Pope Francis on Wednesday posed a deep and moving question to Christian families around the world: Do you think of God only as an omnipotent being, the supreme judge of the world? Or do you consider God also someone who loves you, even offering a gentle caress in times of hardship?
While the creator has both aspects, thinking often of the second helps us grow in our faith and prayer lives, Francis told crowds at his weekly general audience.
“Do we come to think of God like the caress that grasps us in life, before which there is nothing?” the pontiff asked crowds in St. Peter’s Square. “A caress from which nothing, not even death, can separate us?”
“Or do we think of God only as the great Being, the Omnipotent that has made everything, the Judge that monitors every action?” the pope continued.
“Only when God is the love of all our loves, the meaning of these words becomes full,” said Francis. “So now we feel happy, and even a bit confused, because He thinks of us and, most of all, loves us!”
“Isn’t this tremendous?” the pope asked the thousands in the Square. “Isn’t it tremendous that God caresses us with the love of a father? It is so beautiful, so beautiful!”
“He could simply have come to know us as the Supreme Being, giving his commandments and waiting for the results,” the pontiff said. “Instead, God has made and makes infinitely more than this. He accompanies us in the path of life, he protects us, and he loves us.”
Francis was speaking Wednesday in his audience as part of a series of reflections he has been giving in his general audiences on different aspects of family life. He focused this week's reflection on prayer in family life.
Starting his talk this week by mentioning how often he hears Christians say they would like to pray more but do not have time, the pontiff said that a heart taken over with wonder and love for God can pray even in the smallest moments.
“The most frequent lament of Christians is about time,” said the pontiff. “‘I should pray more... I would like to do it, but often I don’t have time.’ I hear it continually.”
“The displeasure is sincere, certainly, because the human heart searches always for prayer, even without knowing it; and if it doesn’t find it, doesn’t have peace,” he said. “For this encounter you need to cultivate in your heart a ‘hot’ love for God, an affective love.”
“We can pose a very simple question,” said the pope. “Does the thought of God excite us, amaze us, move us?”
“A heart inhabited by the love of God makes prayer become even a thought without words, or an invocation in front of a sacred image, or a kiss sent towards the church,” he said.
Joking about the demands of family life, Francis said many families “learn right away to solve an equation that not even the great mathematicians know to solve.”
“Within 24 hours they make there be double!” the pontiff joked. “There are mothers and fathers that might win the Nobel for this, eh? They make 24 hours 48! I do not know how they do it but they move and do it. There is much work in family!”
The pope then reflected on the Gospel reading about Martha and Mary, when Jesus is said to have spent time with the two sisters. While Martha busied herself in offering hospitality to Jesus, Mary sat at his feet, learning from his teachings.
Martha, Francis said, learned that “the work of hospitality, however important, is not all; but that listening to the Lord, as Mary did, was the truly essential thing, the ‘better part’ of the time.”
“Prayer flows from listening to Jesus, from the reading of the Gospel,” the pontiff told the crowds at the audience. “Do not forget: Everyday read a bit of the Gospel.”
“Prayer flows from intimacy with the Word of God,” said Francis. “Is there this intimacy in our family? Do we have the Gospel in the house? Do we open it sometimes to read it together? Do we mediate on it, reciting the Rosary?”
“The Gospel read and meditated on in family is like good bread that feeds the heart of all,” said the pope. “When we put it on the table, we learn to say together a prayer, with much simplicity: It is Jesus that comes among us, as he went to the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus.”
“This is a beautiful work of mothers and fathers,” said Francis. “In the prayer of the family, in the tough moments and the difficult times we are entrusted one to the other, so that each one of us in family may be looked after by the love of God.”
[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]