Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ November Prayer Intention ” for the Pope that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, he may continue to accompany in the faith the flock entrusted to him.” We consider what this intention might mean to the Pope and to us as we pray for him. The ‘Just Gospel’ blog post each month reflects on Pope Francis’ Prayer Intention and includes any other specific focus of our religious community for the year.
As November unfolds we are mindful of Saints, Holy Souls and Christ our King. It is a good time to hold our Holy Father in prayer as he calls us to remember all who have gone before us, challenges us to grow towards Sainthood, and helps us to honor Jesus as the King who walks with us. Pope Francis’ own intention for this month reads: Let us pray for the Pope that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, he may continue to accompany in the faith the flock entrusted to him. Let us consider what this intention might mean to the Pope and to us as we pray for him.
First, what does it mean to accompany? We know the common understanding of the word, but what might it mean to Pope Francis? Why is this a concept of such importance that he asks our prayers for its accomplishment? In his own words during a General Audience from January, 2023, he says, There is a wise African saying, If you want to arrive quickly, go alone; if you want to arrive safely, go with others, go in company, go with your people. This is important. In the spiritual life it is better to be accompanied by someone who knows about us and helps us. And this is spiritual accompaniment. So, we can understand that the Holy Father senses a call to walk with us, but he cannot fulfill this mission unless the Church understands the importance and value of such accompaniment, unless we desire it.
As the Holy Father spoke to the bishops of Brazil while in Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day in 2013, he said, We need a Church capable of walking at people’s side; a Church which accompanies them on their journey. Notice how Pope Francis makes clear the call to walk at people’s side—not in front of them nor behind them, but at their side. This is not always a comfortable position, particularly for one who has been given a position of leadership. This requires humility, openness and a non-judgmental stance.
Of course, the intention states that the Pope wishes to accompany the flock in faith. This may be where the role of social justice comes in. Pope Francis wants to walk alongside each person in faith. He wishes to bring the presence of Jesus into every step of the Christian journey. Jesus is not to be closed up within our churches and shrines, but is to accompany each person along the paths they walk in their nations and neighborhoods each day. Such bringing the Gospel to the world is the challenge of justice, it is the challenge of accompanying in faith.
The Holy Father’s intention goes on to allude to the flock entrusted to him. Pope Francis has shown a particular love for the image of the Shepherd, so he has much to say in this area. At a General Audience in January of 2023, he shared, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, does not just do something for us, but he gives his life for us. Without a love that suffers and takes risks for others, we risk shepherding only ourselves. Our prayer can include the sufferings involved in shepherding the Church during these uncertain times. We may also give thanks for a Pope who sees his role as that of the shepherd whose ministry is a way of life on our behalf.
In yet another General Audience given in November of 2021, Pope Francis says, It’s beautiful when we find shepherds who walk with their people, who don’t separate themselves. This is the image of the shepherd with a flock that is truly entrusted to him. In an interview dealing with Francis’ thoughts on the papacy, we hear the Pope say, The evaluation (of the papacy) will be done by the Lord whenever He wants. The Lord will evaluate the Church according to Chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew : “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…” The Church is not a business, neither is it an NGO, and the pope is not a CEO who has to make ends meet at the end of the year. The Church is the Lord’s! We are simply asked to humbly listen to his will and put it into practice. So, this desire for God’s help in caring for the flock takes the shape of a shepherd acting in ways that portray God’s justice, God’s charity, not that of our present world. This is the inspiration that Pope Francis seems to find most life-giving. (Isabella H. de Carvalho, 03/14/23) Good Shepherd photo: St. Michael Church, Whitelaw, Wisconsin
We offer our prayerful support to our Holy Father who accompanies us on our journey of faith, who leads, protects and suffers in our name as our Shepherd, and who challenges us to bring justice and peace to a world in need. Bishop Boyea, of the Diocese of Lansing, MI expressed some thoughts on Pope Francis at the time of his election. His portrayal of the Holy Father is a good one to keep before us as we pray for the Pope this month. Bishop writes, He seems to have a pretty strong will. To resist the temptations of office, to strive to keep his life as simple as possible given the duties he now has, and to persevere in the task given are all signs of a real strength of character. For this is not just some kind of stubbornness, but a strong adherence to the will of God. In other words, it is fidelity, something which challenges all of us to be faithful to our God until the end, to run the race and not give up until the race is over. Sisters and brothers, let us celebrate our Holy Father, but even more let us pray for him that he will always be open to the actions of the Holy Spirit in his life. Photo: Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, Walk to Mary, Champion, Wisconsin