Just Gospel: Pope Francis Prays for Persecuted Communities

Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ March Prayer Intention for Christian Communities, especially those who are persecuted.

Lent offers us a chance to remember how privileged we are to openly renew the traditions of our faith. Not all Christians in the world will be able to proclaim this holy season, to gather to pray the Stations of the Cross or to have special Lenten services. It is easy for us to overlook the reality of persecution in our modern world. Pope Francis calls us to pray, “that Christian communities, especially those who are persecuted, feel that they are close to Christ and have their rights respected.”

He doesn’t ask that they necessarily be delivered from this injustice, but that they identify their suffering with that of Jesus and that perhaps their Christian approach to persecution will bring about a greater respect. Before we can truly pray about this intention, perhaps we need to be more informed about it. We have only to look at the mainstream news sources to find information.
The persecution and genocide of Christians across the world is worse today “than at any time in history,” and Western governments are failing to stop it, a report from a Catholic organization said.
A study by Aid to the Church in Need said the treatment of Christians has worsened substantially in the past two years compared with the two years prior, and has grown more violent than any other period in modern times.
“Not only are Christians more persecuted than any other faith group, but ever-increasing numbers are experiencing the very worst forms of persecution,” the report said.

The research showed that Christians suffered crimes against humanity, and some were hanged or crucified. The report found that Saudi Arabia was the only country where the situation for Christians did not get worse, and that was only because the situation couldn’t get any worse than it already was. It detailed attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt and monasteries burned in Syria. In Africa, the report focused on countries like Sudan, where the government ordered that churches be destroyed, and Nigeria, where there has been a surge in attacks on Christians. In Eritrea, hundreds of Christians have been rounded up and imprisoned over the past year because of their faith. The report also documented numerous case studies in which Christians in countries such as India and Nigeria were murdered or beaten for practicing their faith.

Gaudete et Exsultate takes note of Pope Francis’ esteem for those persecuted. He writes, “Saint John Paul II reminded us that ‘the witness to Christ borne even to the shedding of blood has become a common inheritance of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants.’” He goes on to say, “The martyrs are a heritage which speaks more powerfully than all the causes of division.”
We can join in the faithfulness of those persecuted who live the Christian challenge to practice meekness. The document tells us, “We live in a world that from the beginning has been a place of conflict, disputes and enmity on all sides, where we constantly pigeonhole others on the basis of their ideas, their customs and even their way of speaking or dressing. Ultimately it is the reign of pride and vanity, where each person thinks he or she has the right to dominate others. Jesus proposes a different way of doing things: the way of meekness. Even when we defend our faith and convictions, we are to do so with meekness. Our enemies too are to be treated with meekness. The meek shall inherit the earth, for they will see God’s promises accomplished in their lives.
When we feel “persecuted” by the words, actions, or judgements of others, let us count ourselves among the company of the meek. Let us offer our little daily persecutions that those who are violently persecuted in the world may have the strength to be meek.

Just Gospel: Pope Francis’ February Prayer Intention

Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy addresses Pope Francis’ February Prayer Intention regarding human trafficking.

You may not see the problem, but it’s there. It’s estimated there are more than 21 million human trafficking victims worldwide. This is not something that only occurs in dark alleys in the far corners of the Earth, though. It’s happening around the world every day. Human trafficking is considered modern-day slavery, and there are more slaves today than at any time in history.

“They are hidden from view. You don’t recognize them in the back kitchens, shops, gas stations and in hospitality. They are also tucked away in fields. They don’t come out and ask for help. It’s a different kind of slavery than long ago,” says Dr. Lucy Steinitz, Catholic Relief Services senior technical advisor for protection. “They are not in shackles or on plantations. People are coerced into harsh employment under horrible conditions, and then have no freedom to leave. They are beaten, violated and told they are worthless—that no one else wants them anymore.”

The above quotation is taken from the Catholic Relief Services website, www.crs.org/stories/stop-human-trafficking. This is an excellent source for information on the many faces of human trafficking as well as suggestion for action.

Pope Francis asks us this month to pray “For a generous welcome of the victims of human trafficking, of enforced prostitution and of violence.”
Notice that the Holy Father does not ask us simply to pray for an end to these practices nor for the salvation of these suffering souls. He asks us to welcome them and further, to welcome them generously!

In Gaudete et Exsultate Pope Francis cautions us against finding suspect the activism of others. He writes, “There are those who see social engagement as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend. Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life…Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery and every form of rejection.”

