Praying for those who suffer


27 May 2020

In Pope Francis’ intention for June: The way of the heart, we pray that all those who suffer may find their way in life, allowing themselves to be touched by the Heart of Jesus.

The heart has always been a symbol of the miracle of life and of its fragility. That is inescapable. If our heart stops beating, our life generally comes to a final halt, too. But the marvel is that it can keep beating unaided for over a hundred years. The heart, too, was very remote: only in the lifetime of many of us has it been possible to operate on it. Because it was so central and so mysterious it was seen as the deepest and most precious part of ourselves. We still speak in that way of the heart. To go to the heart of things is to cut away distractions and to understand them deeply. To speak from the heart is to say what you most deeply believe and feel, not to be superficial or self-deceiving.

The heart, too, has always been seen as a symbol of our feelings and attitudes. To have a hard heart is to be callous. To have a soft heart is to be sympathetic, sometimes too much so. In particular it has been seen as the home of love. We can all think of love songs, many of them pretty terrible, in which the heart is mentioned.

When the Scriptures speak of our heart, they usually refer to the depths of ourselves where we reveal what matters most deeply to us. That is the deep level of honesty and self-knowledge at which God wants our relationship to him to be conducted. When the Scriptures speak of God’s attitudes and feelings towards us, they cover a range of human feelings – anger, rage, love, tenderness, sadness. But God always returns to love and forgiveness. Love conquers all. Jesus especially, is identified with God’s love. In him the Son of God comes to share our messy and murderous world and dies for us out of love. Jesus shows God to be a loving Father and not a judge, executioner or absentee landlord, but one whose love is tender and conquers death and human viciousness.

We Christians constantly lose sight of God’s love and see him instead as a hard taskmaster, an impersonal and unfeeling force, or a judge inflicting inflexible punishments. We redefine love as expectation. If our experience has been of stern and punitive figures of authority, our image of God will also be harsh. Saints constantly respond to this caricature of God by turning us back to the Jesus of the Gospel who speaks of God’s love both in his words and in what he does: healing, driving out demons, bringing joy out of grief. God is at the heart of things, and the heart of God is love.

That is the background of Pope Francis’ prayer. If we face great suffering in our lives, it is easy to become depressed and to see God as punishing us for our sins or as not caring at all about us. It is easy to pray in fear or to give up on prayer.

That is why Pope Francis begins by asking us to pray that people who suffer, and we all know what it is to suffer, will find their own way in life, and that in doing this they might be touched by Jesus’ love. As always Pope Francis speaks out of a deep relationship with Jesus in which we enter his humanity with its depth and range of experience and feelings, and find consolation in his love.

Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ is an editorial consultant at Jesuit Communications
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