In a week when the media was focusing on bishops with lavish spending habits, and funeral rites for Nazi war criminals, Pope Francis was drawing people back to what matters: prayer.
Pope Francis put prayer front and centre this week any chance he could get. On Thursday the official papal tweet read: “Our prayer cannot be reduced to an hour on Sundays. It is important to have a daily relationship with the Lord.”
He went one step further in his homily that day, not only laying out clearly what happens when Christians forget prayer, but adding that “saying prayers” is not the same thing as praying. “I say to pray, I do not say to say prayers, because these teachers of the law said many prayers” in order to be seen. Jesus, instead, says: “when you pray, go into your room and pray to the Father in secret, heart to heart.” The pope continued: “It is one thing to pray, and another thing to say prayers,” the pope told congregants.
The consequences of a lack of prayer life are dramatic, according to Pope Francis. Instead of living the faith, one adheres to an ideology. With this comes risk of becoming moralistic, i.e. rigidly applying rules to situations. Worse still, this is the behavior that leads people away from the church and the faith.
As he has done since the start of his pontificate, Pope Francis didn’t just speak about prayer, and the difference between saying prayers and praying. This week the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had decided to hold the Lenten Spiritual Exercises for the Roman Curia at the “Casa del Divin Maestro” (House of the Divine Master) in Albano, close to the papal summer residence Castel Gandolfo. Until now the Lenten retreat for the Curia had been held at the Vatican.
When asked about the decision the Vatican’s spokesperson, Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, said that as good Jesuit, the pope knows it is best not to try to make a retreat in the same place where one lives and works.
Pope Pius XI started scheduling retreats for the Papal Household in 1925. For 35 years the Roman Curia took part in Advents retreats. In 1962 Pope John XXIII spent a week on retreat before the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Pope Paul VI moved the retreats to Lent. Whether Advent or Lent, the spiritual exercises were held at the Vatican.
The 2014 Lenten retreat will be preached by Msgr. Angelo Donatis, pastor of Basilica of St. Mark the Evangelist in the centre of Rome, who serves as spiritual director to many priests and seminarians in Rome.
With files from Catholic News Service
Follow Pope Francis on Twitter: @Pontifex