Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ December prayer intention.
This is the month to celebrate Advent and Christmas—the anticipation and welcoming of our God who is like us, who is human. So, Pope Francis asks us to pray: That our personal relationship with Jesus Christ is nourished by the Word of God and a life of prayer.
This intention seems to have little to do with justice issues. Yet, if we look at Open Wide Our Hearts, the pastoral letter on racism, we find these words of Pope Benedict XVI, “As a spiritual being, the human creature is defined through interpersonal relations. It is not by isolation that man establishes his worth, but by placing himself in relation with others and with God.” So, in nurturing a personal relationship with God, we effect our relationships with our brothers and sisters. We color those encounters with the love that God plants in us through time spent in prayer. Toward this end, let us consider how we might strengthen our relationship with God by the two practices of being nourished by the Word of God and by living a life of prayer. This will unfold as a “Tale of Two Tales”!
The first story is of a little girl who was tired and wanted to eat. Grabbing her fork and ready to attack, she was halted by her father reminding her of the need to pray. Letting the fork clank down on her plate she whined, “Every time it’s ‘give us this day our daily bread’. Why can’t we just ask for our weekly bread on Sunday and be done with it?” Before her father could even respond, her brother quipped, “Well, you don’t want stale bread by Wednesday, do you?”
Our daily bread comes to us in the form of God’s holy Word. Daily we need to break open that Word and truly savor it. Charles Stanley, Baptist Minister says it well: “Since God knows our future, our personalities, and our capacity to listen, He isn’t ever going to say more to us than we can deal with at the moment.” The beauty of God’s Word is infinite, but He serves it to us in daily portions. Of course, like any food, it is of no nourishment if it is not consumed. We are called to learn not just about God, but to learn God, to know Him more and more fully. This is how we grow a relationship with Him and this is how we are led in the path of justice that leads to freedom for all God’s children. We don’t want to base our lives and our ministries on “stale bread” that we dined on at a retreat or last Sunday, or even yesterday. Ours is the fragrant fresh bread of a God who feeds and favors us, His beloved. The loaf of the Word awaits our breaking just as our own hunger awaits his food.
The second story is of four-year-old Melinda. Her favorite story was “The Three Little Pigs” which she asked her dad to read every single night before bed. He gladly obliged, but after several months, he got a bright idea. He found the story on YouTube, made a CD of it and told her to simply press “play” before jumping under the covers. She was not happy.
“But, honey,” he told her, “you can still hear it.”
“Yes,” she replied, “but I can’t sit in its lap.”
This story relates to Pope Francis’ second practice aimed at growing in relationship with God. This is the practice of prayer. Melinda required more than just the script of a story in her ears. She needed the feel of a father to accompany the joy of the story. Just so, if we are to be in relationship to our God, we need more than just a text to read. We need to sit in our Father’s lap. We need to spend time just being with Him and absorbing His presence. This is relationship-nurturing prayer. The Jesus whose birth we celebrate came to live in a body like ours. He came to use His life to build a relationship with the Father from whom He came. He knows the drill. He knows that some days it takes work and perseverance to build those bonds. He is the story we share with the Father as we sit in His lap.