Pope Francis asks the Queen to pray for him
These are not joke captions, but real excerpts from the conversation this week between the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and the Bishop of Rome.
It is good when Christians pray for one another, and especially humbling when that request is made specifically and personally rather than vaguely and generally. Roman Catholics appear to be divided as to whether Pope Francis is most humble and a great reformer, or encouraging "moral laxity and doctrinal indifference" and "the most subversive Pope in history".
The Queen, however, seems to enjoy universal praise and acclamation for her resolute Christian faith - and it comes from Christians of all denominations and from people of all faiths and none.
By asking the Supreme Governor of the Church of England to pray for him, Pope Francis is acknowledging their mutual solidarity with God, and affirming that the Queen is trying to live out her life faithfully. In New Testament terms, the intercessor lives in solidarity with Jesus: "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all" (1Tim 2:5f). Through belief, baptism and living a life of faith, the believer is reconciled to God, and intercession on behalf of others is intrinsic to the lived faith.
But in this modern era, we associate requests for prayer with some human need or inadequacy - sickness, suffering, trouble, lack of faith, etc. Or with a wider objective - peace, justice, reconciliation, etc. By granting Pope Francis's prayer request, and assuring him that she will not forget, the Queen has consented to work for him with God - effectively, to care about his person and ministry. We intercede for others because of what we believe about God as loving Father, who works directly, but also through men and women, using their cooperation.
The Queen's intercessions for the Bishop of Rome depend on her life of faith, not of words. For possibly the first time since the Reformation, England's monarch has agreed to be a channel for bringing Rome's pope closer to God; to become more sensitive to his needs, desires and struggles. Of course, neither the Queen nor the Pope may see or know the results in this life, for doubtless Her Majesty prays "Not my will, but thine, be done" (Lk 22:42).
And the Pope will be mindful that Her Majesty is a faithful Protestant, who prays to none other than God or Christ. Her prayer is communion directly with God, as her own heart inclines toward mercy, love and generosity. And Jesus promised that God would do all that we ask in Christ's name, but this means more than appending "through Jesus Christ" to the end of every prayer: it means praying as Christ himself would pray.
The Bishop of Rome trusts the Supreme Governor of the Church of England to do that: that she will abide in Christ as He does in her; that she may ask what she wills and it shall be given.
His Grace just can't help wondering what that might be.