Tag Archives: Pope Francis

Living Advent in the Light of Laudato Si’






Aimee Shelide Mayer, M.A.
Coordinator, Echo Recruitment & Admissions

University of Notre Dame

Collen Mayer, M.Div., MTS, MBA
Director, Social Services
Catholic Charities of Tennessee​

Triune Lord, wondrous community of infinite love,
teach us to contemplate you
in the beauty of the universe,
for all things speak of you.
Awaken our praise and thankfulness
for every being that you have made.
Give us the grace to feel profoundly joined
to everything that is.

“A Christian Prayer in Union with Creation” (Laudato Si’ §246)

Sometimes it is hard to see that “all things speak of” God’s infinite love. During this busy pre-Christmas season of preparing final papers, projects, menus, mailing lists, guest lists, and gift lists, our focus is often turned away from God present in all of creation. But this Advent, we not only have the launching of the Jubilee Year of Mercy to ground us in praise for God’s all-encompassing love; we also have Pope Francis’ most recent encyclical, Laudato Si’, Care for our Common Home, to guide us on how to live Advent anew this year. And with the current summit on climate change occurring, we would be remiss to not prayerfully contemplate the sacramentality of God’s creation, as well as our ongoing complicity in its degradation.

Laudato Si’ provides both a theological rationale and concrete suggestions for nourishing and healing our relationship with God, others, and all of creation. This Advent, we are thus prompted to examine our lives in each of these three areas and note how we might better care for all of creation in light of Pope Francis’ pleading.

Caring for our relationship with God

In his encyclical, Pope Francis addresses not only Christians, but “every person living on this planet” in order to “enter into dialogue about our common home” (LS §3), a home created in love by the triune God:

The Father is the ultimate source of everything, the loving and self-communicating foundation of all that exists. The Son, his reflection, through whom all things were created, united himself to this earth when he was formed in the womb of Mary. The Spirit, infinite bond of love, is intimately present at the very heart of the universe, inspiring and bringing new pathways. (LS §238)

By reflecting on our relationship with the earth this Advent, we are necessarily led to examine our relationship with the triune God who created the universe and all it contains. Indeed, it seems that how we handle the gift of creation necessarily reflects our sentiments for the Giver. By responding to creation in love, we express our love and praise for God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Consider the following simple Advent practices to cultivate a sense of gratitude to God for creation:

  • Choose to incorporate a new spiritual practice from Laudato Si’ (e.g. spiritual reading, period of silence, work outside, etc.);
  • Spend quiet time enjoying creation (e.g. go on a walk, run, bike ride, hike, etc.);
  • Prepare for Mass by reading the Gospel and reflecting on it in light of Laudato Si’;
  • Honor the Sabbath by “fasting” from technology (computer, phone, TV, tablet, etc.);
  • Pray for an end to war and violence, including destruction of creation;
  • Examine your conscience to discern ways you have failed to care for creation; celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation; and
  • Include a prayer of gratitude to God for creation during grace before meals; commit to not wasting food during Advent.

Caring for others

Pope Francis further challenges us to see how our care for all of creation extends to how we care for all members of our human family—especially the poor. In his encyclical, he writes of the interconnectedness of all relationships:

We cannot presume to heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental human relationships . . . A correct relationship with the created world demands that we not weaken this social dimension of openness to others . . . Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb, locking us into a stifling immanence. (LS, §119)

For many, the Advent and Christmas season brings human relationships into a new focus as families and friends gather from distant cities to celebrate together. Fond memories, as well as unhealed wounds, often surface during such moments. For some, these are times full of joy and love. Yet, for those who have lost or become estranged from family, these weeks can be heavy and hard. How might we care for the Body of Christ this year in light of Pope Francis’ wisdom? Here are some possible in-roads this Advent:

  • Pray for healing from a wound you are carrying related to a family member or loved one;
  • Pray for a specific group in need each week of Advent (e.g. refugees, immigrants, prisoners, unborn, terminally ill, etc.);
  • Educate yourself on global situations of crisis & hope (e.g. care for the environment);
  • Perform one corporal work of mercy (Mt 25) per week (e.g. feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc.);
  • Choose a new cause or charity to donate to, learn from, and pray for regularly;
  • Commit to a regular volunteer opportunity each week (e.g. through Catholic Charities, a local service/justice organization, etc.);
  • Eat one simple meal a week in solidarity with those who eat simply every day (e.g. beans & rice; meatless meal);
  • Before meals, pray for those who go without adequate nourishment and all who labored to make your meal possible; and
  • “Purge” your belongings and give them to an organization that serves those in need.

Caring for creation

Pope Francis does not mince words when he talks about the effects of humanity’s actions on the created world:

The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth . . . These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish. To cite one example, most of the paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled. It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary; but our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. (LS §§21, 22)

Advent is a time to remember God’s own breaking into the created world through the person of Jesus. This world which God walked is the very same one we take for granted, plunder, and scavenge bare, turning it into “an immense pile of filth.” As God promises to level mountains and fill valleys (see Is 40:4; Lk 3:5; last Sunday’s readings), we continue to use creation for our own end. We turn valleys into landfills—homes for our refuse and rubbish—and level mountains through mountain-top removal, skimming and mining them to fuel the convenient “throwaway culture” we have created. Though he paints what may seem like a bleak picture of the future of creation, Pope Francis offers great hope in his encyclical. The Pope suggests concrete habits (LS §211) for us to begin to cultivate a new respect for our creation, currently groaning in travail. Here are some of his suggestions and a few others to consider adopting in the weeks to come:

  • Pray specifically for the earth and all of creation, especially those who are exploited;
  • Separate refuse you create (recycle, compost, and trash/landfill) and decrease trash production;
  • Save energy: turn off lights when you are not in the room;
  • Use less heat (even if you can afford more) and wear warmer clothes ;
  • Reduce water consumption (e.g. when showering, brushing teeth, washing dishes, etc.);
  • Go car-less! Bike, walk, or take public transportation whenever possible; carpool to work or outings with friends;
  • Compost kitchen produce scraps to fertilize the soil; plant something (even if indoors);
  • Cook/order only what can be reasonably consumed and learn where your food comes from (eat local!);
  • Educate yourself in environmental issues and responsibility;
  • Avoid the use of plastic, paper, and other disposable goods (plan ahead by bringing reusable options, e.g. coffee mug, silverware, reusable towels, etc.); and
  • Stay current on what Pope Francis is doing, saying, and writing.

