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Reflection from the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network for England and Wales and Scotland.

In July, we are invited to pray ‘that, in social, economic and political situations of conflict, we may be courageous and passionate architects of dialogue and friendship’. All the monthly intentions in 2021 are expressions of the Pope’s oft-expressed plea for fraternity and here is another example. He’s inviting us not only to remember dialogue and friendship and to live accordingly, but more than that, we are to be architects, which means that we have to design and plan ways of entering into dialogue and building social friendship. It is a much bigger task; moreover, it is to be carried out with courage and passion.

Our adult responsibility

Each month, indeed each day, there are more and more concerns to bring to our prayer, things we know that we need to talk to God about. At times, although always with really good will and honesty, we forget our adult Christian responsibility, instead asking God to fix this or that situation. Then we remember, usually, that the purpose of our prayer is to open ourselves to the grace and strength to mobilise ourselves for Christ’s mission of worldwide compassion.

When the Holy Father offers specific prayer intentions, such as this month’s intention for Social Friendship, he is inviting us, in short, to do something!

The era we’re living through, which might be coming to an end without our realising it, is marked by polarisation and conflict. But there is also a great deal of selfless fraternal service evident. We are faced with massive problems for all of humanity. Inequality in vaccine distribution is now shockingly bad while the forthcoming, crucial COP26 conference will highlight how close we are to environmental disaster. These are but two of many concerns that require our prayer, our passion and our courage, now. In places, quietly and humbly, it is already happening. We understand that dialogue and friendship, which will mark the new era, are as difficult to build as they are necessary, and urgent.

Three proposals for July

What might we do, if we take up the Pope’s challenge this month? Here are our usual three proposals, in which we recover an old tradition promoted by the Apostleship of Prayer over many decades: the Three Challenges for the month.

Spend a few moments pondering and praying about a situation that you know well, where there is conflict; social, economic or political. As you begin, be conscious of the nearness of the Spirit of God. Let one situation in particular arise in your little time of prayer then take great care to notice whatever feelings arise in you as you do so. Speak to God about whatever you notice, without analysing or judging what comes up. Be aware of what moves in your own heart as you do so.

In your parish or worshipping community, whether you can meet physically or online, introduce others to this month’s intention and invite them to name a situation of conflict. It could be local, national or international. Get a discussion going about how the group could be ‘architects of dialogue and friendship’. Take great care of each other as you do so because many of us will feel anything but courageous or passionate, especially after the time we’ve had. We must remember, too, that issues that might surface will likely touch on deeply-held feelings and convictions so everyone must be compassionate, listening carefully and being slow to judge.

Look, or look again, at the recent book Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, co-written by Pope Francis. A guide for readers and reading groups is available here. Francis tells us about the ‘overflow’, the grace that moves us beyond preconceived ideas and the temptation to settle for a return to the old ways, towards new, courageous and creative encounters. Investigate the possibility of setting up a reading group with this easy-to-read book, among friends, family or parishioners.

Heads, hands and heart

Pope Francis, talking about the Eucharist, recently observed that it ‘raises us from our comfortable and lazy lifestyle and reminds us that we are not only mouths to be fed, but also His hands, to be used to help feed others’. Elsewhere, in a favourite phrase of his, he speaks often of the three components of the Christian life: heads, hands and heart. We find him using this phrase back when he was a bishop in his native land, well before his election to the papacy. We’re to use our intelligence and inventiveness, our labour and whatever capabilities we have and all the passion and courage that is in our hearts, as the July intention requests. It reminds us of the lovely thought attributed to St Teresa of Avila, that ‘Christ has no body now on earth but yours … yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world’.

See clearly, choose well, act right

As we move cautiously from lockdowns while keeping a wary eye open for further, deadlier variants of the virus, it is becoming really important to consider what it is that we want to return to. People speak of ‘new normal’ while others want to return to how things were before all this. It will be good to remember fraternity, dialogue and social friendship as we rebuild. But these can be empty (although well-meant) phrases that won’t make any difference unless we discern. In order to do the right thing, we have to make the right choices. For the follower of Christ that means discernment; and that means being able to see clearly, as true discernment will not take place unless we have a clear view of our situation. The Christian must also keep in mind the common good, particularly for those on the margins.


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