Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ February Prayer Intention.
Often this month during which we celebrate St. Valentine’s Day becomes a time for roses, lacy valentine hearts and candy. Forgotten are the messages of Christian love that began this feast. In the original spirit of Valentine’s Day, we join Pope Francis in praying that all those who are afflicted, especially the poor, refugees, and marginalized, may find welcome and comfort in our communities.
How do we define “the afflicted”? Certainly Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia gave us one interpretation. He spoke to the voices of power about those afflicted by war, injustice and the exploitation of the environment. He was heart-broken with the victims of the clerical sexual abuse crimes. He embraced prisoners and hugged the little daughter of immigrants who could be deported. He left his car to greet a victim of cerebral palsy. These were some of the afflicted that Francis ministered to.
The pope is often televised not at an altar, or a pulpit, or seated magisterially in a chair reading a speech. Rather, we often see images of him as he embraces and caresses the afflicted, and blesses them one by one.
Almost every day, each of us has the opportunity to say a word of support, offer a helping hand, or give a nod of understanding to lighten the burdens of another. Yet, so many afflictions are not temporary; so many are not even visible. We marvel at those who bear them with grace and dignity. They are not looking for anyone’s admiration. It’s just what they do and how they do it.
To comfort, though, means to strengthen and to encourage. The Lord directs all of us to serve one another, as he serves us. One of the old titles of the pope’s was servus servorum dei, the servant of the servants of God. Maybe the images of Pope Francis on our own shores, serving the high and the low among us, will reinvigorate us to offer simple and straightforward comfort to the afflicted. Consider the Pope’s namesake, St. Francis. Did he not serve the leper and the Sultan? Did he not find the most afflicted in body and soul and offer them solace? We seek to tend to the afflicted among us in the manner of our Christ, in the manner of St. Francis, in the manner of Pope Francis.