As we seek to prepare a home for Christ in our hearts this Advent, we are also called to heal the physical home which God entrusts to us, and which Christ entered through his Incarnation. By reflecting on our relationship with God, others, and creation in light of Laudato Si’, we continue to learn what a life of perfect praise in union with all creatures will look like. And we pray for this ultimate union with the words Pope Francis intended for us to share “with all who believe in a God who is the all-powerful Creator” (“A Prayer for Our Earth,” LS §246):

Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.


A Conversation between Pope Francis and John Dunne, C.S.C.

unnamedThomas Eggleston, M.Div. ’12 

Pastoral Associate, Our Lady of the Lake and St. Francis de Sales Catholic parishes

Holland, MI

I have Fr. John S. Dunne, C.S.C. on my mind. It may be because we are approaching the second anniversary of his death and I miss his presence in the world. But it is also certainly because of Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. Throughout the encyclical the Pope makes connections, speaking of retreat and return to another way of living; he draws circles of connection. Circles: that is something that was seemingly always on the mind of Professor Dunne.

John S. Dunne, C.S.C. (1929–2013)
John S. Dunne, C.S.C. (1929–2013)

Fr. John taught and wrote about emanations and returns—a parting and a return. He speaks of the circle of the Word made flesh, which “can be seen coming out of silence and returning into silence, the silence of God. That silence is the same as the surrounding silence” (The Circle Dance of Time, 46) which we all have in ourselves—a center of stillness. The Christ emanates from the silence of God to take on flesh and in doing so reveals that we all have a center of stillness within us—that we are surrounded by the Presence of God and return to the stillness within us to participate in God’s great stillness. In the same manner, Pope Francis looks at the state of humankind with its frenzy and penchant for self-harm, noting that a return to former ways is now needed—the boomerang turn after the emanation curves back again toward the Beginning Stillness. To return to God, the Pope notes, is to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi who “in some way returned to the state of original innocence” (LS, §66) present in Eden before the spiral of emanation began. The operating models given to us by the God-Human too are circular—Christ emanates from the Father, redeems humanity, and returns to the original stillness, and humankind who was created for innocence seeks to return to it. This journey of return is both individual and communal; it is being lived out in each human life and also in the course of human history.

This post-emanation yearning for a return to the silence of God plants restlessness in the hearts of each seeking human. Dunne notes that the return to the center of stillness is an interior journey into one’s heart, all the while traveled within the journey of one’s life through time. With God as our companion, we can become friends with that restlessness because it leads us back to the Creator. To “rest in restlessness . . . comes with the ‘Thanks!’ and ‘Yes!’ of being at peace with one’s life” (Circle Dance, 67). This restlessness comes with the certitude of faith that we are creatures bound and ready to return to our loving Creator—that what we are living now is the slow curve of an emanation circling back to its source. The return to the Creator of Love is our destiny! But we don’t return the same as before; rather, we are changed, transformed, transfigured. On the return from our journey of emanation, our path curves back to complete the circle. “Consequently, we can ascend from created things ‘to the greatness of God and to his loving mercy’” (LS, §77). The journey away from stillness eventually curves back and returns, but returns the transformed and divinized human. The starting point of our life journey is a return to the Source of Life, and while that means the closing of a circle, we return changed; the starting and ending points are the same, but the journey of life has transformed the person.

concentricCirclesLife is filled with circles, some of which are aching for completion and others which have had their loose ends joined in peaceful conclusion. As Dunne observed, “There is a circuit or a circulation of knowledge and love, ‘a circle in the acts of the soul,’ Aquinas says, starting with the things of life and going from there to the mind, as we take things in by knowing them, and from there to the heart, as knowing leads to loving, and from there back to the things of life, as we go out to things by loving them” (The Church of the Poor Devil, 135). There are circles upon circles as love leads to love leads to deeper love. “Then the circle goes round again as the loving leads into new knowing and the knowing into new loving” (ibid.). And the loving God exists in the middle of the stillness at the center of the circle while the Christ accompanies us round and round leading us home. The Spirit guides our learning which leads to loving and to new loves and so on, and the learning is ever deeper and ever shining. This is because “the rich deposit of truth which it has received from Jesus Christ continues to reflect on these issues [of life] in fruitful dialogue with changing historical situations. In doing so, it reveals its eternal newness” (LS, §121) as the circle veers one way and deepens and reveals more. The deepening reveals the depth of the Truth which is an old Truth ever new.

Circles are everywhere in life and nature and in the spiritual journey of emanation and return. “There is nothing wiser than a circle . . . There is a great circle of love coming from God and going to God, and wisdom is knowing . . . . It is knowing we are all in love with God, I have come to believe, and the love comes from God and returns to God” (Journey with God in Time, 76). Now we, the living, are mid-journey—we know love and we are returning to Love. “Even now we are journeying towards the sabbath of eternity, the new Jerusalem, towards our common home in heaven” (LS, §243), where love meets Love and rests in its stillness.

Answering the Call To Mercy: Notre Dame Vision 2016

unnamedMegan Shepherd

Associate Director, Notre Dame Vision 

As the Church enters into the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis in Misericordiae Vultus (11 April 2015), the Notre Dame Vision program responds to his call to “gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives” (Misericordiae Vultus, 3).

In the summer of 2016, we will focus all of our programing (including keynote speakers, small group discussions, prayer experiences and personal reflection) through the lens of “Answering the Call to Mercy.”  Vision CYM, which is tailored specifically to Campus and Youth Ministers, will include a week of presentations exploring different dimension of mercy ( the below titles are subject to revision):

  • A Vision of Mercy
  • Answering the Call to Mercy (shared session with Vision conference) 
  • God’s Mercy Endures Forever
  • Mercy in the Biblical Tradition
  • Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God
  • Be Merciful; Become Merciful
  • Practicing Mercy (shared session with Vision conference)
  • Proclaiming Mercy (in collaboration with Catholic Relief Services)

These explorations of the Call to Mercy invites us into a contemplation of the movements of mercy in salvation history and in our own lives.

