Pope Francis keeps asking everyone he meets to pray for him. He asks throngs of people, all the attendees of his mass at Madison Square Garden, powerful leaders, rich people, and poor people. And many have the same reaction that soon-to-be-ex Speaker of the House John Boehner had. “Who am I to pray for him?”
Now that’s a question worth pondering. This is a reversal of the usual, because throngs come to the pope asking for spiritual intervention, for their babies to be blessed, for their lame to walk, for their sick to be healed. But what does this pope do? He asks for us to pray for him. “I need it,” he says.
This is the most powerful message that Pope Francis is spreading during his visit to the U.S. Sure, it’s great that he talks about saving the Earth, helping people who don’t have enough resources to eat or have a place to live, and talking about loving each other instead of separating ourselves by country, race, gender, etc. We need to take action in all these areas. We are at a crisis point for humanity. But “pray for me” is the most powerful request because Pope Francis is challenging us, urging us, to own our spiritual agency.
The church of the past projected a role for the congregants as children. The leaders were our fathers and occasionally mothers who knew better and took care of us. We came to them for help, for confession, for prayer. Much of the reformation of Christianity in the West has been about taking some power back. My ancestors, the Moravians, taught the peasants to read so they could have direct access to the scriptures and not have to rely solely on what they were taught by the priests. Luther nailed his ideas on the church door, taking back more power, starting a lively conversation about the nature of divinity, the nature of Christ, the nature of human beings.
We’ve been growing up over the centuries, and now this pope is handing the power to each and every one of us. He is inviting us to become equals in spirit. Not necessarily in knowledge. Theologians know a lot about the history of spirituality, religion, etc. Not all of us need to know every nook and cranny of each religion to be effective spiritual beings. But Pope Francis is inviting us to become co-creators of the universe along with God. His request “pray for me” tells us that prayer is a tool to create change. Some traditions say the angels cannot intervene in earth’s goings on without our consent. We have to ask for help. Prayer is one of the tools to accomplish this.
What kind of prayer? How do I pray? Does prayer work? All these are good questions and there are many opinions out there. But they’re questions for another blog or your own research. The point is we are capable of making a difference in the world, a positive difference, a powerful difference.
“Become who you were born to be,” says Lord Elrond to Aragorn.
“Use the Force, Luke,” says Obi-Wan Kenobi .
“Pray for me,” says Pope Francis.
“Who am I to pray for him?” many of us ask. Indeed, who are we? It’s time to find out.