Pope Francis took as his starting point the First Reading from St Paul’s Letter to Timothy, where he asks that “supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings” be offered “for kings and for all in authority”. In the day’s Gospel, a Roman leader, the centurion, prays that his servant be healed.
Recognize one’s subordinate position
“This man felt the need to pray,” the Pope noted, because “he was aware that he did not have everything under his control”. He knew that above him was another who was really in charge. The centurion had soldiers as subordinates but he was also aware of being a subordinate. This awareness led him to pray.
“If leaders do not pray, they close themselves off in a self-referential circle or in that of their party, a circle from which they cannot escape”, said Pope Francis. It is important to be aware that we are all subordinate to someone more powerful. And those who are more powerful than political leaders, he suggested, are both the people who gave those leaders their power, “and God from whom their power comes through the people”. Political leaders pray, said the Pope, when they are aware of being a subordinate.
Leaders must pray
Pope Francis went on to talk about the importance of prayer for a leader. “It is the prayer for the common good of the people with whom they have been entrusted.”
He then recalled a conversation with a political leader who spent two hours before God every day, despite being tremendously busy. A leader must ask God, said the Pope, for the grace to govern well like Solomon, who asked not for riches and gold but for the wisdom to govern.
The Holy Father said political leaders must ask the Lord for the same wisdom. “It is very important for leaders to pray, asking the Lord not to take away the awareness of being subordinate and not to find strength in a little group or in myself.”
To those who would object on grounds of agnosticism or atheism, Pope Francis said: “If you cannot pray, confront yourself with your conscience, with the wisdom of your people, but do not remain isolated with the small group of your political party.” This is what leads to becoming self-referential.
Prayer for leaders
In the First Reading, St Paul invites us to pray for kings, “so that we can live a calm and peaceful life,” the Pope said. He pointed out that when political leaders do something we don’t approve of, they are either criticized or praised, but often we simply claim we didn’t vote for them and pretend we don’t really care what they do. But Pope Francis said we must not leave abandon our leaders.
“We need to accompany them with our prayer”, he said. “Christians must pray for their leaders”, even if they do “bad things”. In this case, the Pope continued, they need prayer even more: “Pray, and do penance for leaders. Intercessory prayer is such a wonderful thing, as Paul says. It is to be done for all kings, for all persons in positions of power. Why? ‘So that we can live a calm and peaceful life.’ When a leader is free and can govern in peace, the whole population benefits.”
Examination of conscience
Pope Francis concluded by asking those present to make an examination of conscience regarding their prayer for leaders.
“I ask you this favor: every one of you take five minutes, no more. If you are a leader, ask yourself: ‘Do I pray to the One who gave me power through the people?’ If you are not a leader, ‘Do I pray for my leaders? Yes, for this one and that one, yes, because I like them; but for that one, no.’ They need it so much more for this reason! ‘Do I pray for all leaders?’ And if you find in your examination of conscience before Confession that you have not prayed for your leaders, bring it to Confession. Because not to pray for leaders is a sin.”