God’s Mercy

unnamedGod’s mercy is revealed from the first moments of creation, establishing the covenant with Abraham, leading the Israelites out of Egypt, and through the time of kings and prophets. As humanity struggles with sin, God listens intently to our cries and draws near, creating new space for life and blessing.

For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the LORD your Redeemer…. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you (Isaiah 54:7-8,10).

This enduring love is revealed in its fullness in the incarnation of Christ. Throughout his public ministry, Jesus not only proclaims his Father’s mercy but also lives out this mercy in his acts of compassion and healing “for the least of these” (Matt 25:40). Yet it is on the cross where he most fully embodies God’s salvific will for all. “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

In St. John Paul II’s encyclical Dives in Misericordia (1980), he writes that believing in the crucified Son “means believing that love is present in the world and that this love is more powerful than any kind of evil in which individuals, humanity, or the world are involved. Believing in this love means believing in mercy” (Dives in Misericordia, 7).

The Gift of Mercy

The gift of God’s mercy is bestowed on each of us in the Holy Spirit. The Christian life is the story of our reception of mercy through a journey of trusting in God, choosing to accept God’s mercy, and a continual process of conversion – drawing ever closer to the source. In the words of the psalmist:

A clean heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit.

Do not drive me from before your face, nor take from me your holy spirit.

Restore to me the gladness of your salvation; uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:12-14).

God is at work within us, capacitating us to receive the gift of mercy through the work of the Holy Spirit. As Pope Francis writes, “The assistance we ask for is already the first step of God’s mercy toward us. He comes to assist us in our weakness. And his help consists in helping us accept his presence and closeness to us” (Misericordiae Vultus, 14). In the Spirit, we choose to embrace mercy, to embrace the reality of love because mercy has first been shown to us.

The Practice of Mercy

Our embrace of mercy compels us to practice mercy. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). It is through the concrete acts – the corporal and spiritual works of mercy – that we demonstrate to others the mercy we have received.

The Corporal Works of Mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the name, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.

The Spiritual Works of Mercy: counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead. (Misericordiae Vultus, 15).

Developing the habits and practices of mercy requires us to move beyond preoccupation with ourselves, and to cultivate attentiveness and sensitivity to the concrete physical and spiritual needs of others we encounter. This conversion of heart becomes enfleshed in our participation in the school of mercy in response to the needs of the world. It is through the practice of mercy that we become merciful.

The Proclamation of Mercy

Our lives of merciful love give witness to God’s mercy in concrete acts that offer hope in the midst of suffering and death. As disciples, we are called to proclaim with our lives the gift of God’s mercy. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matt 5:7). As campus and youth ministers we also carry a responsibility to foster the practice and proclamation of mercy with the youth we serve. As Pope Francis proclaims:

“mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers” (Misericordiae Vultus, 10).

Our ministry with young people calls us to intentionally form others to receive, practice and become mercy. Our formation efforts with young people thus focus on cultivating their awareness of the gift of God’s mercy, attentiveness to the needs of the world, and responsiveness through habits and practices of mercy. Our speech and acts reflect our lives of praise.

We offer praise to God as we embrace our Eucharistic vocation to respond to the mercy of God by becoming mercy ourselves. When we cry “Kyrie Eleison,” we proclaim the truth of our need for mercy as we participate in acts of mercy for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Drawing near to the source of mercy in the Eucharist, “when we eat this bread and drink this cup” (1 Cor 11:26) we cultivate our capacity for self-gift, to “love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our proclamation of God’s mercy with our lives is prophetic. In the midst of poverty and suffering, we respond with concrete acts of love while also holding fast to eschatological hope where the fullness of mercy and justice will be realized.

Mercy & Notre Dame Vision 2016

We, the staff of Notre Dame Vision, in preparing for Vision 2016: Answering the Call to Mercy, enter into a contemplation of the movements of mercy in our own lives and in the programing we develop for our undergraduate Mentors, the high school students, and our campus and youth ministry partners.

We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness (Misericordiae Vultus, 2).

We invite you to join with us in this call to contemplate, receive, practice and proclaim mercy in the year ahead and to gather together for Notre Dame Vision CYM next summer. May our lives and our ministry give witness to mercy we receive as we proclaim “Kyrie Eleison.”

Visit our website to learn more about Notre Dame Vision and register for our programs.

The Rosary in Real Life

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

October is the month of the Rosary, and today we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title Our Lady of the Rosary. At this time of year I always find myself reflecting on the ways in which praying the Rosary (and not praying the Rosary) has shaped my life of faith, and inevitably, my mind returns to my childhood days of praying the Rosary with my family.

When I was eight, I was the only girl in a family of four children (there are six of us now). My mom was pregnant with my sister, and my dad was traveling for work pretty much all the time. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that I realize how chaotic these few years were, and yet I recall them with tender fondness, recognizing them as the years when our family was knitted—soldered together—into an incredibly close unit. It’s only with the benefit of theological reflection that I realize how much the Rosary was a part of this. When my dad began traveling, my mother began the practice of gathering us children together every night to pray the Rosary as a family. We prayed for my dad’s safe return home each weekend. We prayed for the security of his job. We prayed that our home would be kept safe in his absence. We prayed for the health of our mother and the baby she carried in her womb. We prayed for our extended family. We prayed that we would do well in school and in our extracurricular activities. We prayed that we would all make good friends and that we would learn to be better siblings to each other. In other words, we offered up in our family prayer the heights and depths, the profundities and the mundanities of domestic life, and in praying the Rosary in particular, we placed ourselves under the loving maternal gaze of Mary.

Lest you get the wrong idea about my family, though, let me clarify. Here is a picture of what we decidedly did not look like when we gathered together each night for our family Rosary:

Family Rosary

No photos were ever taken during our nightly prayer gatherings, so let me paint a word picture of what actually transpired each night. First, there was The Great Debate about whose bedroom we would use for prayer. Since the kid whose room it was usually got to lie down in his/her bed while everyone else either knelt on the floor or squeezed onto the bed to sit, this was a crucial part of the process. Naturally, the next step was to figure out who was going to sit/kneel/lie down where. Someone would always snag the extra pillow to kneel on and there would be a brief but intense battle for comfy real estate for one’s knees. Next, we had to determine whose turn it was to hold the cool glow-in-the-dark rosary and who would have to use the not-quite-as-cool rosaries with the non-glowing plastic beads. And all of this usually transpired in a span of 5 action-packed minutes, before we even made the Sign of the Cross.

