VATICAN CITY — In his daily Mass, Pope Francis touched on the importance of prayer and forgiveness in the life of a Christian, warning against common attitudes that “close the door” to God.
“The Lord tells us: ‘The first task in life is this: prayer.’ But not the prayer of words, like a parrot; but the prayer of the heart: gazing on the Lord, hearing the Lord, asking the Lord,” said the Holy Father during his Oct. 8 daily homily.
Pope Francis celebrated his daily Mass in the Santa Marta guesthouse of the Vatican, where he chose to reside shortly after he was elected as Bishop of Rome.
The Pope centered his reflections on the prophet Jonah from the first reading of the day and on Martha from the Gospel narrative, stating that both characters are united by a similar problem: neither of them knew how to pray.
Recounting the story of sisters Mary and Martha in the Gospel reading, the Holy Father said that when Martha asked Jesus to have Mary get up and serve, Mary chose the “better part,” meaning “that of prayer, that of the contemplation of Jesus.”
“To the eyes of the sister, this was time lost; it even seemed, perhaps, a bit of a fantasy,” he said, “But who wants that? The Lord: ‘This is the better part,’ because Mary heard the Lord and prayed with her heart.”
When coming from the heart, “we know that prayer works miracles,” he emphasized, reflecting on how the Lord delivered the people of Nineveh after Jonah had preached to them about the imminent destruction of the city.
The inhabitants were saved, he noted, because they believed the words of the prophet and were converted, “and from the greatest to the least called upon the Divine forgiveness with all their strength.”
Although the people of Nineveh were redeemed, Pope Francis highlighted the erroneous attitude of Jonah, who desired a harsh judgment for the people, rather than a merciful one.
“There are others like this stubborn Jonah” who mirror this attitude, he said. “He went, he prophesied, but in his heart, he said: ‘But they deserve it. They deserve it. They were asking for it.’”
“He prophesied, but he didn’t pray! He didn’t ask the Lord to forgive … only to beat them. They are executioners, those who believe themselves to be just!”
Choose the Better Part
The Pope concluded his remarks by warning those present against prayer that is redundant, pessimistic and unforgiving, saying that Christians must always be careful to guard against the temptation to fall into these attitudes, and they must always choose “the better part.”
He challenged those in attendance, stating that “we ourselves, when we don’t pray, what we’re doing is closing the door to the Lord. And not praying is this: Closing the door to the Lord, so that he can do nothing.”
“On the other hand, prayer, in the face of a problem, a difficult situation, a calamity, is opening the door to the Lord, so that he will come.”
“This is what praying is,” he stressed, “opening the door to the Lord, so that he can do something. If we close the door, God can do nothing! Let us think on this Mary, who has chosen the better part and makes us see the way, as the door is opened to the Lord.”