Just a few short thoughts—but I think significant ones as we continue to watch the Franciscan papacy spin up.
It goes without saying for anyone catching glimpses of Pope Francis's homilies, messages, and audiences, that the Holy Father has been resolute in asking for prayers for his pontificate. This was, above all, the defining moment of his introduction to the world last Wednesday evening: the pope bowed down to receive the prayers of his diocese before imparting his own apostolic blessing.
For most of us, to hear the Bishop of Rome ask for prayers so prominently—and so frequently, at least—is something novel. It's the sort of request that, in the usual course of things, is typically accompanied by one of two sentiments: a serious awareness of the need for divine assistance, or an awkward discomfort with one's own circumstances, or with one's relationship to the suggested intercessor. (Asking for prayers can often be the Christian equivalent of "Well, I guess we'll see...," which almost never indicates a great degree of comfort.) If there's one thing Pope Francis emanates it's comfort with his surroundings—his first Petrified loggia appearance notwithstanding.
Altogether, I take this to mean that the pope really wants our prayers; he seems even to be letting on that the need is rather acute, and presumably connected with these very initial moments of his apostolic ministry. Of course, one needn't look far to understand what the strains of his office might entail: broiling controversy over his involvement in the Argentine "dirty war"; moral implications concerning certain political and prudential judgments made during his time as archbishop of Buenos Aires; and the always divisive topic of liturgical reform, to name just a few of the most newsworthy.
The trend, even just hours into Francis's papacy, has been to suppose the worst and hope for the best. On this, even the popular media and "ultra-conservative" Catholics seem to agree. Isn't it curious, then, that Pope Francis's resounding call to prayer may be just the balm needed to cure both inflammations, equally?
A pope asking for prayer should throw a switch in our minds: if we believe, as Catholics, that popes retain the "power of the keys," then a prominent call to prayer may well signal a desire to correct course—a change that, in this particular situation, entails divine assistance as implored by the faithful. Just as pragmatic as expecting little and hoping for the best is to expect the best by asking for it of God. The Holy Father hasn't given much direction on what to pray for; maybe it suggests that this request doesn't reflect so much any one particular strain as it does the pope's self-awareness of a need for a radical confirmation of his own personal vocation, and—perhaps—of his own need for a perfection of desires and conversion of heart.
Quo vadis, Domine? We've heard it before, and it's a question that will be asked by popes until the end. Perhaps Pope Francis is seeking the answer now, too, and he's calling on us to beg the courage required by what he'll learn.