Just Gospel: Pope Francis Prayer for Religious Men and Women and Seminarians

Sister JulieAnn Sheahan

May 23, 2024

Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis May Prayer Intention “that religious women and men, and seminarians, grow in their own vocations through their human, pastoral, spiritual and community formation, leading them to be credible witnesses to the Gospel. 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. “Photos: Norbertines, Brothers of the Christian Schools District of San Francisco New Orleans

Here we are entering the month of May—the month of our Blessed Mother, Mary, of all mothers living and deceased as well as of all those who serve in the nurturing role of mother.  During this month, Pope Francis asks us to take on a share in that maternal work of fostering growth.  His intention is:  that religious women and men, and seminarians, grow in their own vocations through their human, pastoral, spiritual and community formation, leading them to be credible witnesses to the Gospel.

This call to prayer encompasses many aspects.  We pray that those in initial formation take up their own part in their responsibility to continually grow into the vocation to which God is leading them.  As they offer a listening ear and an open heart to those God has sent to accompany them, they must also spend themselves in sincere efforts to sharpen their focus on a personal relationship with Jesus and how they will express that in communal living as well as in what Pope Francis calls credible witness to the Gospel.

The intention also reminds us that formation is a work of the whole person which is never complete until we enter the Kingdom.  This is not a self-improvement program, but rather, a journey of personal spiritual growth in and for the Church.  Particularly as Franciscans, formation should grow under the influence of the light of the Gospel.

As ones who join in the work of nurturing vocations and supporting those in formation programs, we may not forget our own ongoing need for formation.

AnnMarie, a blogger at Busy Blessed Women reflects on the work of a potter as it may have been in Biblical times.

Clay was common in the ancient Near East.  The clay was dug up and brought to the potter. It was prepared by first removing the stones, sticks, etc.  Water was added to soften it for kneading.  Are all of us who are looking to be formed ready for these experiences in God’s hands?

When the clay is placed on the center of the platform of the wheel, the spinning force and the hands of the potter create the perfectly shaped vessel.  If the ball of clay is off-center, however, it will eventually form unevenly and collapse. No matter what our age or experience in following God’s call, the key to happiness and fulfillment is in finding that center in Jesus.  When we lose that balance, that single-hearted purpose in life, then all becomes uneven and in danger of collapse.

Interestingly, one method used when first centering the clay is to pull it towards you. What a beautiful reminder that though neither initial nor ongoing formation proceeds without miscues, our formation in the hands of the potter can always redeem his work.  To be anchored with an experience of being drawn closer to God is an inspiration to be treasured.

We may dwell in a bit of a shadow at times when we consider the trajectory of vocation statistics in recent times. Yet, it is good to actually look at statistics to see the picture that they paint.  The 2020 NRVC/CARA Study on Recent Vocations identified more than 3,500 women and men who entered religious life from 2003 to 2018. On average, around 200 people a year make perpetual profession, and about 400 begin the process of initial formation. The rate of those entering formation has remained consistent in the past decade and represent a leveling off from a decline at the end of the prior century. Women and men entering religious life—whether their institutes are apostolic, cloistered, evangelical, missionary, monastic, or societies of apostolic life— are aware of the changing demographics reflected in the numbers of newer members and the cultural and generational diversity. As one new entrant said, “We can flip the perspective to: What’s the gift of smallness? What’s the gift of the global church entering religious life? What’s the gift of intergenerational diversity? And have that be the starting point of conversation about religious life today.”  In this kind of thinking we should find hope and grounds for renewed interest in formation for our new members as well as for ourselves.


Let us conclude our reflection with the writing of the Carmelite poet, Jessica Powers in an excerpt of her poem, To Live with The Spirit

To live with the Spirit of God is to be a listener.
It is to keep the vigil of mystery,
earthless and still.
One leans to catch the stirring of the Spirit,
strange as the wind’s will.
The soul that walks where the wind of the Spirit blows
turns like a wandering weather-vane toward love.
Always it walks in waylessness, unknowing;
it has cast down forever from its hand
the compass of the whither and the why.
To live with the Spirit of God is to be a lover.
It is becoming love, and like to Him
toward Whom we strain

The soul is all activity, all silence;
and though it surges Godward to its goal,
it holds, as moving earth holds sleeping noonday,
the peace that is the listening of the soul.

Article Comments:

Fr. Placid Stroik, OFM 05/26/2024 @ 11:35 pm

With Jesus representing us at the crib, cross and table Jesus makes our acceptance of God’s acceptance (Paul Tillich) of us the basis for flourishing among all people since all people belong to God.


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