Prayer for the Pope as an Essential Feature of Catholic Spirituality

by Fr. Benjamin Reese, S.T.D. (Cand.)

“So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made to God for him by the Church without ceasing”   Acts   12:5

Introduction:

Catholics have prayed for the Pope as the successor of St. Peter since the earliest days of the Church,  but the need for this prayer “without ceasing” has never been greater than today.

The Papacy as an institution and the Pope as a person is assailed almost daily from the right and the left,  from the east and the west, from inside the Church and from without.  Added to this are his extreme frailty and the tenuous state of the Church in a  modern, secularized world. We also know that the Pope has powerful enemies, not of this world; that the demons themselves are seeking to destroy the Church.  That is why Jesus reassured Peter that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church.

This means however that there is a real and present danger from their malicious influence and and hellish intrigue.  Jesus told Peter that “Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat and I have prayed for you that you may turn and strengthen your brethren.”  St.  Peter himself tells us that “the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour,  stand up to him strong in faith.”  Pope Leo XIII was shocked in his famous vision when he saw that the Devil had been give a period of time to tempt the Church and so he composed the famous St. Michael prayer to be recited after low Mass.  Finally, Pope Paul VI boldly announced that the smoke of Satan had entered into the Church.

The horrible homosexual scandals of recent years are only the tip of the iceberg of these demonic plots.  Widespread dissent and heresy in high places are symptoms of the most malevolent and successful satanic conspiracy in history to destroy the holy Catholic Church.  Satan cannot succeed ultimately, but he has seduced many souls and these horrible scandals and the orchestrated media campaign against the Church have weakened her moral authority and undercut the new evangelization.  The new springtime of the Church, so longed for at Vatican II, has not yet been realized due to this masterful, demonically organized plan to infiltrate and corrupt the Catholic Church.

The Need for Unceasing Prayer

With the decrease of contemplative orders in the world, the laity must realize their universal call to holiness through a renewed and intense prayer life.  This is being realized in many prayers through Eucharistic Adoration and Reparation.  It is the laity with their Bishops, parish priests, and consecrated souls who must answer this call to unceasing prayer so as to be sentinels on the walls of the Church, driving back the modern demonic assaults and liberating Mother Church from the devilish intrigues that are occurring even in her bosom.

The Saints are excellent teachers in this battle for souls and they give us an inspiring example of the power of prayer for the Holy Father as the Vicar of Christ.  We see how the early Church prayed for St. Peter and the liturgy contains prayers for the Pope as the Bishop of Rome since the 3rd century.   However, modern saints have been increasingly attentive to the need of prayer for the Pope especially since the time of St. Catherine of Sienna.  St.  Catherine lived in a time of great corruption and confusion in the Church, and she offered her life as a victim soul for her own sins and for those of  the clergy,  including the Pope who was resisting God’s call to move back to Rome:

               “This soul then, being purified by the fire of divine love, which she found in the knowledge of herself and of God, and her hunger for the salvation of the whole world, and for the reformation of Holy Church, having grown with her hope of obtaining the same, rose with confidence before the Supreme Father, showing him the leprosy of the Holy Church, and the misery of the world, saying, as if with the words of Moses, ‘My Lord, turn the eyes of thy Mercy upon Thy people and upon the Mystical Body of the Holy Church, for thou wilt be the more glorified if Thou pardonest so many creatures, and givest to them the light of knowledge, since all will render Thee praise when they see themselves escape through Thy infinite goodness from the clouds of mortal sin, and from eternal damnation; and then thou wilt not only be praised by my wretched self, who have so much offended Thee, and who am the cause of instrument of all this evil, for which reason I pray Thy divine and eternal love to take Thy revenge on me, and to do mercy to thy People, and never will I depart from Thy presence until I see that thou grantest them mercy.'”  (The Dialogues of St. Catherine of Sienna,  A Treatise on Discretion). 

What stands out in the prayer of the Saint in comparison to our modern “prophets” is her humility and ardent love for the Church.  She doesn’t focus on other people’s sins but on her own, and for this reason her prayer for the Church is heard by the Eternal Father.  How many pseudo-prophets, addressing the Bishops after the scandals had even an ounce of such humility or love? And with what arrogance do we see modern Catholics chastising the universal Church and the Papacy, as if sinless themselves.