These are still the coolest.
These are still the coolest.

Inevitably, though, my mother would call us all to order with an “All right, we’re starting!” and begin “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” And we were off. For the next 20-ish minutes, there would be moments of quiet grace and moments of unbridled pandemonium. My mother would recite the opening prayers and the first decade, and then my brothers and I would each be called upon to lead a decade in turn, starting with my oldest brother and moving down through the lineup. Like our behavior during the pre-game action, our recitation of the Rosary itself was usually far from perfect. Without fail, someone would forget which mystery we were on; someone else would say either too many Hail Marys (an unforgivable error) or too few (usually a welcome mistake). Someone’s knee or elbow would encroach on neighboring territory, resulting in a furious yet silent turf war; someone would yawn or sneeze or cough or emit some other bodily noise that would elicit uncontrollable, shoulder-shaking, repressed laughter. Most commonly, we would just get bored and count down the beads until it was all over and we could finally go to sleep.

This is what it’s like to pray the Rosary in a real family, in the real world. It’s messy, it’s chaotic, it’s discombobulated, but it’s also authentic. Real family life is messy, chaotic, and discombobulated, so why would the life of prayer be any different? Prayer is the way in which we lift up our lives to God exactly as they are, not as we would have them be. And by continuing to turn to God even and especially when life it at its most chaotic—when, for example, the sole breadwinner is constantly traveling to provide for his growing family while his wife cares for the children and runs the household—that chaos is infused with meaning and transfigured into the precise way by which that family is drawn closer to God and to one another.

Whether it was prayed while crowded in a darkened bedroom, driving through the Kansas countryside in the family mini-van, gathered in the living room with extended family on occasions of great need, or even before Mass with our parish family on Sundays, the Rosary was a leitmotif that continuously ran throughout life in my parents’ household, and without even realizing it, my siblings and I were being formed in a life of faith that was rooted in and indeed inseparable from daily practice. We were being drawn together as the domestic Church (though we would never have called ourselves that)—a tiny community united around Jesus and Mary that was being immersed and slowly formed in the mysteries of God’s love poured forth in the Incarnation.

In his recent address for the Meeting with Families in Cuba, Pope Francis stated:

The family is a school of humanity, a school which teaches us to open our hearts others’ needs, to be attentive to their lives. When we live together life as a family, we keep our little ways of being selfish in check. . . . No doubt about it: the perfect family does not exist; there are no perfect husbands and wives, perfect parents, perfect children . . . Those families don’t exist. But that does not prevent families from being the answer for the future. God inspires us to love, and love always engages with the persons it loves. Love always engages with the persons it loves. So let us care for our families, true schools for the future. Let us care for our families, true spaces of freedom. Let us care for our families, true centers of humanity.

In praying the Rosary as a family, we were participating in an intensive course of study in this “school of humanity.” We weren’t perfect, our prayer wasn’t perfect, yet we learned to forgive one another’s imperfections and also acknowledge our own. We became better at being a family.

MaryRosary_0Pope Francis’ description of the family as the “school of humanity” resonates with Pope St. John Paul II’s description of the Rosary as the “school of Mary” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, §§1, 14, 43). What better way to learn how to be human than by placing one’s family under the tutelage of the Blessed Mother, who taught her Son how to be a part of his human family? Through the Rosary, we contemplate with wonder and awe the mystery that Jesus experienced life on earth precisely as a member of a family, or as Pope Francis said so beautifully in his recent off-the-cuff remarks at the Festival of Families, “God came into the world in a family.”

I’ll admit it: there are times when I struggle with the Rosary as much as I did when I was eight, probably for the same reasons that many people struggle with it. My mind wanders. I still get bored sometimes with the repetitiveness, even as I try to focus on the mystery at hand. If I attempt the Rosary lying in bed at night, I fall asleep 99% of the time. There have even been phases in my life when I’ve let the practice of daily recitation go by the wayside altogether. And yet, despite the manifold struggles I face with the Rosary, I keep coming back to it. Because every time I pick up my beads, I remember with deep love the many chaotic nights spent in prayer surrounded by my mother and brothers (and my father when he was home). I realize again the truth of the well-worn adage that “the family that prays together, stays together,” a phrase my mother repeated often (usually when we children were secretly griping under our breath about having to pray the Rosary—no perfect families, remember?), and taken up by Pope St. John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae. In this letter, John Paul II encourages families to take up anew this practice of praying the Rosary together:

The Holy Rosary, by age-old tradition, has shown itself particularly effective as a prayer which brings the family together. Individual family members, in turning their eyes towards Jesus, also regain the ability to look one another in the eye, to communicate, to show solidarity, to forgive one another and to see their covenant of love renewed in the Spirit of God.

Many of the problems facing contemporary families, especially in economically developed societies, result from their increasing difficulty in communicating. Families seldom manage to come together, and the rare occasions when they do are often taken up with watching television. To return to the recitation of the family Rosary means filling daily life with very different images, images of the mystery of salvation: the image of the Redeemer, the image of his most Blessed Mother. The family that recites the Rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place Jesus at the center, they share his joys and sorrows, they place their needs and their plans in his hands, they draw from him the hope and the strength to go on. (§41)

Having grown up in a family that prayed the Rosary together, I can attest to the truth of this passage and many others like it in John Paul II’s letter. To this day, I share an incredibly close relationship with my parents and siblings, and I firmly believe that the strength of our collective relationship is largely due to the life of prayer that we cultivated together (sometimes willingly, sometimes very unwillingly). The messiness and chaos of family prayer not only makes for vivid and often hilarious memories later in life, but most importantly, it makes for stronger families. If you are blessed with the gift of children, do your family a favor. Tonight, before bedtime, gather together, dust off the rosary beads, and start with just one decade. Embrace the mistakes that will inevitably occur, and persevere through the messiness. Practice this life of prayer, then practice some more, and years from now, through the grace of God and the intercession of Mary, you will see your children’s children immersed and schooled and formed in the same inexhaustible mysteries of God’s unfathomable love that form the very heart of the Rosary.

