The ‘Apostleship of Prayer’ originated in France in 1844. Two Jesuits played a key role in the development of the movement. François Xavier Gautrelet, spiritual director at the Jesuit house of studies in Vals, helped the young men there realise that their studies could have an apostolic outreach, supporting Jesuit Fathers and Brothers involved in zealous activity in the field, including the foreign missions. For Gautrelet, the Apostleship of Prayer was deeply rooted in a Jesuit’s profound personal love for Jesus, and his love for fellow Jesuits struggling or even persecuted in their apostolic work.
Henri Ramiere, a creative Jesuit, broadened Gautrelet’s concept. He founded the first Messenger of the Sacred Heart to spread love for the heart of Christ, the source and symbol of Christ’s redemptive, fully divine and fully human love for mankind. In about 60 years, by 1906, Messengers were reaching the Catholic faithful in 26 different languages. Those Catholic periodicals may teach our often-fragile modern families a thing or two about the importance of a family praying together so as to stay together.
The economy should serve the common good. It must be at the service of social justice, not of financial gain
Malta too was touched by the Apostleship of Prayer. Postini, smallish slips of poor-quality paper the size of a holy picture, were distributed monthly by volunteers to thousands of homes across our islands. They included the Pope’s holy intentions for the current month, along with the daily offering of one’s prayers, thoughts and actions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The Catholic faith was thus kept alive and consolidated through the action and prayer of hundreds of thousands of people over more than a century – a far cry from the statement sometimes heard that the allegedly obscurantist clergy kept the laity in total ignorance, when the truth is that instruction took place in various ways, including on Sunday afternoons in parish churches.
Pope Francis has been responsible for the harnessing all this potential, integrated now with modern media. Rebranding the Apostleship of Prayer as the Pope’s Prayer Network, he himself not only chooses the intentions but presents the intention for that month on a video that can be accessed at the website below.
The thrust of the Pope’s intention for April is that the economy should serve the common good. It must be at the service of social justice, not of financial gain, benefitting above all those who need help most. Those in authority have the responsibility to ensure that the genuine common good prevails over individual interests.
The Pope’s April intention achieves several things at once. It invites Christians to reflect that the present world economy, far from furthering the common good by helping the poor and the vulnerable, is in fact helping the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer. This mirrors Pope Francis’ belief that the present-day world economic system in fact excludes many, if not most citizens.
This sharp critique of the economy takes place, however, in a context of prayer – there is no hatred against anyone, just a factual assessment of the effects of the real economy, especially on the poor and vulnerable. Again in prayer, the Christian is encouraged to address God, asking Him to enlighten economists with the grace of creativity so they may imagine new economic paths that would better express God’s love for all His children. From that love nobody is excluded: similarly from the economic system, nobody should be excluded.
Fr Robert Soler is a member of the Society of Jesus.
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