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Learn to pray with the early Church and to discern with these 4 criteria: Pope Francis

Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 11/25/20

St. Luke's description of the first Christians tells us how we can experience Christ as they did.
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Luke writes in the Book of Acts: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (2:42).

Pope Francis pointed out this passage as he continued his Wednesday audience series on prayer this November 25. After looking at Christ’s prayer, and the prayer of Our Lady, today he turned our attention to the early Church.

“The community persevered in prayer,” he said.

Reading the Book of Acts, the pope said, reveals to us “what a powerful driving force of evangelization the prayer gatherings can be.”

He explained that those who gathered in these first moments of prayer in the early Church, “actually experience Jesus’ presence and are touched by the Spirit.”

The members of the first community – although this always applies, even to us today – sensed that the narrative of the encounter with Jesus did not stop at the moment of the Ascension, but continued in their life. In recounting what the Lord said and did – listening to the Word – in praying to enter into communion with Him, everything became alive.

The Holy Father noted how the Catechism speaks about this: “The Holy Spirit… keeps the memory of Christ alive in his Church at prayer, also leads her toward the fullness of truth, to the whole truth, and inspires new formulations expressing the unfathomable mystery of Christ at work in his Church’s life, sacraments, and mission” (n. 2625).

So, the pope emphasized, the Holy Spirit makes us remember Jesus, but “not as a mnemonic exercise.”

Christians, walking on the paths of mission, remember Jesus while they make Him present once more; and from Him, from His Spirit, they receive the “push” to go, to proclaim, to serve. In prayer, Christians immerse themselves in the mystery of God, that mystery who loves each person, that God who desires that the Gospel be preached to every one. God is God for everyone, and in Jesus every wall of separation has definitively crumbled: as Saint Paul says, He is our peace, that is, “He who has made us both one” (Eph 2:14). Jesus created unity, unity.


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Discerning what to do

The pope said that these four activities spelled out by St. Luke — “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” — can act as a framework for any activity of the Church.

Everything in the Church that grows outside of these “coordinates” lacks a foundation. To discern a situation, we need to ask ourselves about these four coordinates: How in this situation these four coordinates are present — the preaching, the constant search for fraternal communion, charity, the breaking of the bread (that is, the Eucharistic life), and prayer. Any situation needs to be evaluated in the light of these four coordinates. Whatever is not part of these coordinates lacks ecclesiality, it is not ecclesial.

The pope warned that without these criteria, we can mistakenly think of the Church as a group of businesspeople going forward with a new business plan, or a political party seeking a majority opinion before making a decision, instead of the work of the Holy Spirit.

“The presence of the Holy Spirit is precisely guaranteed by these four coordinates,” he insisted.

If this is lacking, the Holy Spirit is lacking, and if the Holy Spirit is lacking, we are a beautiful organization, humanitarian, doing good things, good, good… even an ecclesial party, let’s put it that way. But it is not the Church. It is for this reason that the Church does not grow with these things: it does not grow through proselytism, as any other company does, it grows by attraction. And who provokes attraction? The Holy Spirit. Let us never forget Benedict XVI’s words: “The Church does not grow through proselytizing, she grows by attraction.” If the Holy Spirit is lacking, who is the one who attracts [people] to Jesus, the Church is not there. There might be a beautiful friendship club, good, with good intentions, but not the Church, not synodality.


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