ROME — Praying is hard work and not a “walk in the park,” Pope Francis told pilgrims gathered in the Vatican for his general audience Wednesday.
“None of the great people of prayer we meet in the Bible and in the history of the Church found prayer ‘comfortable,’” the pontiff said. “Yes, you can pray like a parrot – blah, blah, blah, blah, blah – but that is not prayer.”
In his first face-to-face meeting with a live audience in many months, the pope said he was pleased to leave behind impersonal, video-streamed meetings. “I will tell you something: it is not nice to speak in front of nothing, to a camera. It is not nice,” he noted, adding that now, after many months, “we are gathered here again.”
“Prayer certainly gives great peace, but through inner struggle, at times hard, which can accompany even long periods of life,” Francis declared. “Praying is not something easy, and this is why we flee from it.”
“Every time we want to pray, we are immediately reminded of many other activities, which at that moment seem more important and more urgent,” he continued. “This happens to me too!”
“We flee from prayer, I don’t know why, but that is how it is,” he said. “Almost always, after putting off prayer, we realize that those things were not essential at all, and that we may have wasted time. This is how the Enemy deceives us.”
The pope said that he was offering a reflection on the difficulties associated with prayer not to discourage his hearers, but to embolden them to embrace the challenge of praying well.
“All Godly men and women report not only the joy of prayer, but also the tediousness and fatigue it can bring,” he said. “At times it is a difficult struggle to keep to the time and ways of praying” and some saints “continued it for years finding any satisfaction in it.”
“Those who want to pray must remember that faith is not easy, and sometimes it moves forward in almost total darkness, without points of reference,” the pope said, but the important thing is not to give up on prayer.
The “masters of the soul” in the history of spirituality all recognized these troubles, he said, and offered simple advice born of experience, “which shows the importance of resisting and persevering in prayer.”
The Christian vocation is “militancy,” he noted, “it is the decision to stand beneath the standard of Jesus Christ and not under that of the devil, trying to do good even when it becomes difficult.”
“In times of trial, it is good to remember that we are not alone, that someone is watching over us and protecting us,” he added.
Very often, “prayer is combat,” Francis said, but it “works miracles, because prayer goes directly to the heart of the tenderness of God, who cares for us like a father.”
“And when He does not grant us a grace, He will grant us another which in time we will see. But always, combat in prayer to ask for grace,” he said.
“Prayer is combat, and the Lord is always with us,” he said.