By Vatican News staff writer
Pope Francis began Wednesday’s General taking into account the rising numbers of Covid-19 infections worldwide, including in Italy. Even though he would like to come close to those attending the audience, he cannot do so because of the danger of contagion for all. “I am sorry to do this but it is for your safety,” he said. Hence instead of shaking hands, he suggested to those present that they greet each other at a distance, but assured they were close to his heart.
The Pope then said his attention had been caught during the reading of the Bible passage at the start of the catechesis by a mother in the crowd who was cuddling her crying child. He said, “this is what God does with us, like that mamma." These beautiful images of a mother's tenderness, the Pope said, are the image of the Church, the symbol of God's tenderness for us. Hence, he said, “Never silence a crying baby in Church, never, because it is the voice that attracts God's tenderness.”
Pope Francis then began the second and final catechesis on the Psalms in his series on prayer. The Psalms, he says, “help us not to fall into the temptation of the 'wicked', that is, of living, and perhaps also of praying, as if God does not exist, and as if the poor do not exist”.
Seeing reality with God’s eyes
Instead, the Pope explains, the prayer of the Psalms are a fundamental reality of life, because the reference to the absolute, the transcendent, which the spiritual masters call the “holy fear of God”, makes us completely human. Prayer, he says, prevents us from venturing into life in a "predatory and voracious manner."
However, the Pope warns against "false prayer" which calls for the admiration of others or to show off the latest fashion, which Jesus Himself admonishes against. Rather, the true spirit of prayer in the heart “allows us to contemplate reality with God’s very eyes”.
The Pope also warns against tiring and rote prayer like a parrot. Rather, prayer should be the centre of life, from the heart. “If there is prayer, even a brother, a sister, even an enemy, becomes important,” he says, adding, “those who adore God, love His children. Those who respect God, respect human beings.”
Prayer, the Holy Father continued, should not be regarded as a "sedative that alleviates life’s anxieties", which is not a Christian form of prayer. “Rather, prayer makes each of us responsible,” as we see in the “Our Father” that Jesus taught His disciples.
Prayer holds temple and world together
The psalter, the Pope notes, often "bring out the scars of existence." Yet these prayers, even the most intimate and personal ones, were first used in the Temple, and then in the synagogues. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the Psalms “take shape both in the liturgy of the Temple and in the human heart” (n. 2588). Thus, personal prayer is nourished "first by the prayer of the people of Israel, then by the prayer of the Church."
"Even the Psalms in the first person singular," are a "collective patrimony," the Pope says, "to the point of being prayed by everyone and for everyone”. The prayer of the Christian has the “breath” and spiritual “tension” of holding the "temple and the world together."
“Prayer,” Pope Francis explains, “can begin in the penumbra of a church’s nave, but can come to an end on the city streets.” “And vice versa, it can blossom during the day’s activities and reach its fulfilment in the liturgy.” Thus, he says, the church doors let everyone’s groans in.
Hence, the Pope stresses, the world is always present in the prayer of the psalms. They assure the divine promise of salvation for the weakest, warn against the danger of worldly riches or open the horizon to God’s view of history.
Love of God and neighbour
“In short,” the Pope says, “where there is God, the human person must be there as well.” This is not because "we love, but because He first loved us". Pope Francis quotes 1 John who says "if anyone claims he loves God and hates his brother, he is a liar, for if one does not love his brother whom he or she has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen."
The Pope further explains that God does not support the “atheism” of those who repudiate the divine image that is "imprinted in every human being." Believing in God while distancing others and hating them, the Pope said, is practical atheism. "It is a sacrilege, an abomination, the worst offense that can be directed toward the temple and the altar."
Pope Francis concludes his catechesis saying the Psalms prevent us from falling into the temptation of “living, and perhaps also of praying, as if God does not exist, and as if the poor do not exist”.