At the end of the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger came forward for the final commendation and farewell, he paused for several minutes as the crowd cheered, crying out “Santo Subito” while waving banners that also read in translation, “Sainthood now!”
Days earlier, on April 2, 2005, the people assembled in vigil at Saint Peter’s Square were praying for John Paul, asking the intercession of Mary and the other saints when Archbishop Leonardo Sandri came out to announce, “At 9:37 p.m. (2:37 p.m. EST), our Holy Father returned to the House of the Father.” The people would again call on the holy disciples in heaven in that beautiful litany of the saints at his funeral. But already, in addition to people praying for John Paul, they were asking him to pray for us, adding their own testimony to that of Cardinal Ratzinger, who said in his homily, “We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father’s house, that he sees us and blesses us.”
During Lent, we are invited to draw closer to the Lord through prayer and other practices of spiritual renewal. We do not journey alone, as part of some privatized or individualistic faith, but as part of a community (Lumen Fidei, 22, 39). While we can and should engage in personal prayer, “those who believe are never alone” (Id., 39). In particular, the Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs, “Prayer is Christian insofar as it is communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is his Body” (No. 2565).
Jesus himself gave us a special model prayer and it begins with “Our Father.” In offering up these words, even when said by ourselves in private, we do not pray alone in isolation, but with the entirety of the Church. To pray to God as “our” Father is to recognize that he has made us his children by adoption and we have responsibilities to each other as brothers and sisters of the same family. We do not exist in solitude, closed in ourselves. We are a faith community.
For this reason, in the many different prayers that might be said, the Church exhorts us to pray with one voice in communion with the whole Body of Christ – with the saints in heaven, with those others who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and are awaiting the fullness of union with God, and with those of us who are now making the faith journey on earth. In this prayer, we praise God, thank him for his many blessings, and ask the saints and others to pray for us as we also offer intercessory prayers for others.
In calling us to be missionary disciples, Pope Francis reminds us that no one is saved by himself. We all need the help of others, we all need the prayers of others. This is why our Holy Father began his papacy asking that we pray for him. “We are the community of believers,” he affirmed more recently, “we are the People of God and in this community we share the beauty of the experience of a love that precedes us all, but that at the same time calls us to be ‘channels’ of grace for one another, despite our limitations and our sins. The communitarian dimension is not just a ‘frame,’ an ‘outline,’ but an integral part of Christian life, of witness and of evangelization” (Audience of January 15, 2014).
How comforting it is to know that others are praying for us. How fruitful it is to share love for one another in this way. It is no wonder that we invoke particularly those holy men and women like John Paul II who have gone before us and for whom the battle is over and the triumph secure. With the saints at our side as we make our Lenten journey, praying with and for us as we pray for others, the love of God can transform us so as to make us worthy of the promises of Christ.