Yet Our Lord does not hesitate to give advice to his prelates and Bishops though his beloved Catherine,  especially about the need to reprove sinners with holy fire and spiritual unction.  Our Lord makes the point to her and to the Church of all times,

               “That correction is necessary before words of encouragement, neither the civil law, nor the divine law, can be kept in any degree without holy justice, because he who is not corrected, and does not correct others, becomes like a limb which putrefies, and corrupts the whole body, because the bad physician, when it had already begun to corrupt, placed ointment immediately upon it, without having first burnt the wound.  So, were the prelate, or any other lord having subjects, on seeing one putrefying from the corruption of mortal sin, to apply to him the ointment of the soft words of encouragement alone, without reproof, he would never cure him, but the putrefaction would rather spread to the other member, who, with him, form one body under the same pastor.  But if he were a physician, good and true to those souls, as were the glorious pastors of old, he would not give salving ointment without the fire of reproof.  And, were the member still to remain obstinate in his evil doing, he would cut him off from the congregation, in order that he corrupt not the other members with the putrefaction of mortal sin.    But they act not so today, but, in cases of evil doing, they even pretend not to see.  And knowest thou wherefore?  The root of self love is alive in them, wherefore they bear perverted and servile fear.  Because they fear to lose their position or their temporal goods, or their prelacy, they do not correct, but act like blind ones, in that they see not the real way in which their position is to be kept.  If they would only see that it is by holy justice that they would be able  to maintain it.  But they do not, because they are deprived of light. but thinking to preserve their position with injustice, they do not reprove the faults of those under them, and they are deluded by their own sensitive self love, or by their defire for lordship and prelacy, and they correct not the faults they should correct in others, because the same or greater ones are their own.  They feel themselves comprehended in the guilt, and they therefore lose all ardour and security, and, fettered by servile fear, they make believe not to see.  And moreover, if they do see they do not correct, but allow themselves to be bound over with flattering words and with many  presents, and they themselves find the excuse for the guilty ones not to be punished.  In such as these are fulfilled the words spoken by my Truth, saying:  ‘These are blind and leaders of the blind, and if the blind lead the blind, they both fall into the ditch.’”  (The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Sienna, ‘A Treatise of Prayer’.   p.245-246)

St. Catherine of Sienna was a great mystic,  a victim soul, a stigmatist, and the consecrated Bride of Christ.  Yet even her efforts were only partially successful:  getting the Pope back to Rome, but not really able to cure the Church of her spiritual leprosy.  

The Prayer of other great Saints for the Church and the Pope

Most if not all modern Catholic Saints have had a special devotion to the Papacy, and have prayed frequently and ardently for the Vicar of Christ as the successor of St. Peter.   Most notable in this group was the redoubtable, soldier saint—St. Ignatius of Loyola, who was a true Trinitarian mystic and a man of the Church whose men took a special vow of obedience to the Papacy.  This was not merely some moral or practical arrangement, but an outgrowth of an ecclesial spirituality that saw the Divine founder of the Church choosing Blessed Peter as the foundation of the Church’s faith.  St. Ignatius was not merely a converted military man who was not serving a new earthly master, but a mystic whose faith helped him to see the necessary connection between obedience to God and obedience to the papacy.  We cannot say that we love Jesus and not love his Bride the Church, even in her human and tainted condition.  Hence, love for the Pope and prayer for him are integral to authentic Catholic spirituality.  Indeed, this kind of love and loyalty to the Papacy have been universalized by the example of Loyola and his men.

Certainly, since the time of St. Ignatius this practice of prayer for the Papacy has been a normal practice of every canonized Saint.  With Luther’s rebellion, the role of the papacy was more and more seen as the stabilizing force in the Church and as a Divine guarantee of her triumph over the gates of Hell.  Consequently the Saints of the Counter Reformation, and the survivors of the age of Masonic revolution, looked to the papacy for guidance and found it in a series of holy Popes. 

Among these modern saints we can cite St. Don Bosco whose famous vision of the Church as a ship under assault from the forces of evil is resolved when a holy Pope steers her between the two pillars of Marian Devotion and Eucharistic Adoration.  The sober English convert, Venerable John Henry Newman, was so devoted to the Mystical reality of Peter as the Vicar of Christ that he walked barefooted between the train station and the Pope’s residence.  Saint Jose Maria Escriva made an all night prayer vigil his first time   in Rome from a room where he could see the Holy Father’s window.  St. Padre Pio, in his final days, sent Pope Paul VI a message assuring him of his prayers during the ecclesial revolt triggered by Humanae Vitae.  Finally, we can see the extraordinary closeness of Blessed Theresa of Calcutta with our current Holy Father, and the continuing example of her holy sisters who pray for and sacrifice for the intentions of the Pope. 

