Why did St. Paul urge us to pray constantly? What could he have meant? Pope Francis considers.
Pope Francis at the general audience of June 9 considered one of his favorite books and a favorite prayer, to reflect on St. Paul’s command to pray without ceasing: from the First Letter to the Thessalonians: “Pray constantly, always and for everything give thanks” (5:17-18).
For the second time on this teaching series on prayer, the pope referred to The Way of a Pilgrim. It is the story of an anonymous pilgrim who travels across Russia and eventually comes to embrace a simple prayer now known as the “Jesus Prayer.”
The Apostle’s words struck the [pilgrim] and he wondered how it was possible to pray without interruption, given that our lives are fragmented into so many different moments, which do not always make concentration possible. From this question he begins his search, which will lead him to discover what is called the prayer of the heart. It consists in repeating with faith: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
A simple prayer, but very beautiful. A prayer that, little by little, adapts itself to the rhythm of breath and extends throughout the day.
The Pope explained that just as our breathing is the backdrop of whatever we do, so prayer of the heart can be “the breath of life.”
The monk Evagrius Ponticus thus states: “We have not been commanded to work, to keep watch and to fast continually” – no, this is not demanded – “but it has been laid down that we are to pray without ceasing” (CCC 2742).
The heart in prayer. There is therefore an ardour in the Christian life, which must never fail. It is a little like that sacred fire that was kept in the ancient temples, that burned without interruption and which the priests had the task of keeping alive. So there must be a sacred fire in us too, which burns continuously and which nothing can extinguish. And it is not easy. But this is how it must be.
The melody of life
Drawing from a reflection of St. John Chrysostom, the Holy Father offered an image: Prayer is a kind of musical staff, where we inscribe the melody of our lives.
Saint John Chrysostom, another pastor who was attentive to real life, preached: “Even while walking in public or strolling alone, or seated in your shop, while buying or selling, or even while cooking” (CCC 2743).
Little prayers: “Lord, have pity on us,” “Lord, help me.” So, prayer is a kind of musical staff, where we inscribe the melody of our lives. It is not in contrast with daily work, it does not contradict the many small obligations and appointments; if anything, it is the place where every action finds its meaning, its reason and its peace. In prayer.
Match made in heaven
Pope Francis acknowledged that forming this type of prayer life isn’t easy. He commented that busy parents might miss the time in their lives before children, when it was easier to find moments to dedicate exclusively to prayer.
But, he added, work and prayer should be complementary.
It is dangerous for man to cultivate an interest so abstract that he loses contact with reality. Work helps us to stay in touch with reality. The monk’s hands joined in prayer bear the calluses of those who wield shovels and hoes. …
Prayer – which is the “breath” of everything – remains as the living backdrop of work, even in moments in which this is not explicit. It is inhuman to be so absorbed by work that you can no longer find the time for prayer.
At the same time, a prayer that is alien from life is not healthy. A prayer that alienates itself from the concreteness of life becomes spiritualism, or worse, ritualism. … In this way, the time dedicated to staying with God revives faith, which helps us in the practicalities of living, and faith, in turn, nurtures prayer, without interruption. In this circularity between faith, life and prayer, one keeps alight that flame of Christian life that God expects of us.
The Holy Father concluded by reiterating his invitation to pray the Jesus Prayer throughout the day.
And let us repeat the simple prayer that it is so good to repeat during the day. Let’s see if you can still remember it. All together: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Saying this prayer continually will help you in union with Jesus.