By Fr David Stewart SJ
Recently, at the National Adoremus Eucharistic Congress, large numbers of the faithful visited the Pope’s Prayer Network exhibition stall and that of our colleagues from Dublin, the Sacred Heart Messenger, the Jesuit-run publishing house that promotes the Pope’s Network across Ireland. Many thanks if you came to see us! We have had many enquiries here at the London office after our National Promoter gave a presentation to the Congress about our Network. It’s really pleasing, therefore, to know that thousands more of the faithful, here in England and Wales, are beginning to pray with the Pope for the monthly intention he presents to the whole People of God. It’s good news too that many more are praying our Prayer Pathway each day, some using our Click-to-Pray app on their smartphones, joining tens of thousands around the world who offer each day to the Heart of Christ for Christ’s mission, making each day different, and more Eucharistic!
The intention offered to us all this month is for the Mission of Religious. Pope Francis invites us all to pray that ‘consecrated men and women religious may bestir themselves and be present among the poor, the marginalised and those who have no voice’. The Pope is, of course, a religious, meaning that he is a member of a religious order, the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). Strictly speaking, he’s no longer a Jesuit, having been elected to the papacy and to the See of Buenos Aires before that, but he often makes it clear that he still counts himself as one, spiritually if not canonically. He knows as well as anyone about the particular mission given to religious among the people of God, very often rooted in the mission and original inspiration of their holy founders, known as their ‘founder’s charism’. All these varied charisms are to contribute to the single mission of the Church in the world, that is evangelisation, in multiple voices, taking many and varied forms.
The Second Vatican Council called all religious orders in the Church to renewal, to a rediscovery of their ‘founder’s charism’, their original inspiration. The most basic renewal is surely one that combines apostolic energy and love of the Church, that is, lives consecrated for the people of God, all of us. Arguably, we are still some way from fulfilling another key insight of the Council, that the Church is the people of God, all of us. It follows, then, that love of the Church is for all of us, not just the institutional bit! It is from within that ecclesial context that religious orders go out into the world, each in their particular way but never apart from the Church whence they come.
Some minister in a more sacerdotal way, often directly supporting the priestly ministry of the bishop and the diocesan clergy while others serve as religious sisters and brothers, or in the other forms of consecrated life. In the various ‘religious families’ of Orders and Congregations, the ‘evangelical counsels’, the vows, are always for mission, allowing the members to seek the greatest possible freedom, in Christ and in his people, for the sake of the work they are sent to do. This extends both to those whose charism is primarily apostolic and those who are monastic, maintaining a spiritual powerhouse of the prayer not for themselves but for the Gospel mission. All are, in diverse ways, missionary. Pope Francis, this month, wants all to pray for religious and specifically that all religious may ‘bestir themselves’, resisting any loss of fervour in difficult times and remembering where they really must be present and among whom.
The poor, the marginalised and voiceless are specifically identified. That’s where religious need to be. They will find God there. As our reflection for this month’s page of our Living Prayer booklet (see below), puts it, ‘Pope Francis knows what the poor suffer and he recognises that their marginalisation and exclusion is a product of our time and lifestyle. He is also aware of the prophetic and powerful role of religious involvement’. On his recent visit to Ireland, for the World Meeting of Families, he had a brief fraternal meeting with his brother Jesuits. There he requested a specific service of those Jesuits, that they help him to ‘put an end’ to the scandal of abuse, about which he had heard, first-hand and moments before, from eight survivors. ‘This is a special mission for you: clean this up, change consciences, do not be afraid to call things by their name,’ he told those Jesuit Fathers and Brothers. Part of our prayer with the Pope this month could well be for God’s blessing on those religious in particular as, in obedience, they respond to the Pope’s request.
THREE CHALLENGES FOR THE MONTH:
• Find information about the specific mission of some religious orders among ‘the poor, the marginalised and those who have no voice’ and in places that are not always reported in the news.
• Visit, this month, a religious missionary community, close to where you live, better to understand their charism and mission; discern where and how you might offer your service, skills and ability to support them. Or invite one of them to visit you!
• Organise a time of prayer in your community for an increase in vocations to those religious orders and congregations who consecrate themselves to the service of others and for the people they serve.
Following great advice from St Ignatius Loyola, it’s always a good idea to take a few moments, as we begin even a short prayer, to remember that God is gazing upon us as we go to prayer. Just pause wordlessly for these few moments, recognising that you’re already in God’s presence and the loving gaze of the Trinity longing for you to be the best you that you can be.
A suggested Morning Offering, from our Living Prayer 2018 booklet:
Father of goodness, at the beginning of this new day, I thank you for the beauty of the little things that you give me. By the action of your Spirit in me, make me alert and sensitive to the world in which I live. I offer you my day for the Church and the Pope’s intention for this month …
At any point during the day, perhaps especially at a moment when you’re feeling a bit stressed or too busy …
Jesus Christ, Good Shepherd, in your immense kindness, you wanted to come to us to announce the closeness of the Kingdom to the little ones, the excluded, the marginalised and the sick. Today, your Church continues in the world this preferential option for the poor, serving them in their needs in so many places and situations.
I pray for consecrated men and women who are in the world,
a sign of your presence and your love.
May their example of generosity move our hearts towards the needs of others.
During this month, I also pray for the Synod of Bishops on Young People.
Our Father …
LIVING PRAYER 2019 BOOKLETS, SACRED HEART CALENDARS FOR 2019, each illustrated with beautiful pictures from the Holy Land, will be in stock from early this month and ready for delivery.
Cost this year £1.75 for the booklet and £2.20 for the calendar; £1 per item P&P. Early-bird offer: Bumper Pack of calendar, LP booklet and a selection of our prayer-cards for only £3 + £1.50 P&P (UK only); limited stocks. Buy now as a Christmas present?