The following excerpt of an essay on Pope Francis and prayer was written by Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, for the book, A Pope Francis Lexicon.
Edited by Vatican Correspondent Joshua McElwee and Catholic News Service Rome Bureau chief Cindy Wooden, the book contains 54 essays by cardinals, bishops, theologians, women and men religious and professional writers.
“I had Mass with Pope Francis at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Well, I and a couple hundred thousand others in and around the Basilica.
There we were, from different places and coming with different concerns, the rich and the mighty poor, the communion of the baptized around the successor of Peter, at the altar of Christ in the house of the Virgin Mother of God.
Here was the church on sacramental display, showing forth her identity as a body at prayer. This is what I first think about when asked about this Pope and prayer.
I have only greeted Pope Francis briefly on a few occasions.
But watching him celebrate Mass, hearing him preach and being in his presence when he pauses for silent contemplation are experiences, like the one in Mexico City, that have left deep traces on my mind.
Maybe in our individualized societies, with our relational selectivity, we think first about personal prayer when we use the word “prayer.”
But I think for the Holy Father, prayer is first of all a work initiated by the living God who swoops into our lives and pulls us into his vision and into his activity.
The event of God’s swooping is the creation of an “us,” a people, a body.
We are never more at prayer than when it is we who pray. This is why it came so naturally to Pope Francis to ask for the prayers and blessing of the great crowds assembled at St Peter’s Square on the night of his election. There is great grace and blessing in the assembly of the communion of the baptized.
When the Holy Father preaches, he is showing us that prayer is a response to Jesus in the flesh. Not just to his words or to his teaching but to him in person: “Jesus wished to introduce his companions into the mystery of life, into the mystery of his life. … He invited them to share his life, his interiority, and in his presence among them he allowed them to touch, in his flesh, the life of the Father” (homily in Morelia, Michoacan, Feb. 16, 2016).
Some have said that the Holy Father’s preaching is down-to-earth, or even earthy. I would say that Pope Francis has the gift of getting to the point.
The church is supposed to be like your mother, not your mother-in-law, he is said to have said once. Whether he did or did not say exactly that is not as important as the fact that we can all imagine that he could have said it. The Lord was fairly earthy in his preaching too: Jesus said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs” (Mt 15:26). This is not exactly the saying of one whose first priority is politeness. Yet as with the Gospel itself, the abruptness and the imagery the pope uses all point to mercy. Only prayer can successfully navigate that kind of preacher’s curve. “A preacher has to contemplate the Word, but he also has to contemplate his people” (“Evangelii Gaudium,” 154).
From page 27 of Issue 12: ‘The Gift of the Young Church’ of The Record Magazine