- - Sunday, November 29, 2015

“Pray for me.”

Pope Francis asked the faithful to pray for him when he was elected and introduced as the pontiff March 13, 2013.

Pope Francis guides billions of the Catholic faithful, among others. He knows the power of prayer.

From 1990-92 Jorge Mario Bergoglio was cast out to Cordoba, 500 miles from his familiar Buenos Aires. Here, the future pope learned to pray. His exile at the hands of his Jesuit superiors was perceived by Cardinal Bergoglio as rejection due to apparent division he seemed to stir among his peers. In solitude and inner darkness, like that told of by John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, Cardinal Bergoglio forged a stellar faith.

His solitude and belief in the power of prayer blossomed when he personally accepted an enduring interior and dark night of the soul. The cross of Christ became his mantra of mourning and eventual divine mercy for all manner of peoples on the periphery and edges of life.

Like him, in some way, my own reluctant pastoral assignment, which I have learned to lovingly accept, finds me with a full yet tired heart and body at day’s end where I minister on the streets near downtown Detroit. It has earned me the title of “Ninja Priest” from my colleagues.

The humble scholar that Francis is today emerged from his fervent and long prayer each day amid a clashing culture of the scriptural way of God competing with a culture of “me, myself and I.”

Prayer is a humbling experience and may explain the pope’s choice of lifestyle. The humble, highest-ranking churchman from Argentina lives in a modest guest room at Vatican City. Francis dines in soup kitchens and rides in a modest vehicle.

Prayer often leads to an attitude of contrition. “I am deeply sorry,” the pontiff recently said to victims of sexual abuse.

Francis knows families are the foundation and “first school of society.” “May I” must accompany one’s request for permission or agreement. Francis knows the power of asking to do something and to be of service. Communion with God in prayer is lifting one’s voice, heart and mind to God. Watching and witnessing Pope Francis pray inspires me.

Like a good teacher Pope Francis offers families three tips for effective home life: “Seek permission, say ‘thank you’ and ask for forgiveness.”

Such “hints and helps” to strengthen the American family were declared at the Pope’s Valentine’s Day service Feb. 14, 2014, when marrying is in full swing in parishes everywhere. At that service in St. Peter’s Square for 10,000 engaged couples, Francis said: “In the Our Father prayer we say, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Married couples may also learn to pray, ‘Give us this day our daily love, teach us to love each other, to care for each other.’ The more you entrust yourselves to the Lord, the more your love will be forever able to renew itself and to overcome every difficulty.”

The courtliness, courtesy and communion with God in prayer can be heavy like boots. However, when intimacy and connection with God finds oneness over time and prayer practices, the encounter is akin to spouses savoring a special “fresh datelike” conversation with each other and their children. Reminders to say “I’m sorry,” “thank you” and “may I?” will make all the difference in marriage and family, according to Francis. I agree.

Pope Francis is a practitioner of prayer. He urges his flock to “move forward.”

“Let go of anger, and never go to bed angry,” is my advice to individuals, couples and families. Forgiveness like Francis’ is this marriage mender’s prescription for a peaceful life.

It’s all about the power of praying often as Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles, urges in the greatest story ever told in the Bible about Jesus, the anointed one.

Prayer is thanksgiving, adoration, praise of God in hymns and songs, for example, and supplication that causes one’s soul to stir, sing and shout for joy as that deepest part of us blooms big and is emboldened. Eucharist is a Greek word that means “thanksgiving.”

All done with a grateful heart, an attitude of gratitude, a pure prayer.

Thanks be to God.

Father Lawrence Ventline, D.Min., Ph.D., of Detroit has been a Catholic clergyman for 40 years. An author and a board-certified professional counselor and fitness and nutrition specialist, he is a former longtime religion writer for The Detroit News.

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