Just Gospel: Pope Francis’ Prayer Intention RE: Death Penalty

Sister JulieAnn Sheahan

September 18, 2022

Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on the quality of justice as modeled by Christ, the Eucharist and Pope Francis’ September monthly prayer intention that the death penalty which attacks the dignity of the human person may be legally abolished in every country. Photo: click here and click here.

We enter a new year of following the Lord Jesus in our uniquely Franciscan way.  What is that way?  One answer might be “Our way is just the way of the Gospel.”  Just?  Here the word just would carry the meaning of singularity or simplicity rather than implying we merely follow the Gospel.   For the purposes of these articles the word just also relates to the quality of justice modeled by Jesus. Pope Francis’ monthly intentions seem to carry both of these meanings of the word just as well.  He calls us to keep the Gospel at the uncluttered center of our Christian life while remaining mindful of the many cries for justice among God’s people.

Also, June 2022, marked the beginning of a three-year plan initiated by the United States Bishops’ Conference with the intent to revive and foster Eucharistic devotion. Thus, this year’s articles will aim to tie the Holy Father’s intention to this Eucharistic theme through reflection on the “O holy banquet” prayer we pray each morning.  This beautiful prayer was composed by St. Thomas Aquinas as part of the liturgy for Corpus Christi.  So, let us begin our exploration of these themes.

Prayer Intention re: Death Penalty

Pope Francis’ intention for September is:  That the death penalty, which attacks the dignity of the human person, may be legally abolished in every country.

If we value the seamless garment of respect for all life, then we are challenged to examine our willingness to see God’s creating fingerprints marking every person regardless of life choices made.  On August 2, 2018, the Vatican announced that it had formally changed the official Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty, calling capital punishment “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and deeming it “inadmissible” in all cases.

What does this revision mean for us?  Pope John Paul II placed his apostolic authority behind the Catechism of the Catholic Church. John Paul II termed the Catechism a “sure norm for teaching the faith” and “a sure and authentic reference text.” Therefore, this teaching regarding the death penalty is not one that may be ignored by Catholics.

Eucharistic Challenge

How might this clear and challenging teaching relate to Eucharist?  Let us look at one phrase of the O sacrum convivium, or O holy banquet prayer.…help us to experience the salvation you won for us…     In this part of the prayer we ask God to help us experience His salvation—not just cerebrally know it, but experience salvation.  Already now we can experience the Kingdom and one day we hope to experience salvation in its fullness.  But who is worthy of this gift of salvation we hope for?  None of us!  It is a gift.  One given to each and all of God’s children who wish to accept it.  Does this include those who have sinned greatly?  We could ask St. Peter and we would be given the emphatic answer of “Yes!  ALL are offered salvation!”  This is our belief.

In a homily for the Feast of Corpus Christi, Pope Francis said, “The Church must be a community with arms wide open, welcoming to all where everyone can enter. The Eucharist is meant to nourish those who are weary and hungry along the way.  A Church of the pure and perfect is a room with no place for anyone.”    This statement is evident in an article written by a Death Row Inmate for America magazine.  You may wish to read it at I’ve been on death row for 23 years. Catholic Mass gives me hope in the midst of my suffering. | America Magazine.

So, as we gather each morning to pray and be nourished at the Table, let us bring with us those who dwell on Death Row in so many facilities around the world.  Let us pray that they will know conversion of heart.  Let us ask that they may one day experience God’s salvation meant for them.  Let us pray for government leaders that they also may be converted so as to value the lives of all God’s children.



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