Pope Francis's Prayer Agenda
Pope Francis knows he talks about prayer quite a bit.
In a general audience in May 2014, he acknowledged as much, joking, "We always return to the same theme: prayer! Yet prayer is so important."
Undeterred by what others think, he devoted the next several minutes giving some tips on fitting prayer into our hectic and chaotic lives. "Never forget prayer. Never! No one, no one realizes when we pray on the bus, on the road: we pray in the silence of our heart. Let us take advantage of these moments to pray."
The pope frequently asks for prayers for his diplomatic missions and for tragedies around the world, but he also uses Twitter to ask us to pray more in our own lives in order to connect with God. There's no agenda in these Tweets, other than encouraging his followers to slow down and reach out to God.￼￼
Miracles happen. But prayer is needed! Prayer that is courageous, struggling and persevering, not prayer that is a mere formality.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) May 24, 2013
Even if we agree that prayer is important, how is Francis getting anything done if he's praying or soliciting prayers on Twitter so often? Well, Francis rejects the premise of that question. We've become accustomed to separating our prayer from the rest of life; one part is sacred, the other profane. That's not the case. Drawing on his Jesuit tradition, Francis wants us to view the entirety of our lives through a lens of prayer. All that we do should be prayer in some sense, and Francis is teaching us on Twitter how to live more integrated lives.
Our prayer cannot be reduced to an hour on Sundays. It is important to have a daily relationship with the Lord.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) October 17, 2013
Francis is a Jesuit, and his job is to pray and act, or in Ignatius's own words, to be a "contemplative in action." As busy as we all are, we sometimes push prayer to a few minutes before we fall asleep, if we're lucky. But Francis wants us to consider another way. Maybe we can find God during all the craziness, perhaps with the help of technology we hold in the palms of our hands. That's the beauty of Twitter.
One of the pope's closest advisers, Boston's Cardinal Seán O'Malley, said in a speech at a Jesuit university in Baltimore in March 2014 that the key to understanding Francis's papacy is becoming familiar with the pope's Jesuit heritage. O'Malley, a Franciscan, recalled that Ignatius, after finishing his study of the saints, reportedly said he wanted to live a life like that of Saint Francis, the thirteenth-century Italian who eschewed familial wealth in order to serve the poor and rebuild the Church.
Ignatius would go on to become a saint in his own right, and today, the Church is blessed with a leader who seems to exude the traits of both men. "Well, we have a pope who has embraced the vocation of being a follower of Ignatius, who wanted to be a saint like Saint Francis," O'Malley said.
O'Malley credits the pope's daily examen, another prayer inspired by Ignatius. The examen is an attempt to reflect on one's daily activities to discern where God is present. As O'Malley put it, the examen "was Ignatius's plan to keep the Jesuits recollected in God-focused lives despite their active lifestyle." Francis wants us to find God in all things, and sometimes this takes a little extra time. The examen can be intense, with journaling, silent reflection, and a deep commitment to explore each and every action of each and every day, searching for moments of grace.
But it doesn't have to be too onerous, and Francis is using Twitter to invite us to make mini-examens part of our daily routines. Next time a papal prayer request pops up in under 140 characters, perhaps you can step back and consider where God is present, or distant, in your life.
For Francis, prayer isn't something separate from the hustle and bustle of everyday living, a luxury reserved for chanting monks. Rather, life itself is one great big prayer, unfolding in our interactions with others and those moments when we find ourselves alone. We just need to slow down, even for a few seconds now and then, to find God, and listen to what God's saying.
That might mean closing Twitter and stepping away from the iPad for a minute or two, but the reminder to do this might very well show up in a short message from @Pontifex sometime soon.
Excerpted from The Tweetable Pope by Michael J. O'Loughlin, published September 2015 by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Book Publishers.