January, and a new year, usually feels like a chance of a fresh start in more ways than just the numbers on the calendar. A great many of us have experienced the year just ended as pretty awful, quite exceptional in so much tragedy and suffering, such intolerance and hatred. The world is full of anger.
It is on this world that the trinity gazes, this world and no other. If we feel a desire welling up from deep within our hearts for something better in 2017, so does the heart of God, in that loving and pained gaze. The God who is infinite holy mystery yet personal, absolute yet close to us and our history, longs for us and, with us, longs for something better than a world full of anger. That was not God's original dream for the world nor is it the dream we have for ourselves and our world, in the best part of ourselves. The world is indeed full of anger but it needn't be.
God's people make known their desires in their prayer and in their action and, each month, one particular prayer comes to expression in the Monthly Intention of the Holy Father. These prayer intentions always correspond to the great challenges that face humanity. By means of this, his personal Prayer Network, the Pope invites all to respond with him to those challenges.
This month Pope Francis invites us all to pray with him "That all Christians may be faithful to the Lord's teaching by striving with prayer and fraternal charity to restore ecclesial communion and by collaborating to meet the challenges facing humanity."
So we can see that we are invited to pray and reflect, and to act, on the question of Christian Unity which remains a priority for the Holy Father and the Church. There is a body known as the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity to whom, in a 2014 address, Francis emphasised this priority, noting also that "unity first and foremost is a gift of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, but we are all called to cooperate, always and in every circumstance."
From his perspective, the Pope can see that there is still a strong desire among so many Christians to follow Christ along a common, shared pathway. And that divine gift of unity that we ask God to give us is a desire to which we can commit ourselves; striving with both prayer and charity, self-gift.
In these times of rage and disruption, in this world full of anger, there are three further, even more urgent reasons to join together in this intention, led by the Pope. First, by collaborating, we will be better able to meet those great challenges. The pain of division, among those who try to follow the same Christ, drains the energy that should be used to meet those challenges. Second, disunity gives an unfortunate witness to those who do not yet know Christ, thus impairing our discipleship. Third, the enemy of our human nature, as St Ignatius named the Bad Spirit, gets an undeserved opportunity further to divide us, not only in our ecclesial context but as the human family and will utilise that opportunity further to spread disunity and confusion, anger and hatred by diverting our attention from all that is good and true about ourselves and our world.
Prayer Moment: ask the Spirit of God to lead you to a quieter inner place of calm and to give you some respite from this world of anger. Ask the Spirit to remind you that God is gazing on you now and on that world. Allow God to look at you, now, for a quiet moment. Ask, as Saint Ignatius suggested, that the Spirit might help you to ponder what the Trinity sees as it gazes upon the earth and upon everything that is happening. What is the response of the Trinity? What is your response, from your heart? Stay with whatever emerges from that deep part of yourself and offer it to God, for healing, for purification, for the good of all.
Reflection Moment: Jesus prayed for his followers: "Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one" (Jn.17:11). When we pray for Christian Unity, we know that what we desire is what Christ desires. Alongside such prayer for unity, it can help to reflect on our underlying attitudes. Some questions: When we think of the "Church", do we only mean the Roman Catholic Church or have we in mind the World Church comprising all who recognise Jesus as Lord? When we speak of the renewal of the Church, do we simply mean the Roman Catholic Church or include all Christian bodies in our nations? Is our attitude exclusive or inclusive?
(Reflection adapted from the Prayer Network's LIVING PRAYER 2017 Booklet, details below)
Scripture Moment: Jn.17:11, as above. 1Cor:1-10, "may there be no divisions among you"; Coll.3:13-14, Love binds together all the virtues in perfect unity; Gal.3:26-28, on how there is neither Jew nor Gentile, but all are one in Christ.
A suggested Daily Offering: (taken from the January page in the Living Prayer booklet of the Pope's Prayer Network 2017):
Gracious Father, listen to our morning prayer. Grant me the grace to turn my thoughts to what is holy and may I ever live in the light of your love, serving others and helping them to see the beauty of God. I offer you this day united with the intention of Pope Francis for this month. Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ... .
In our Living Prayer booklet for 2017 you will find:
- An explanation of the spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer, the Global Prayer Network
- Suggested forms of the daily Offering Prayer
- The Monthly Intention of the Pope for the needs of the Church and the world
- A brief thought-provoking reflection, written by a specialist, on that month's Intention
- A calendar with the principal feast-days and the Gospel of each day's mass.
Each month's page is perforated so may be easily detached and placed in your diary, missal or prayer-book for easy use.
Copies available from the National Office at a special price of £1.70 while stocks last. We've also our annual wall calendar available at £2.20 and, for a very limited time, bumper-packs of a calendar, a booklet and two prayer-cards for only £3.00! Limited stocks; please add £2 P&P (UK only).
PLEASE NOTE:- starting in 2017 the Pope presents only one prepared prayer intention per month, rather than the two presented in previous years. He plans, however, to add a second prayer intention each month related to current events or urgent needs, like disaster relief. The urgent prayer request will help mobilise prayer and action related to that urgent situation. We, his Worldwide Prayer Network, will publish these urgent prayer intentions on our websites and social media platforms as soon as we receive them from the Vatican.