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.


Follow Carolyn on Twitter: @carolyn_pirtle

The Gospel of the Family

Tim O'MalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

On Sunday, foregoing the trip to Philadelphia for the Papal Mass, I found myself at my “slightly-less-crowded-than-the-Ben-Franklin- Parkway” parish with toddler in tow. My wife was the cantor, and I was thus charged with toddler liturgical care during the celebration of the Mass. Sitting in the very first row and kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer, I whispered into the ear of my son during the Institution Narrative that it was “Jesus up there.” He responded with his usual acclamation that recognizes something important: “That!,” he exclaimed rather loudly.

This, as it turns out, was simply one of the many moments in which I would ponder with my son the joy of the Gospel on this particular Sunday. My wife had a choir concert, and therefore, we spent the evening together at an Irish pub in downtown South Bend, where the Eucharistic feast gave way to the pub burger. We then went to Vespers at the Basilica, only to return home seemingly drunk on incense. We ended our evening together as we kissed an icon together and bid night-night to Jesus, Mary, and St. Thomas.

I could not help but think of these moments as I re-read the Pope’s various comments on the Gospel of the Family during his days in Philadelphia. Nearly all attention relative to the Synod on the Family is being devoted to the question of divorced and remarried Catholics being allowed to receive the Eucharist. In reality, the Pope drew our attention elsewhere, to the very heart of the family itself. In his off-the-cuff remarks at the Festival of Families, the Holy Father noted:

Being with you makes me think of one of the most beautiful mysteries of our Christian faith. God did not want to come into the world other than through a family. God did not want to draw near to humanity other than through a home. God did not want any other name for himself than Emmanuel (cf. Mt 1:23). He is “God with us”. This was his desire from the beginning, his purpose, his constant effort: to say to us: “I am God with you, I am God for you”. He is the God who from the very beginning of creation said: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). We can add: it is not good for woman to be alone, it is not good for children, the elderly or the young to be alone. It is not good. That is why a man leaves his father and mother, and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24). The two are meant to be a home, a family.

From time immemorial, in the depths of our heart, we have heard those powerful words: it is not good for you to be alone. The family is the great blessing, the great gift of this “God with us”, who did not want to abandon us to the solitude of a life without others, without challenges, without a home.

God does not dream by himself, he tries to do everything “with us”. His dream constantly comes true in the dreams of many couples who work to make their life that of a family.

That is why the family is the living symbol of the loving plan of which the Father once dreamed. To want to form a family is to resolve to be a part of God’s dream, to choose to dream with him, to want to build with him, to join him in this saga of building a world where no one will feel alone, unwanted or homeless.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 27: Pope Francis (C) celebrates mass during the World Meeting of Families on September 27, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pope Francis wrapped up his United States tour with the World Meeting of Families Papal Mass during on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 27: Pope Francis (C) celebrates mass during the World Meeting of Families on September 27, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pope Francis wrapped up his United States tour with the World Meeting of Families Papal Mass during on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In this way, the family is not simply the “object” of evangelization; rather, it is the agent of divine love in the world. Every family, no matter their particular religious background, serves as an icon of God’s vision of the destiny of human life as solidarity with one another. If families disappear, if commitment dissipates, if children are not born, if grandparents are not cared for, then a sign of divine love dries up in the world. The proclamation of God’s love does not have a place to take flesh.

For this reason, Pope Francis urges bishops attending the World Meeting of Families to avoid treating families as a problem to be dealt with. He exhorts:

For the Church, the family is not first and foremost a cause for concern, but rather the joyous confirmation of God’s blessing upon the masterpiece of creation. Every day, all over the world, the Church can rejoice in the Lord’s gift of so many families who, even amid difficult trials, remain faithful to their promises and keep the faith!

I would say that the foremost pastoral challenge of our changing times is to move decisively towards recognizing this gift. For all the obstacles we see before us, gratitude and appreciation should prevail over concerns and complaints. The family is the fundamental locus of the covenant between the Church and God’s creation. Without the family, not even the Church would exist. Nor could she be what she is called to be, namely “a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race” (Lumen Gentium, 1).

The existence of families, even if taking a different form than previous generations, should be a cause for celebration not dismay. The pastor is one who is to make the joys and sorrows of family life his own. A parish’s pastoral approach must not view the couple who comes to you for marriage suspiciously; to set up exceedingly difficult regulations for having a child baptized; to merely deal with parents of confirmation candidates, who don’t seem to care. Rather, the Gospel of the Family demands that everyone responsible for pastoral ministry recognize the seeds of the Gospel already flourishing in the midst of any family life.

For it is precisely the unique constitution of the family itself, which makes it rich soil for the proclamation of the Gospel in the modern world. In his closing homily in Philadelphia, Pope Francis preaches:

Faith opens a “window” to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. “Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name — a small gesture — will not go unrewarded”, says Jesus (cf. Mk 9:41). These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children, by brothers. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life grows in faith.

Secularization will not be forestalled through setting up ramparts against modern ways of thinking. Individualism cannot be defeated simply through reading tomes against it. Rather, one learns the Gospel as a father whispers into the ear of his child the glorious mysteries of divine love revealed in the Eucharist; as that same child spends an afternoon with his father, delighted to play with a toy giraffe for hour upon hour in his presence, forming his father in learning to delight in the smallest things; as father and son eat a meal together in perfect contentment (one watching football, the other enjoying Elmo); as they attend Vespers on a warm, autumn day, singing along to the Salve Regina; as they come home and the father gives his wife a hug, as the child squeals in delight at the sight of his mom. As they read stories together and pray together and go to bed, aware of the gift of their way of life.


