By: Fr David Stewart SJ
Pope Francis' prayer intention for February, entrusted to the people of God through his personal network of prayer, is expressed bluntly: "Say 'No' to Corruption. That those who have material, political or spiritual power may resist any lure of corruption".
This is not the first time that Francis has been blunt about this matter; he has not been afraid to be outspoken on this "smog of corruption", as he put it in a daily Mass homily last November. It is of sufficient concern for him to present it to the church, and all people of good will, for our prayerful consideration this month.
One of the fundamental bad outcomes of corruption is that some people are cheated out of something that is rightfully theirs. The first to suffer are the poor, those who are least able to cope with being cheated. If a corrupt official concocts a way of pocketing public funds, to that extent those for whom the funds were destined, by way of welfare or health programmes, are deprived. So this is not only theft but also an assault on someone else's welfare and wellbeing. This is not the only form of corruption but it should be a powerful example of the evil that it is. When someone, who has the capability and desire to enrich himself or herself by illegal strategies, wilfully manipulates the system, she or he is not only doing wrong but also compounding the wrong by taking away from those who deserve.
Pope Francis was careful, in his wording of this month's Intention, to refer to the temptation to misuse power that can be "material, political and spiritual". Probably, when most of us think of corruption we think of corrupt politicians, misusing public resources or lining their own pockets when they should be serving the common good. Or we think of corrupt business leaders, manipulating laws to their own advantage. That is misuse of political or material power but the pope reminds us of the possible misuse of spiritual power. That pernicious kind of corruption has been with us in the church for centuries. To assert this is not to be unfaithful or disloyal; to deny it is to be foolish and purblind.
Last month, on his visit to Peru and Chile, Francis was especially outspoken about corruption. Celebrating mass for an estimated 1.3 million, he spoke of the "sickness" of politics. Later, sitting beside Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, himself suspected of corrupt schemes, the pope said that tackling corruption required "a greater culture of transparency among public entities, the private sector and civil society - and I don't exclude Church communities."
Our 2018 "Living Prayer" booklet (copies still available) defines corruption as the "abuse of entrusted power for private gain". One way of expressing our prayerful solidarity with the pope this month is to pray that "those in power keep their eye on the Common Good".
In 2018 we are going to focus more on the monthly challenges presented by the Pope's Prayer Intentions. We are still in the early part of the year so there's still time to make another resolution for the year. New Year's resolutions have often faded away by February even though they really are about our desire to develop better habits, healthier in many ways.
As our friend and colleague Philip, in the Pope's Prayer Network USA reminds us, "The most important part of establishing new habits, such as more time for prayer or serving the community, is to be intentional about it. We can't say to ourselves that we will pray every day and then expect it to happen. We need to be deliberate and make it a priority, putting pen to paper." (see more on our blog at popesglobalprayer.net and clicktopray.org).
Our challenges, shared with so many Apostles of Prayer around the world, offer a practical way of being intentional and deliberate. How about developing some good habits that will change yourself and the world in 2018?
Here, then are our three challenges for February:
- Can I be confident in the grace of God that touches the hearts of all who turn to him? If so, then I could decide to pray, individually or in a group, for all those who have civil, political or religious power, so that they do not allow themselves to be dominated by corruption but always remember the Common Good..
- I could think about my responsibility as a citizen of my country. Am I aware that there is a social good for which I am also responsible?
- I could reflect on my interactions with other people, asking myself: do I take advantage of some situation of superiority for my own benefit, or do I use responsibly whatever power that has been given me, as parent, superior, boss, to serve those entrusted to me, seeking, above all, their good?
February Daily Prayer suggestion (from our Click-to-Pray website and App):
you are the source of all truth.
Your Son Jesus came to show us that true power
is in a service that is humble and disinterested,
putting other people's interests before of your own.
This month, I want to ask you to send your Holy Spirit
on all those who have government responsibilities
in society, in institutions, in the Church,
so that, following Jesus' example,
they may live your mission with freedom and truth,
staying away from all corruption,
and always protecting the most vulnerable.
The Pope's Prayer Network is now based in our Diocese, at St Ignatius, Stamford Hill. We offer our Daily Prayer Pathway that incorporates the traditional Morning Offering to the Heart of Christ, united with the Holy Father's intention. We've our new App Click-to-Pray that gives you a new set of brief prayers every day - together, we can make each day different! And we offer our Living Prayer 2018 booklet, with a tear-off page for each month for your missal or diary, and our wall calendar. The 2018 editions carry lovely pictures of churches around the world dedicated to the Heart of Jesus.
See Pathways to God: www.pathwaystogod.org/resources/ignatian-insight/praying-pope-february
See Pope Francis' Prayer Video for February 2018: www.indcatholicnews.com/news/34262