Less well known, but of great importance in understanding this spiritual principle, is the example of Blessed Jacinta of Fatima.  When we read of the Fatima apparitions and the response of these children to the requests of Our Lady and the Angel, we are usually astounded by their intense spiritual life and the Heroic degree of virtue which has been attained by such little children.   Constant prayer was accompanied by serious penances such as wearing a rough cord of rope,  going without water on very hot days,  and giving up food and sleep.  In addition to this, the children were subject to incredible pressure to deny their story, through family disbelief, and even harassment by priests and civil officials.  At one point, they even were led to believe that they would be boiled in hot oil unless they revealed their secret from Our Lady. 

Jacinta was also told that she would suffer greatly in order to enter into heaven, and she accepted such sufferings as from the hand of God and Our Mother.   In fact, she would die all alone in a hospital bed in far away Lisbon of the influenza, and this sorrowful, lonely death she offered to the Lord in reparation for the sins of the world and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  She also offered these incredible sufferings for the Holy Father and the Church.  Indeed, she was given several unique visions of the sufferings of the Holy Father in order to inspire her prayer and sacrifice for him.  In Lucia’s account of the Fatima story we read of how little Jacinta learned who the Pope was, 

“Two priests who had come to question us, recommended that we pray for the Holy Father.  Jacinta asked who the Holy Father was.  The good priests explained who he was and how much he needed prayers.  This gave Jacinta such love for the Holy Father that, every time she offered her sacrifices to Jesus, she added:  ‘and for the Holy Father.’  At the end of the Rosary, she always said three Hail Marys for the Holy Father, and sometimes she would remark:  ‘How I’d love to see the Holy Father! So many people come here, but the Holy Father never does!’  In her childish simplicity, she supposed that the Holy Father could make the journey just like anybody else!”   (Fatima in Lucia’s own words—p.50-51)

In her extreme simplicity,  how could she have ever supposed that the Holy Father would one day journey to Fatima to Beatify,  and perhaps one day canonize her.   Jacinta’s prayers and sacrifices for the Holy Father were intensified during her time in prison, and especially when she thought that she would die,    Her cousin Lucia writes in her memoirs of how a scared, little Jacinta faced death with the intention of offering it  for the Holy Father,

                “I soon realized that she was crying.  I went over and drew her close to me, asking her why she was crying:  ‘Because we are going to die,’ she replied, ‘without ever seeing our parents again, not even our Mothers!’  With tears running down her cheeks, she added, ‘I would like at least to see my mother.’  ‘Do you want, then, to offer this sacrifice for the conversion of sinners?’ ‘ ‘I do want to, I do!’ With her face bathed in tears, she joined her hands, raised her eyes to heaven and made her offering:   ‘O My Jesus! This is for love of you, for the conversion of sinners, for the Holy Father, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary. ‘”  (Fatima in Lucia’s own words, p 52)                                                       

Perhaps, when Jesus told us that we must become like little children, this was the type of child he had in mind!  How one wishes that some of our modern theologians would read this story and weep for their sins of arrogance, disbelief, and cowardice in the faith.

CONCLUSION

From Peter to Benedict XVI, the head of the Church has been a special object of the Lord’s predilection, Satan’s scorn, and the Church’s ardent prayer.   Throughout history, this prayer has grown more intense during the Pope’s illness or imprisonment or when attacked by the church’s enemies, such as the case of Pope Pius VII who was imprisoned by Napoleon or Blessed Pius IX who was forced to flee from Garibaldi and company.  Today, our Pope is physically free to roam the world, but he is encircled by enemies, seen and unseen, who hinder his action and frustrate his plans.  Let us add our own feeble prayers to his as this holy Pope finishes his course, to join the Saints and Angels in heaven.  If we do so, we too will be in that long line of saints and sinners who offered unceasing prayer for Peter and his successors, the Vicars of Christ on earth.  May we especially remember our Pope in our daily Rosary, and  follow the example of Blessed Jacinta of Fatima, and the requests of Our Lady of Fatima.

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