You see, the miracle of the Gospel of the Family is that is shows once again that proclaiming the Good News, evangelizing the world, is no more complicated than practicing the art of self-giving love day after day within one’s life. The Synod on the Family will hold this mystery up to the world, inviting pastors to think anew about the role of families in the new evangelization of the world. It won’t be about new regulations alone or modernizing annual proceedings. This is precisely the legalistic way of thinking, which the Pope deplores. It will instead show how divine mercy manifests itself day-after-day in family life. It will, perhaps, propose to the Church that the great next moment of evangelization will not occur through missionary orders but through those everyday meals that form a family in the art of hospitality. It will remind us that the greatest threat to the family is not divorce but the terrible poverty that often makes this self-giving love impossible in the midst of worries, of forced immigration of one parent. And the Synod on the Family will announce that this is the way of death, not the way of life.

This is the Gospel of the Family that the Pope has proposed to the world. I, for one, have heard it as Good News.


The Voice of the Poor at the United Nations

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision and Student Engagement

Contact Author

Yesterday, in reflecting upon Pope Francis’s speech to the U.S. Congress and his blessing from the balcony, I suggested that the Pope invited our congressional leaders and the people they represent into a form of intercessory prayer. Following St. Paul, this prayer is predicated upon making room in oneself—in one’s own heart—for the needs and the good of others. As the Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium, St. Paul’s prayer was “full of people” because when he offered himself in prayer to God, he offered God all those whose cares he made his own (§281-282).

On the floor of the United Nations this morning, Pope Francis once again embodied the beauty and the power of intercessory prayer. His voice was his own and yet not his own because Francis carried the needs of the poor to the meeting of the nations.

In recognizing the mission of the United Nations to promote the common good and protect the human dignity of all, Francis spoke first to the sickness of the environment. To those who believe that the Pope should speak more about issues that directly threaten the dignity of human beings, it is important to heed the perspective from which Francis looks upon environmental issues: he sees them from the perspective of the poor. Francis argues that “any harm done to the environment is harm done to humanity,” and that the misuse of natural resources and the inequitable commerce of goods and profit (for the wealthy) and waste (for the poor) perpetuates a system of exclusion whereby the few live comfortably at the expense of the many:

The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste”. The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions.

To see the “evident effects” of the “culture of waste”, one cannot look from the perspective of the economically prosperous and financially secure. Rather, in order to see the effects, one must allow oneself to see from the side of those who bear the cost. For the poor who are the most vulnerable to the degradations of the environment, the unjust distribution of goods and wealth, and systemic practices of exclusion, there is no debate about whether or not the ecological threat is real. The urge to commodify the natural goods that justly belong to all is translated, through social and economic manifestations, into the commodification of human beings: “human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labor, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organized crime.”

This speech—not unlike Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si—is oriented to the promotion of the common good. Promoting the common good—at least rhetorically—is not uncommon. What makes the Pope’s speech distinctive is that he speaks to the powerful on behalf of the poor: he is bringing their perspective to the fore and demanding dignity and justice on their behalf. As the Vicar of Christ charged with the office of unity for the entire Church, this is the mission proper to his vocation. At the same time, however, it is yet another illustrative example of his practice of intercessory prayer. His authority—his voice—is filled with the needs and voices of those the Church protects as its special treasure: the poor. In this speech in particular, he cedes the space of his authority to the needs of the neediest. Only from this perspective can any one of us truly understand the common good in which we are called to participate:

The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic.

This is the roll call of those whom the Pope, on behalf of the Church and her Lord, carries in his heart. His speech that advocates for them rises from his heart shaped in prayer for them. In this, Francis is intentionally following the example of St. Paul, who took the good of others as his own good and offered their needs to the Lord in his prayer.

Follow Leonard DeLorenzo @leodelo2.

Pope Francis Does the Big Apple

Samuel Bellafiore
Bellafiore Headshot
Dunwoodie Seminary
Seminarian, Diocese of Albany, NY

Last night my fellow seminarians and I had the huge privilege of praying Evening Prayer with Pope Francis at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC. A few highlights.



2015-09-24 13.37.31

Penguins boarded the NYC Subway system.

2015-09-24 14.30.17

To see and evaluate things from God’s perspective calls for constant conversion in the first days and years of our vocation and, need I say, great humility. The cross shows us a different way of measuring success.
Homily from St. Patrick’s Cathedral

2015-09-24 16.30.48-min

Around 2500 people gathered for Evening Prayer.

2015-09-24 16.38.38-min


2015-09-24 16.54.06-min

Crowds on 5th Avenue awaited Pope Francis.

2015-09-24 19.26.39

Papa arrives!

2015-09-24 18.15.03-min

…I would like to express my esteem and gratitude to the religious women of the United States. What would the Church be without you? Women of strength, fighters, with that spirit of courage which puts you in the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel. To you, religious women, sisters and mothers of this people, I wish to say “thank you”, a big thank you…and to tell you that I love you very much.

2015-09-24 18.34.52-min


The joy of men and women who love God attracts others to him.

2015-09-24 18.37.27-min

A grateful heart is spontaneously impelled to serve the Lord and to find expression in a life of commitment to our work. Once we come to realize how much God has given us, a life of self-sacrifice, of working for him and for others, becomes a privileged way of responding to his great love.


2015-09-24 18.42.29-min

The Pope delivered his homily in Spanish while screens across the Cathedral displayed translations. He began with unscripted condolences to the Muslim community regarding yesterday’s Mecca tragedy.

2015-09-24 19.34.42-min


2015-09-24 19.35.16-min


2015-09-24 21.49.20-min

Tired seminarians brace for a long Friday. (Relatively long…we’re not addressing the U.N. in the morning.) We’ll be Eucharistic ministers and servers at tonight’s papal Mass in Madison Square Garden!

Blessings from the Balcony to Heal the Heart of a Nation

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision and Student Engagement

Contact Author

I would like to reflect on Pope Francis’s historic speech to Congress from the outside-in; i.e., beginning from the blessing he offered from the Speaker’s balcony back to the form of healing he promoted within congressional chambers. While outside facing the people, Francis united his petition to God with a request of the people:

Father of all, bless these. Bless each of them. Bless the families. Bless them all. And I ask you all please to pray for me. And if there are among you any who do not believe or cannot pray, I ask you to please send good wishes my way.

There are at least two movements to this one united act of prayer. In the first movement, Francis offers in prayer to the Father the wellbeing of all those gathered before him. In doing so, he claims all of us as his brothers and sisters, children of the one God. The second movement is to ask all of us to pray for him—i.e., to take upon ourselves what he seeks to do for us: put ourselves at the service of the good of others, including himself.

