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Francis: Prayer is the way out of our becoming “closed”

Vatican Insider - published on 06/29/16

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Prayer “is always the way out of our becoming “closed”, as individuals and as a community.” The Pope centred his homily for today’s mass for the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica, on the juxtaposition between a closed and open attitude. He explained that today, just as in the days of the apostles, prayer “enables grace to open a way out from closure to openness, from fear to courage, from sadness to joy. And – Francis said paying tribute to a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople who were attending the mass during which Francis blessed the pallia of metropolitan archbishops nominated this year – we can add: from division to unity.” 

“The word of God in today’s liturgy presents a clear central contrast between a closed and open attitude,” Francis began by saying. “Together with this image we can consider the symbol of the keys that Jesus promises to Simon Peter so that he can open the entrance to the kingdom of heaven, and not close it before people, like some of the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus reproached.” 

The reading from the Acts of the Apostles shows us three examples of “closed” attitude: Peter is put in prison; the community gathers behind closed doors in prayer; and – in the continuation of our reading – Peter knocks at the closed door of the house of Mary, the mother of John called Mark, after being set free. In these three examples of “closing”, prayer appears as the main way out. It is a way out for the community, which risks closing in on itself out of persecution and fear. It is a way out for Peter who, at the very beginning of the mission given him by the Lord, is cast into prison by Herod and risks execution.” Prayer, “as humble entrustment to God and his holy will, is always the way out of our becoming ‘closed’, as individuals and as a community”. 

“Paul too, when he writes to Timothy, speaks of his experience of liberation, of finding a way out of his own impending execution. He tells us that the Lord stood by him and gave him strength to carry out the work of evangelizing the nations. But Paul speaks too of a much greater ‘opening’, towards an infinitely more vast horizon. It is the horizon of eternal life, which awaits him at the end of his earthly ‘race’. We can see the whole life of the Apostle in terms of ‘going out’ in service to the Gospel: Paul’s life was completely projected forward, in bringing Christ to those who did not know him, and then in rushing, as it were, into Christ’s arms, to be ‘saved for his heavenly kingdom’.” 

The Gospel shows that the life of Simon, a fisherman from Galilee – like the life of each of us – opens, opens up fully, when it receives from God the Father the grace of faith. Simon sets out on the journey – a long and difficult journey – that will lead him to go out of himself, leaving all his human supports behind, especially his pride tinged with courage and generous selflessness. In this, his process of liberation, the prayer of Jesus is decisive: “I have prayed for you [Simon], that your own faith may not fail”. Likewise decisive is the compassionate gaze of the Lord after Peter had denied him three times: a gaze that pierces the heart and brings tears of repentance. At that moment, Simon Peter was set free from the prison of his selfish pride and fear, and overcame the temptation of closing his heart to Jesus’s call to follow him along the way of the cross.” Pope Francis then paused to reflect on one aspect of Peter’s story in particular: “When Peter finds himself miraculously freed from Herod’s prison, he goes to the home of the mother of John called Mark. He knocks on the closed door and a servant by the name of Rhoda comes. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in disbelief and joy, instead of opening the door, she runs to tell her mistress. The account, which can seem comical, makes us perceive the climate of fear that led the Christian community to stay behind closed doors, but also closed to God’s surprises. This detail speaks to us of a constant temptation for the Church, that of closing in on herself in the face of danger. But we also see the small openings through which God can work. Saint Luke tells us that in that house “many had gathered and were praying”. Prayer enables grace to open a way out from closure to openness, from fear to courage, from sadness to joy. And we can add: from division to unity,” Francis said, concluding: “ We say this today with confidence, together with our brothers from the Delegation sent by the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to take part in the celebration of the Holy Patrons of Rome. Today is also a celebration of communion for the whole Church, as seen by the presence of the metropolitan archbishops who have come for the blessing of the pallia, which they will receive from my representatives in their respective sees. May Sts Peter and Paul intercede for us, that we may joyfully go forth on this journey, experience the liberating action of God, and bear witness to it before the world.” 

During the mass, prayers were said for the unity of the Church, for peace and justice in the world, for missionaries of the Gospel and a Chinese prayer was said for persecuted Christians, hoping that they may find comfort “in their hour of need” and rescued “from the hands of their enemies”. 

Every 29 June, the Pope blesses the pallium, which is conferred to new metropolitan archbishops to underline the bond between the person who wears it and the Apostolic See. The pallium is a hand-woven woollen vestment that sits on an archbishop’s shoulders, symbolising the lost sheep and the good shepherd who gives his life for this sheep. 25 metropolitan archbishops were nominated this year. Five of them will be heading Italian dioceses: Matteo Maria Zuppi (Bologna), Corrado Lorefice (Palermo), Salvatore Ligorio (Potenza-Muro Lucano-Marsico Nuovo), Lauro Tisi (Trento) e Felice Accrocca (Benevento). The Dominican, Lorenzo Piretto, also an Italian, has served as Archbishop of Izmir (Turkey) since last November. Others who will receive the pallium are: Archbishops Dominique Lebrun (Rouen, France), Luis Gerardo Cabrera Herrera (Guayaquil, Ecuador), Roque Paloschi (Porto Velho, Brazil), Fidel Herraez Vegas (Burgos, Spain), Juan José Omella Omella (Barcellona, Spain), Jozef de Kesel (Bruxelles, Belgium), Zanoni Demettino Castro (Feira de Santana, Brazil), Rodolfo Luis Weber (Passo Fundo, Brazil), Darci José Nicioli (Diamantina, Brazil), Bernard Anthony Hebda (Minneapolis, USA), Juan de la Caridad Garcia Rodriguez (Havana, Cuba), Ruy Rendon Leal (Hermosillo, Mexico), Kenenth David Oswin Richards (Kingston in Jamaica, Antilles), Adam Szal (Przemyśl, Poland), Francisco Moreno Barron (Tijuana, Mexico), Marcos Aurelio Perez Caicedo (Cuenca, Ecuador), Christopher M. Cardone (Honiara, Salomon Islands), Basilio Athai (Tauunggyi, Myanmar), Roger Houngbedji (Cocontou, Brazil).  

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