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POPE’S MESSAGE | Prayer brings light of hope in dark times

VATICAN CITY — Prayer has the power to awaken hope in men and women, even in the face of death and destruction, Pope Francis said.

People often feel unworthy to turn to God when they are in need "as if it were a self-interested prayer and, thus, imperfect," the pope said Jan. 18 at his weekly general audience.

"But God knows our weakness; He knows that we remember Him to ask for help and, with the indulgent smile of a father, He responds graciously," he said.

The audience took place at the beginning of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, with the theme: "Reconciliation: The love of Christ compels us."

Addressing the different language groups, the pope prayed that all Christian communities would "be open more to reconciliation" and communion. "In this same spirit of hope and with gratitude for the progress already made in the ecumenical movement, I ask your prayers for this important intention," the pope said.

In his catechesis, the pope reflected on the prophet Jonah, a man who first tried to run away from God's call and initially refused "to place himself at the service of the divine plan of salvation."

Nevertheless, the story of Jonah is a "great lesson about the mercy of God who forgives," the pope said.

Jonah fled from his task of preaching salvation to the people of Ninevah who — in the eyes of the Israelites — "deserved to be destroyed, not to be saved," the pope said. But when a dangerous storm hit, the pagans aboard his ship immediately prayed to their gods; a just reaction in the face of death because only then "man experiences his own frailty and his own need of salvation," he said.

"The instinctive horror of death awakens the need to hope in the God of life," the pope said. People think, "'Perhaps God will think of us and we will not perish.' These are the words of hope that become a prayer, that plea full of anguish raised by the lips of man in front of an imminent danger of death."

This experience of God's divine mercy is a reminder for all men and women to recognize the "surprising occasions of knowing hope and encountering God," Pope Francis said.

"Prayer brings you to hope," the pope said. "And when things become dark, with more prayer there will be more hope."

'Stagnant' and selfish Christians are hopeless, unable to cope

VATICAN CITY — Christians who forge ahead with hope in God have the strength to endure life's dark moments, Pope Francis said in a morning homily.

However, Christians who refuse to fight for positive changes that benefit everyone are "stagnant" and selfish, he said Jan. 17 at the Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Christians who are "lazy" or "lukewarm" in the faith "have found in the Church a nice parking lot" for themselves where their lives are protected "with all possible guarantees," he said. It's like "living in a refrigerator" that preserves things to stay just as they are, he said.

"Lazy Christians," he said, are "Christians that have no desire to move forward, Christians who do not fight for things that bring change, new things, things that would be good for everyone if these things were to change."

"Lazy Christians" have no hope, he said; they are "in retirement," which is fine after decades of work, but "to spend your whole life in retirement is awful" with never anything to look forward to on the horizon.

Christians who are "parked" or stuck in one spot "are self-centered. They only look at themselves, they don't know how to lift their heads to look" at God, Pope Francis said.

A true Christian life, he said, is "a courageous life" built on hope.

Life is never easy, he said, so people need the courage to forge ahead. People with courage very often make mistakes, but "everyone makes mistakes," he said, especially the one who decides to move forward. "The one who stands still seems not to go wrong," he added.

— Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service 

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