In this two-part action, Francis exemplified what he recommended in the latter pages of his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium: trusting in intercessory prayer. He singles out that form of prayer as especially conducive to spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ because in it we practice moving outside ourselves to make room in our hearts for one another:

One form of prayer moves us particularly to take up the task of evangelization and to seek the good of others: it is the prayer of intercession. Let us peer for a moment into the heart of St. Paul, to see what his prayer was like. It was full of people: “I constantly pray with you in every one of my prayers for all of you… because I hold you in my heart” (Phil 1:4, 7). Here we see that intercessory prayer does not divert us from true contemplation, since authentic contemplation always has a place for others. This attitude becomes a prayer of gratitude to God for others. […] Far from being suspicious, negative and despairing, it is a spiritual gaze born of deep faith which acknowledges what God is doing in the lives of others (Evangelii Gaudium, §281-282).

In Evangelii Gaudium, Francis speaks of intercessory prayer as a necessary form of prayer for the evangelizer, whose mission is to seek the good of others in all she does as she spreads the Good News. In his blessing from the Speaker’s Balcony, he showed us the other side of this prayer’s power: that wishing for the good of others is itself a way of beginning to pray.

With the humble respectfulness that we have come to know as characteristic of Francis, he made room for those who do not or cannot pray, and what he asked from them is simply that they wish him well. It is a simple request—low-stakes and non-threatening. Moreover, it is not a trick. He asked all of us to be a little more human in wishing each other well, humbling himself to receive whatever form of blessing each of us is able to bestow upon him. Even for those who do not believe in God and who do not pray, he invited us to act as brothers and sisters in making room in ourselves for the cares and good of others. This act of generosity and of challenge is reminiscent of the remarkable sign of respect and affection he showed in 2013 at the end of his first press briefing, when he invited the members of the press into a moment of silent reflection out of respect for the consciences of those who are not Catholic or do not believe in God, “knowing that each one of you is a child of God.” In short, for those of us who do not call upon the one Father of us all, Francis asks that we act as though we were children in the same family.

Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, making history as the first pontiff to do so. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Looking back upon the speech to Congress from the blessing on the Speaker’s Balcony allows us to appreciate how he was proposing this same dynamic to our elected representatives. He called upon the representatives of the American People to practice seeing each other as brothers and sisters. Consider this section of his speech:

The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps [of good vs. evil, righteous vs. sinners]. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject. […] We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

It seems to me that Francis is saying that we, as a People, reject tyrannical forces that seek to replace the good of the many with the self-interests of the few and the powerful. Forces that neglect the common good are dehumanizing. But in our opposition to these forces of dehumanization, we must not seek to dehumanize those who disagree with us, or even those who directly oppose us. Should we give in to this reactionary form of violence, then we imitate that which we reject. Instead, we must practice caring even for those who disagree with and oppose us, seeking their good along with our own. In like fashion, this posture of strength in humility must begin with exercising care and concern for one another, accepting even those who disagree with and oppose us within the household of our own nation as our brothers and sisters. In other words, he is instructing the members of Congress to break from their pathological suspicion of and enmity for those across the aisle, inciting them instead to practice mutual concern. If they can do nothing else, start by sending good wishes.

Perhaps this is idealistic, but even so it is the form of true governance. Francis asks for nothing less than for the hearts of those in Congress to be filled with the cares and the good of the People they represent. To do this, they must also accept the cares and recognize the good of those who disagree with and oppose them from within their own governing body. In his words of counsel:

Politics is an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its good, its interests, its social life. […] In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.

As the Pontifex Maximus – the great bridge builder – Francis understands his vocation to be one of bringing back together those who are separated from each other. What separates political leaders from one another, their constituents, and the common good is their own desire to occupy space, to retain power, to protect their own interests or the interests of small groups with special influence. Referring directly to Evangelii Gaudium, Francis remarked that, “A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces.” In other words, the urge to take space for oneself is a sign of illness, so the medicine is to practice giving the space of your position and power over to the cares and good of others.

This trust in the healing influence of intercessory prayer, which might seem like weakness in the halls of power, symbolizes the movement of Francis’s entire Pontificate. On the night he was elected, he stepped on to the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s square and performed the same action he performed from the balcony overlooking Capitol Hill: he offered blessing and asked for blessing.

Peter BlessingAnd now I would like to give the blessing. But first I want to ask you a favor. Before the Bishop blesses the people I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me—the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer—your prayer for me—in silence. […] I will now give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will.

To the whole world, to the American People, and to the members of Congress, Francis’s action is his message and his message is the same: Sacrifice your own self-interest by making room for the cares and good of others. This is the movement of the Blessed Mother, whom he calls “Star of the New Evangelization” (EG §288), the one who made room within herself. It is also the movement of the greatest of all evangelizers, St. Paul, whose prayer was “full of people”. For those of us who cannot pray as they did, Francis asks us to begin with sending good wishes. If we can learn to do that, then we are already beginning to move within the “Joy of the Gospel”.

Read more from Leonard @leodelo2.

Reading the Code: Pope Francis’ Speech to Congress

Tim O'MalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

When I teach my students how to interpret the Bible, I often have to emphasize that the Scriptures are written in a coherent literary code, which the reader needs to learn. For example, Egypt is never simply a place but an embodiment of a specific form of evil empire. Mountains are never mountains alone but locales for divine revelation. Since Pope Francis is an able reader of the Scriptures and astute user of rhetoric, it is necessary to read Pope Francis’ speeches as written in this kind of literary code. Although addressed to Congress, Pope Francis was speaking to all Americans, many of whom would pick up on the code of the text (even if Republicans and Democrats alike were too busy applauding when the Pope proclaimed a truth they happened to agree with). In the following piece, I hope to provide some interpretation of this code.