He goes on to say, “Those who really wish to give glory to God by their lives, who truly long to grow in holiness, are called to be single-minded and tenacious in their practice of the works of mercy. Saint Teresa of Calcutta clearly realized this: ‘Yes, I have many human faults and failures…But God bends down and uses us, you and me, to be his love and his compassion in the world. He depends on us to love the world and to show how much he loves it. If we are too concerned with ourselves, we will have no time left for others.’”
Let us see the face of Jesus in these suffering ones. Let us make room for them in our prayer, in our awareness and in our compassion.

Just Gospel: Called to Follow Mary’s Example Part II

Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy continues her reflection on Pope Francis’ monthly intention.

Yet so many young people are surviving in unjust societies. They lack education, support and opportunities for their futures. The Holy Father warns us to avoid becoming a “single-issue Christian”, but to prefer the stance of a whole-hearted follower of the Lord who seeks out a Gospel justice in every situation. He writes, “We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in our world. We often hear it said that the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the ‘grave’ bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us?”

In closing his document, Pope Francis again turns to Mary. We join him at her feet as we consider his words, “She is that woman who rejoiced in the presence of God, who treasured everything in her heart, and who let herself be pierced by the sword. Mary is the saint among the saints, blessed above all others. She teaches us the way of holiness and she walks ever at our side. Our conversation with her consoles, frees, and sanctifies us. Mary our Mother does not need a flood of words. All we need do is whisper time and time again: ‘Hail Mary…’”

In our prayers for the youth of Latin America, we can call to mind the lovely words of a Spanish hymn to Our Lady of Guadalupe:
Look, for I am Mexican
and for that I am yours
And I search in vain in the world
for another who loves you more than I.
Awaken, Mother, awaken
look, the dawn has come
Look at me as I lay at your feet
and give me your blessing.

Just Gospel: Called to Follow the Example of Mary

Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy shares on Pope Francis’ January prayer intention.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis bids us keep our Blessed Mother before us during this month. His prayer intention for January is “that young people, especially in Latin America, follow the example of Mary and respond to the call of the Lord to communicate the joy of the Gospel to the world.”

This intention does not stop at praying for greater youth devotion to Mary. Our prayer should be interceding for the grace of joyful evangelization among Latino youth. This involves youth having the vision to recognize their own call, their mission in the Church. In Gaudete et Exsultate we read, “A Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness, for ‘this is the will of God, your sanctification.’(1 Thes. 4:3) Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel.”

Notice that Pope Francis is referring to each of us living saints when he says we are each a living mission. Who could understand this monumental challenge better than Mary? She perceived the greatest call to mission, the most amazing call to holiness, the most unexpected plan of the Father when she was only a teenager. She truly is the ideal one to inspire today’s youth in growing into their unique mission, their singular call to holiness.

Just Gospel: A Closing Thought for 2018

Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy offers a reflection based on Pope Francis’ December prayer intention.

While still in this season of gift-giving and receiving, we consider a story by Alice Gray.
The cheerful girl with bouncy golden curls was almost five. Waiting with her mother at the checkout stand, she saw them: a circle of glistening white pearls in a pink foil box. “Oh please, Mommy. Can I have them? Please, Mommy, please!”
“If you really want them, you can save enough money to buy them for yourself.” Mother replied. “Your birthday’s only a week away and you might get another crisp dollar bill from Grandma.”
After counting the pennies in her bank and doing many extra chores to earn money, Grandma did give her another new dollar bill, and at last she had enough to buy the necklace.
Jenny loved her pearls. She wore them everywhere—Sunday school, kindergarten, even to bed. Jenny had a very loving daddy and every night he would come upstairs to read her a story. One night when he finished the story, he asked Jenny, “Do you love me?” Oh yes, Daddy. You know that I love you.” “Then give me your pearls.” “Oh, Daddy, not my pearls. But you can have Princess—the white horse from my collection. She’s my favorite.” “That’s okay, Honey. Daddy loves you. Good night.” And he brushed her cheek with a kiss. About a week later, after the story time, Jenny’s daddy asked again, “Do you love me?” “Daddy, you know I love you.” “Then give me your pearls.” “Oh Daddy, not my pearls. But you can have my baby doll. The brand new one I got for my birthday.” “That’s okay. Sleep well. God bless you, little one. Daddy loves you.” And as always, he brushed her cheek with a gentle kiss.
A few nights later when her daddy came in, Jenny was sitting on her bed. He noticed her chin was trembling and one silent tear rolled down her cheek. “What is it, Jenny? What’s the matter?”
Jenny just lifted her little hand up to her daddy. And when she opened it, there was her little pearl necklace. With a little quiver, she finally said, “Here, Daddy. It’s for you.”
With tears gathering in his own eyes, Jenny’s kind daddy reached out with one hand to take the dime-store necklace, and with the other hand he reached into his pocket and pulled out a blue velvet case with a stand of genuine pearls and gave them to Jenny. He had had them all the time. He was just waiting for her to give up the dime-store stuff so he could give her genuine treasure.

