St. Peter's Square (Photo: Caleb Miller/unsplash)

The present moment and the memory of the heart

A journey through Pope Francis’ audiences dedicated to prayer. A cycle that began last May, which has accompanied us during this time of pandemic.
Paolo Cremonesi

"Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Last May 6, Pope Francis began an extensive catechesis on prayer during his Wednesday audiences, beginning with the cry of blind Bartimaeus. It is a catechesis that, drawing on his rich pastoral experience, offers the faithful a valuable contribution about living prayer, and also explains where this 84-year-old man draws his amazing energy from to lead the Church at such a difficult and challenging time.
"One must pray always without becoming weary," Jesus admonished in the Gospel (Luke 18:1-8). "The ideal marked by Jesus," said Fr. Giussani, "can then be translated existentially as follows: 'pray as much as you can.' It is the formula of conscience in the face of the Ideal; it is the formula of freedom for the man on a journey."
Bergoglio takes his cue from the observation that "To dialogue with God is a grace: we are not worthy of it, we have no rights to claim” (Audience of March 3). In fact, most mythologies make no mention of a God who is concerned with human affairs; on the contrary, they are annoying, boring, and totally negligible. Here the novelty of Christianity breaks through: "God who loves humanity: we would never have had the courage to believe in him, had we not known Jesus,” the Pope observes. “What God is prepared to die for people? What God loves always and patiently, without demanding to be loved in return?”

Tam Pater nemo. To such a degree, Father, No one. In this loving relationship, then, prayer springs forth: "One who prays is like someone in love who always carries the beloved person in his or her heart wherever they go” (Audience February 10).
For Francis, prayer is first and foremost about the present moment. He emphasized his Wednesday Audience on March 17, the last in the cycle: “This is the work of the Spirit in us. He “reminds” us of Jesus and makes him present to us… If Christ were only far away in time, we would be alone and lost in the world. Yes, we will remember Jesus, there, far away, but it is the Spirit that brings him today, now, at this moment, in our heart.”
“There is no day more wonderful day than the one we are living,” he had stressed on February 10. "Those who live always thinking about the future: ‘But the future will be better...’, but do not take each day as it comes are people who live in their fantasy, they do not know how to deal with concrete reality. And today is real, today is concrete. And prayer takes place today.  Jesus comes to meet us today, the day we are living.”
It is therefore a matter of living intensely the real now and Bergoglio says he fears, taking up St. Augustine, not noticing the "Lord who passes by." Here then is the indication of some "tools" that the Church hands down and delivers to us, first and foremost Sacred Scripture.

“This experience happens to all believers,” he observed at the Audience on January 27. “A passage from Scripture, heard many times already, unexpectedly speaks to me one day, and enlightens a situation that I am living. But it is necessary that I be present on that day for that appointment with the Word. That I be there, listening to the Word. Every day God passes and sows a seed in the soil of our lives. We do not know whether today he will find dry ground, brambles, or good soil that will make that seed grow. That they become for us the living Word of God depends on us, on our prayer, on the open heart with which we approach the Scriptures.”
Through prayer "Through prayer a new incarnation of the Word takes place. And we are the ‘tabernacles’ where the words of God seek to be welcomed and preserved, so that they may visit the world. This is why we must approach the Bible without ulterior motives, without exploiting it. The believer does not turn to the Holy Scriptures to support his or her own philosophical and moral view, but because he or she hopes for an encounter… It bothers me a little when I hear Christians who recite verses from the Bible like parrots. ‘Oh, yes… Oh, the Lord says… He wants this…’. But did you encounter the Lord, with that verse? It is not only a question of memory: it is a question of the memory of the heart, which opens you to the encounter with the Lord.”

Read also - Saint Joseph. With a father's heart

In one of his many interviews with the editor of Civiltà Cattolica, Jesuit Antonio Spadaro said that he likes to recite the Psalms in a particular way: "I pray the breviary every morning. I like to pray with the psalms. Then, later, I celebrate Mass. I pray the Rosary. What I really prefer is adoration in the evening, even when I get distracted and think of other things, or even fall asleep praying.”
At the February 3 Audience, Francis spoke about the liturgy and a possible danger: "In the history of the Church, there has often been a temptation to practice an intimist Christianity that does not recognize the spiritual importance of public liturgical rites… The liturgy, in itself, is not just spontaneous prayer, but something more, and more original: it is an act that founds the whole Christian experience, and therefore, prayer, too, is an event, it is a happening, it is presence, it is encounter,” he continues. “Christ makes himself present in the Holy Spirit through the sacramental signs: hence the need for us Christians to participate in the divine mysteries. A Christianity without a liturgy, I dare say, is perhaps a Christianity without Christ. Without the Total Christ. Even in the barest of rites, such as the one some Christians have celebrated and continue to celebrate in places of incarceration, or in the hiddenness of a house in times of persecution, Christ is truly present and gives himself to his faithful.”
The Pope concludes, Mass cannot simply be “listened to”: it is also an incorrect expression, ‘I am going to listen to Mass’. Mass cannot merely be listened to, as if we were just spectators of something that slips away without our involvement. Mass is always celebrated, and not only by the priest who presides it, but by all Christians who experience it. And the centre is Christ!”

These words that bring to mind Thomas Eliot’s verses in Choruses from "The Rock": "Even the anchorite who meditates alone / for whom days and nights repeat the praises of God / Prays for the Church, the Body of Christ Incarnate".
Prayer of perseverance, of praise, of intercession, of asking, of blessing, of thanksgiving. Bergoglio dedicated a specific audience to each of them. He recounted how Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Elijah related to God, and how Jesus and Mary prayed. He dwelt on the Psalms and described how the first Christians prayed. Going back to these rich and profound texts helps us to identify with Bartimaeus' cry: "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!". To which Jesus responds, "What do you want me to do for you?"