For his 100th general audience, Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the family by considering family prayer. In his opening statements, the pope pointed out that most people find it difficult to find time to pray. Pope Francis teaches that love of God, not guilt, will inspire us to pray; fulfilling our duties to God is not Christianity. Love is at the core of our relationship to God, not guilt.
…think of the formulation of the great Commandment, which supports all the others:“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5; cf. Matthew 22:37). The formula uses the intensive language of love, pouring it over God. See, the spirit of prayer abides first of all here. And if it abides here, it abides all the time and will never leave.
Thus prayer must be rooted in love.
A heart inhabited by affection for God also makes a thought without words become a prayer, or an invocation before a sacred image, or a kiss sent toward a church. It is lovely when mothers teach their little children to send a kiss to Jesus or to Our Lady. How much tenderness there is in this! At that moment the heart of the children is transformed into a place of prayer.
Small gestures, imbued with authentic love of God
There are many small gestures which turn our hearts to God. To inculcate love of God, the Pope had some practical pointers; (1) to read a passage of the Gospel every day; (2) to open it some times to read it together; (3) to meditate on it while reciting the Rosary; (4) to say a prayer together in the morning and in the evening; (5) to teach children to make the Sign of the Cross; and even (6) to teach little children to send a kiss to Jesus or to Our Lady. Small gestures imbued with authentic love of God are powerful signs to our children, signs which communicate both our own Love of God and His love for them.
Authentic prayer is a gift from God, a gift we receive with joy because God initiates and we simply respond.
And it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Let us never forget to ask for this gift for each one of us! Because the Spirit of God has that special way of saying in our heart “Abba” – “Father,” in fact it teaches us to say “Father” as Jesus said it, a way that we can never find on our own (cf. Galatians4:6). It is in the family that one learns to ask for and appreciate this gift of the Spirit. If one learns to say it with the same spontaneity with which one learns to say “father” and “mother,” one has learnt it forever. When this happens, the time of the whole of family life is enveloped in the womb of the love of God, and seeks spontaneously the time of prayer.
Yet even after such authentic moments of prayer, work still occupies and preoccupies family life. The pope invites families to consider the mystery that time devoted to prayer will bring peace to our lives,
The spirit of prayer gives back time to God, it steps away from the obsession of a life that is always lacking time, it rediscovers the peace of necessary things, and discovers the joy of unexpected gifts. Good guides in this are the two sisters Martha and Mary, spoken of in the Gospel we just heard: they learned from God the harmony of family rhythms: the beauty of celebration, the serenity of work, the spirit of prayer.
The Holy Spirit teaches us to pray, to call God our Father, and to grow daily in his love. Our families need to ask for the gift of the Spirit! Through prayer, even in the busiest times, we give time back to God, we find the peace that comes from appreciating the important things, and we encounter the joy of God’s unexpected gifts. Through daily prayer may our homes become, like the house of Martha and Mary, places where Jesus always finds a warm welcome.
If we raise children with God, they will be able to abide by the great commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” because of the intimate association of having the Holy Spirit in the family.
Copyright Melanie Jean Juneau, 2015
Photo: “Canonization 2014-The Canonization of Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II” by Aleteia Image Department (2014) via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.