Pope Francis’ intention for this month is: “that people, who are involved in the service and transmission of faith may find, in their dialogue with culture, a language suited to the conditions of the present time.”
Since we are all involved in the transmission of the faith in some way, this is a challenge for us all. We have a great treasure to transmit. We have an incalculable gift to bestow. God, the Giver of all Gifts entrusts us with the privilege of giving this gift that truly is His to give. It is ours to help those we meet and touch to loosen their grip on the lesser objects that fill their thoughts and cross their thresholds. The Pope not only calls us to challenge our hearers to carve out an empty space in which to welcome the faith. He asks us to dialogue with culture in a way that is effective both to that unique way of life, but also to our own time. This implies that we will take the time and effort to learn about other cultures and the ways to touch their hearts.

This seems to be quite a daunting project! In Gaudete et Exsultate Pope Francis gives us encouragement and direction as he writes: Look at Jesus. His deep compassion reached out to others. It did not make him hesitant, timid or self-conscious, as often happens with us. Quite the opposite. His compassion made him go out actively to preach and to send others on a mission of healing and liberation. Let us acknowledge our weakness, but allow Jesus to lay hold of it and send us too on mission. We are weak, yet we hold a treasure that can enlarge us and make those who receive it better and happier. Boldness and apostolic courage are an essential part of mission.”
We surely have the “pearl of great price” to share with the world. Let us pray for the words and ways to bring this great gift to the People of God everywhere

Just Gospel: Gaudate Et Exsultat and Pope Francis October Intention

Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy continues with a series of postings that link Pope Francis’ Gaudate Et Exsultat with his special prayer intention of the month.

This month we once again try to link the thoughts in Pope Francis’ Gaudate Et Exsultat with his intention for the month. That intention has special significance for us as religious. It states, “That consecrated religious men and women may bestir themselves, and be present among the poor, the marginalized, and those who have no voice.”

There are a couple of concepts that stand out in this intention. First, the word bestir. The verb implies that we need to be moved, to be stirred out of complacency. We are confronted by our Pope with his perception that we may be collectively in the wrong place at this juncture of history. That may mean that we are physically living and ministering in areas where we are not present among the poor or it may mean that we are not mentally and/or physically sharing with the lot of those who are marginalized or who have no voice. There are many needs in the Church and all of God’s children need the presence and witness of religious. However, Pope Francis is giving a preference to the poor. If we are not in a position to pack up and bestir ourselves to a poor place, to a home with the marginalized or to become a voice for the voiceless, then we can still bestir our hearts to pray powerfully for these little ones in need. We must bestir ourselves to make the effort to be informed about the plight and poverties of those on the edges of society.

In Gaudate Et Exsultat Pope Francis writes, “Although Jesus’ words (in the Beatitudes) may strike us as poetic, they clearly run counter to the way things are usually done in our world. Even if we find Jesus’ message attractive, the world pushes us towards another way of living. We can only practice the Beatitudes if the Holy Spirit fills us with his power and frees us from our weakness, our selfishness, our complacency and our pride.” These challenging, yet disturbing words don’t allow us to simply think about the plight of those mired in poverty. We are to practice holiness by changing our way of living.

Along those same lines we note in this month’s intention that Pope Francis asks us to be present among the poor. He doesn’t simply ask us to remember the poor, to consider the poor, or even to fight for the poor or to stand up for the poor. He distinctly asks us to be present among them. This even differs from being present to the poor. We must be among them and we must be fully present there. For many of us this seems impossible.

How are we present among the persons of the Trinity? Do we not enter their Presence through prayer and contemplation, through study and exploration? We can be present to many distant realities through the power of our mind and spirit, if not by the strength of our limbs or the validity of our passport. When we see one who is poorly dressed or unattractive in some way at a doctor’s office or in a store, do we shy away, ignore or show disapproval? A kind word or even a smile can make us present to such a one in a holy way. When we have a choice to read a novel or an informative article on some aspect of the existence of the voiceless, what do we choose? When we have an excess of possessions, do we just throw them away or take the trouble to find a way to share? Do we share things that are not worthy of the dignity of the poor?

As we consider ways we can live out this challenge of Pope Francis, we may benefit from repeating his words from Gaudate Et Exsultat, “Being poor of heart: that is holiness.”

Just Gospel: Called to Holiness and Pray for Africa’s Young People

Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ encyclical Gaudete Et Exsultate and his monthly intention of prayer that young people in Africa may have access to education and work in their own countries.

