While it's very mild (59 degrees F) today in Springfield, IL where I am helping with a retreat for seminarians from Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis, the U.S. has experienced some very cold weather recently. Perhaps not as cold as Russia where the high temperature the other day was minus 18 F; nevertheless, one member of the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network in Arkansas was not happy as I offered to share Wisconsin's cold with him. And it's been unseasonably cold in Italy where the temperatures dipped below freezing.
With the cold and how it affects people who are homeless in mind, Pope Francis, in his first urgent monthly prayer intention, asked us to join him in praying for them. At the end of his Angelus Message on Sunday, January 8, he reminded the world of his monthly prayer intentions and he invited all “to join the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network which spreads, even through social networks, the prayer intentions that I propose every month to the whole Church.” He said that in this way “we carry on the apostolate of prayer” and foster “communion.”
Then he went on to offer his first urgent intention, saying, “In these days of such great cold I am thinking, and I invite you to think, of all the people living on the streets, hit by the cold and by the indifference of others. Unfortunately, some have not survived. We pray for them and ask the Lord to warm the hearts of others to help them.”
Throughout his service as pope, the Holy Father has confronted "the culture of indifference." He has challenged all people to open their hearts to suffering humanity everywhere, but especially right in front of us--in our families, in our parishes, and on our streets.
One way that we can keep those who are suffering from the cold in mind and pray for them in a powerful way is to "offer it up." I thought of this on Sunday when I stopped for gas on my way from Milwaukee to Springfield. The temperatures were hovering around 20 but the wind made it feel like single digits. My initial reaction upon leaving the warmth of my car was to complain, but that negative attitude quickly changed when I remembered the Holy Father's urgent intention for this month. There are some people for whom the cold and wind are not a minor inconvenience or pain but a grave suffering and threat of death. I allowed my own minor pain to remind me of them and to pray for them.
As Pope Francis reminded us in "The Joy of the Gospel" (#279): "No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted. All of these encircle our world like a vital force."