By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Pope Francis began Sunday morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta recalling two anniversaries that have fallen in the past two days. The first, “the 70th anniversary of Robert Shuman’s Declaration out of which the European Union was born", and the second, "the commemoration of the end of the war”. He invited us to “pray to the Lord for Europe that it might grow united, in this fraternal unity that allows all peoples to grow in unity in diversity”.
During his homily, he reflected on Jesus’s intercessory role before His Father described in the Gospel (John 14:1-12). Then he focused on Peter's description of the role of the Apostles (Acts 6:1-7). This also applies to the role of the Successors of the Apostles, the Bishops. Their first task, Pope Francis emphasized, is prayer, then the proclamation of the Word.
Jesus’s intercessory role
The Pope said that the first part of John chapter 14 describes Jesus’s intercessory role before the Father on our behalf. So many times Jesus spoke about the Father’s care for us, Pope Francis said. “He spoke of the Father as the One who takes care of us just as He takes care of the birds of heaven and the lilies of the field”, he said.
“Jesus is very strong in this passage. It is as if He is opening the doors of the omnipotence of prayer: ‘Whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it’ (John 13-14)."
Pope Francis then recalled that prayer requires courage and the same boldness needed in preaching the Gospel. Abraham and Moses provide examples to us. Both “negotiated” with the Lord, Pope Francis said: Abraham, when the Lord told him about what was to happen to Sodom and Gomorrah (see Genesis 18:16-33), and Moses, when God wanted to destroy His people and make Moses the head of another nation (see Exodus 32:7-14).
Deacons and Bishops
The Pope then turned to the First Reading in which Peter is inspired to create a new service in the Church after the Greek-speaking converts complained that their widows were being neglected. “The apostles didn't have time for all of these things and Peter, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, ‘invents’ (we can say it this way) the deacons”, Pope Francis said.
This resolved the situation, the Pope went on. The people in need could be well taken care of and the Apostles, as Peter said, could devote themselves "to prayer and to the proclamation of the Word”.
Bishop’s primary duty
Pope Francis then went on to develop the thought that the primary task of a bishop is to pray. The bishop, he said, “is the first to go to the Father, with the confidence, the boldness, with which Jesus went in order to fight on behalf of his people”.
“Something is not right”, Pope Francis continued, “if other things take away space for prayer”. He reminded us that it is “God who does things, we do very little. God does things in His Church”. It is, therefore, “prayer that makes the Church progress”.
This reality is so because Jesus stands before the Father and has promised that “whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified”.
The Pope concluded his homily saying that the “Church progresses in this courageous prayer because she knows that without this ascension to the Father, she cannot survive”.