Praying with the pope in November
We share the Holy Father’s concerns for the world and for the spread of the Gospel. Each month he entrusts his concerns to the Apostleship of Prayer, the Pope’s Global Prayer Network, and asks us to invite all people of good will to pray with and about these intentions.
This month, his concerns are:
For the whole world, Dialogue: That we may be open to personal encounter and dialogue with all, even those whose convictions differ from our own.
Near the beginning of his famous “Spiritual Exercises”, Saint Ignatius has some wise advice for both the pilgrim making the retreat and the person who is guiding. “Always be ready to put the better interpretation on what you hear the other person saying”, he advises; then, if what is said is obviously in error, we should seek to correct but only in all charity. And that correction is to take the form of gently trying to convince the other rather than condemn. We should always do our best to avoid condemning, suggests the Saint, because to condemn does not leave much room for charity, for love.
This advice applies primarily to its original setting, that of an individually-guided retreat, but it's just as important in a wider setting. When Ignatius was sending some of his Jesuits into difficult and contentious discussions with the Reformers, he instructed them to deal with their opponents with all possible charity, similarly seeking to identify the best possible interpretation of best they were hearing rather than rushing to condemnation. Great exponents of this art at the time included St. Pierre Favre SJ and St. Peter Canisius. The people they encountered were, in the eyes of some, heretics but both Peters treated them with respect and charity.To this day, Jesuits still try to live up to these ideals. Superiors, for example, try to listen for the best in what the men in the community say, never criticising them in public, correcting gently where necessary and inviting the community to do the same with him.
The Pope’s Universal Intention for this month touches the same reality. To practice what St. Ignatius recommends requires at least two skills: one of careful listening, deliberately pushing to one side our own attitudes, opinions and responses, even when we think (as we often do!) that we are right and the other is wrong, or unorthodox, or heretical. The other is the ability to realise that we might be wrong and that the other person might actually have a better understanding … and that we need to change. It's far from easy, especially in the political world, and in the church. But it's possible.
At a meeting in Brazil, Pope Francis said: “When leaders in various fields ask me for advice, my response is always the same: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.” Why is dialogue so important? “It is the only way for individuals, families, and societies to grow along with the culture of encounter, a culture in which all have something good to give and all can receive something good in return.” Dialogue does not mean denying objective truth, but respecting the dignity of the other person “in a way that everyone can see in the other not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother or sister to be welcomed and embraced.” As we pray with the Holy Father this month, let us pray for the grace to put the best intention on what the other says, and always to remember the essential importance of dialogue in Christian charity.
Moment for my Reflection
What have I found helpful in talking with people who strongly disagree with me?
John 4: 1-42 Jesus enters a dialogue with a Samaritan woman, who is not one of his own, but that conversation becomes rich, and deep. It changes her life.
The evangelisation intention for November, Pastors: That pastors of the church, with profound love for their flocks, may accompany them and enliven their hope
Many followers of Christ have long loved describing him as the Good Shepherd. In his own words, recorded in the Gospel, a good shepherd not only knows his flock, each by name, but keeps them safe. He goes even further, searching for any that get lost and not resting until they are found and safe again. He holds them close to himself, to his heart.
Lots of us live in urban settings these days and hardly ever see a sheep, or a green field, and have probably never met a shepherd. Even so, we can still relate to the imagery of the shepherd, for it touches a deep reality, a longing within us all.
Jesus wanted to seek and to save lost humanity. That each person has infinite value in God’s eyes is at the heart of our faith and is much more authentically Christian than any number of rules and regulations. Pope Francis asks us to pray that pastors, who are the Church’s shepherds, might remember the Good Shepherd and the “profound love” he has for the flock, all of them. They should be close to them. They should not forget this. This closeness, we pray, will help those pastors to “enliven their hope”.
Famously, early in his pontificate, the Holy Father reminded priests to “be shepherds, with the smell of the sheep, make it real, as shepherds among your flock.” It is sometimes a difficult role which occasionally seems almost impossible, particularly in those places and regions where priests and other pastors are few, and stretched. The demands on them can be great. The simple human needs of the pastor, such as friendship, rest and quiet time are not always met; even the finest shepherd took time off to be by himself, to pray or just to relax with friends. So part of our evangelisation prayer this month, with the Pope, could be a moment of reflection on how we support our pastors, how we allow them to care for us and to enliven our hope.