Yesterday’s Homily: Christo-centric Mission

Public papal addresses during apostolic visits are not written solely to provide sound bites. Rather, these speeches and homilies build off one another, presuming in some way that they’d all be eventually read together (and become in some ways part of the Magisterium of the Church). Thus, it is important to note the Christo-centric and mission-oriented content of yesterday’s homily by Pope Francis. In this homily, Pope Francis preaches:

Jesus sends his disciples out to all nations. To every people. We too were part of all those people of two thousand years ago. Jesus did not provide a short list of who is, or is not, worthy of receiving his message, his presence. Instead, he always embraced life as he saw it. In faces of pain, hunger, sickness and sin. In faces of wounds, of thirst, of weariness, doubt and pity. Far from expecting a pretty life, smartly-dressed and neatly groomed, he embraced life as he found it. It made no difference whether it was dirty, unkempt, broken. Jesus said: Go out and tell the good news to everyone. Go out and in my name embrace life as it is, and not as you think it should be. Go out to the highways and byways, go out to tell the good news fearlessly, without prejudice, without superiority, without condescension, to all those who have lost the joy of living. Go out to proclaim the merciful embrace of the Father. Go out to those who are burdened by pain and failure, who feel that their lives are empty, and proclaim the folly of a loving Father who wants to anoint them with the oil of hope, the oil of salvation. Go out to proclaim the good news that error, deceitful illusions and falsehoods do not have the last word in a person’s life. Go out with the ointment which soothes wounds and heals hearts.

Mission is never the fruit of a perfectly planned program or a well-organized manual. Mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven. Mission is born of a constant experience of God’s merciful anointing.

The Church, the holy People of God, treads the dust-laden paths of history, so often traversed by conflict, injustice and violence, in order to encounter her children, our brothers and sisters. The holy and faithful People of God are not afraid of losing their way; they are afraid of becoming self-enclosed, frozen into elites, clinging to their own security. They know that self-enclosure, in all the many forms it takes, is the cause of so much apathy.

Here, we read that the Church goes forth into the “dust-laden paths of history” to proclaim the Good News that Jesus Christ is Lord of heaven and earth. That the darkness of the world, whether experienced through social injustice or the existential misery that often haunts the human heart, can be illumined through an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, who is the light of life. Thus, the Church’s involvement in history is not a dabbling in the political sphere, a “progressive” re-orientation of the Church’s mission away from salvation (which the unfortunate title of a piece at Crux suggested). Rather, it is in the concrete and historical existence of the world that the Good News of Jesus Christ is proclaimed. The Pope’s address to politicians in Congress, then, is an extension of the vocation of the Church to proclaim salvation to all human beings. This proclamation is centered in Jesus Christ, even if that name was not spoken in the halls of Congress. For at the heart of the Church’s message of salvation is the unity and peace among human beings in Christ.

The Four Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton

PopeinUSGood speakers often employ “typologies” that enable the listener of the speech to remember what is said. At one level, Pope Francis’ use of four Americans, who were concerned about the plight of human dignity are examples of this rhetorical approach. Yet, there is a subtle rhetorical move by Pope Francis in his employment of these four figures. Indeed, any good American would recognize the gifts provided to the country by Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. (both of whom are honored in the nation’s Capitol). What is surprising is that Pope Francis includes in this great tradition of Americans concerned about justice Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. Dorothy Day, who spoke out against the government’s military exploits, yet who also prayed the Divine Office and attended Mass everyday. And Thomas Merton, whose vision of peace and dialogue, is only made possible through his identity as contemplative monk. In both figures, you have fidelity to the Church, a contemplative spirit, and a desire to work toward solidarity among the human family.

In this subtle way, Pope Francis has reminded Congress that openness to God is intimately linked to love of the poor. He does not say the word secularization but as holding up two Catholic figures as “icons” of American concern about dignity, he is offering a subtle argument that people of faith are necessary for the flourishing of the common good. In the speech itself, he goes as far as to say precisely this:

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.

In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.

In this way, Pope Francis is taking up the topic of religious liberty without saying the word at all. If Catholics are marginalized because of their annoying habit of believing in the existence of a God who calls us out into concrete practice in the world, then the political sphere will lose a valuable resource for the promotion of human dignity. If Catholics are forced to practice a religious faith that does not lead to the establishment of schools, of hospitals, of those concrete ways that Catholics live out caritas, then it will be the United States itself that will be poorer for it. The subtle implication of Pope Francis’ speech is that you won’t simply be absent a Thomas Merton or Dorothy Day if you eliminate institutional religious life from the public sphere. You should also bid adieu to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln too.

The Interruption of the Unborn

A number of Catholics are disappointed that Pope Francis didn’t more directly take up the issue of abortion. He stated:

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

The single line referring to abortion is ultimately intended to be more powerful insofar as it serves as an interruption to the line of thought. Without doubt, many of those in Congress were nodding their heads as Pope Francis reminded the United States of their responsibility to care for the immigrant; they were thinking to themselves of the idiocy (perhaps) of Donald Trump, looking forward to quoting this line to him in some interview soon. Then, the Gospel was proclaimed: the yardstick we use for others will be the one used against us; and this yardstick necessitates the protection of human life, beginning at conception.

Here, Catholics are given a kind of grammar for what constitutes effective evangelization in public life. What does your interlocutor agree with you on? Begin there, and then move toward the source of disagreement. And Catholics can do this, because it’s not just the unborn child, who experiences the injustice of a world that too often has grown cold to love. It is the prisoner condemned to death, it is the immigrant despised and maltreated by fellow human beings, it is the nation-state treated as other, it is the young woman or man who sees their life reduced to their status as income earner. In this way, Pope Francis is proposing a new way forward relative to proclaiming the Gospel of Law in a culture that has grown cold to human flourishing at all stages. He sees, the problems with this culture, as he describes in his address to the bishops:

The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent. No less important is the Gospel of the Family, which in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia I will emphatically proclaim together with you and the entire Church.

The way forward is not to condemn those who disagree with you but to invite the other into a dialogue in which the Church proclaims to the world the entire narrative of the Gospel of Life at the heart of her existence. To present the fullness of truth as a source of beauty and good, which may in fact lead to conversions that we never thought possible.


Pope Francis will say a great deal more over the coming days. And each of these speeches will need to be analyzed in a way similar to what I have offered here. Such analysis will require a great deal of care, attentive to the rhetorically sweet speech of Pope Francis. Only with this attention to his speech will the full effect of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States bear fruit.

Follow Timothy P. O’Malley @NDLiturgyCenter