Our Good God has given us all another year and other seasons in which to reflect on and challenge ourselves individually and communally in the practice of justice. This year, our reflections aim to bring together thoughts from Gaudate Et Exsultate: On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World, and concerns raised by Pope Francis in his monthly intentions given to the Apostles of Prayer. Many may wonder how the spiritual theme of a call to holiness may relate to the often considered political nature of the practice of justice. This will be our journey for the year—linking these two challenges.

An old African tale goes…

In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the King for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way. Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the King indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many of us never understand!
Every obstacle presents an opportunity to grow.

This story speaks to us of Pope Francis’ intention for September, namely, that young people in Africa may have access to education and work in their own countries.
Though there are undoubtedly huge and difficult obstacles in the way of obtaining an education in many parts of Africa, our prayer is that there will be many young people with the spirit spoken of in the tale above. We pray that young people will have the motivation and strength needed to desire to overcome obstacles, and then the opportunity and energy to actually do it. Thus, the riches of education can enter their lives and aid them in their own journey to the Kingdom.

As Pope Francis writes in Gaudate Et Exsultat, “Life does not have a mission, but is a mission”. We are called to accept the mission of our life. We can wander through life, we can charge ahead through all our days, or we can choose to employ our gifts and talents in the light of God’s grace to plot our mission of life. This is where education intersects with holiness. We are created in the image and likeness of God with the ability to reason. Our likeness to our Creator deepens with the opportunity to employ the gifts given us. Trevor Noah, a comedian from South Africa writes, “The generations who came before you have been pillaged, rather than being free to use their skills and education to move forward.” These Children of God have been denied the chance to live in a just society, and have also been limited in their journey to holiness. As St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”

Let it be our prayer that “beautiful feet” of many sizes and hues will answer the call to open the minds of the youth of Africa and indeed, of the world, so that they might become forces for justice and examples of holiness in our world community.

Just Gospel: Pope Francis’ March Intention

Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ March intention “that the Church may appreciate the urgency of formation in spiritual discernment, both on the personal and communitarian levels.”

…Spirit of faith, rise above our doubting. Make us your own, now is the time… Tom Kendzia continues to challenge us in the words of his hymn. In our minds we know that certainly God in all his might is quite capable of rising above our puny doubts. However, in the daily round of living we can lose perspective and our little doubts trade places with God’s mighty Spirit and that Spirit becomes distant and small in the blur of our vision which focuses on the doubts that beset us. Now is the time to put things in order, to see clearly, to take on the focus of God’s vision.

Pope Francis, in his intention for the month leads us to the tool most needed in sharpening the focus of our inner vision. He asks us to pray, That the Church may appreciate the urgency of formation in spiritual discernment, both on the personal and communitarian levels. There is much for us to pray about here. We know the term “formation”. It is good to be reminded that the discernment Pope Francis speaks of cannot be simply taught or learned or even caught. Spiritual discernment requires formation, long term openness to the Hand of the Master and his instruments. And what is spiritual discernment? Spiritual discernment is calling on the Holy Spirit to lead or give direction on a matter. It is how the Spirit shows the church and its people what God wants them to do and be. So we are to pray for ourselves, the Church and the whole world that all may be open to being formed in ways of calling on the Spirit to lead in our decision-making. What a different world this would produce!

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada invokes Pope Francis’ image of the Church as a field hospital after a battle. He writes, “The image of the church as a field hospital is not just a simple, pretty, poetic metaphor. Field hospitals by their very nature indicate a battleground, a struggle, suffering, confusion, emergency; and they foster dialogue and encounter, conversion, accompaniment, consolation, compassion and the binding of wounds. Each of us who serves on the front lines in the field hospitals of the Church is also a wounded healer. The power to heal comes from a spiritual source and each one of us has the potential to connect with that source.” So, if we are to serve the People of God as healer, teacher, or leader, we must be in touch with the source of all healing and life, that is God. This implies an ability to discern the working of his Spirit among us.

This challenge of spiritual discernment finds a place in our life through the living of our charism. Our Core Value statement reads, “We believe that our Charism both identifies us and influences our decision making as we become more faithful followers of Jesus and Francis.” There’s that mention of decision making. The context for our discernment has to be our Franciscan and uniquely Catholic Charism. This month should find us praying for guidance in our spiritual discernment, for inspiration among all of God’s people that they might discern authentically, and that we might worthily participate in the formation of others in finding the workings of the Spirit here and now for now is the time!

We invite you to visit us at a time that works for you or consider one of our other discernment opportunities. Click here.