in a special way, may St. Joseph accompany you. May the Divine Child, who saw in him the tenderness of God, fill your hearts, especially in these difficult times, with the certainty that our Heavenly Father is a God of tenderness, who is good to all and His mercy extends over all His children. I bless you from my heart.”
Addressing Italian-speakers, the pope reflected on the difficulties of celebrating Christmas amid coronavirus restrictions.
“I would like to exhort everyone to ‘hasten the step’ towards Christmas, the real one, that is, the birth of Jesus Christ,” he said.
“This year restrictions and inconveniences await us; but let us think of the Christmas of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph: it was not all rosy! How many difficulties they had! How many worries! Yet faith, hope and love guided and sustained them.”
“May it be the same for us! May this difficulty also help us to purify a little our way of experiencing Christmas, of celebrating it, moving away from consumerism: may it be more religious, more authentic, more true.”