Pope Francis and the Family

Posted on September 21, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, September 27, 2015, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Pope Francis on audience, greeting the crowds in St Peter's Square, the Vatican, 30th October 2013. Photo © Martin Podzorny / Shutterstock.com.This week, Pope Francis begins his historic visit to the United States.

We can expect the news media to provide extensive coverage and analysis of this popular pontiff’s words and actions, with Time Warner Cable dedicating a channel to the visit for “fans of Pope Francis.”

As is characteristic of his papacy to this point, the Holy Father’s visit will not only be an opportunity for him to speak to the people of the United States with his words but also with highly symbolic actions. Though his addresses to the General Assembly of the United Nations and to a joint meeting of Congress will be parsed and scrutinized, the most searing images will no doubt come from the interreligious service at the 9/11 Memorial, a visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem, and a tour of the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia. Perhaps more than anything the Holy Father says, the images from these visits will remain deep in our collective psyche.

The climax of the Pope’s visit will be the eighth World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. This year’s theme, Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive, fits with the Holy Father’s call to us to highlight love and mercy in our catechesis and personal witness.

The Pope will be visiting a country whose family structures have shifted significantly over the past fifty years. Not only has the family been suffering the consequences of social change but of economic ones as well.  All these issues will be very much on his mind during his visit and we can expect him to challenge all of us to put love and mercy at the center of family life and people at the center of public policy.

This Sunday, when Pope Francis celebrates Mass for as many as 1.5 million pilgrims expected to crowd into the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the readings will resonate with many of the themes of his papacy.

In the first reading from the Book of Numbers, Moses’ spirit is bestowed on seventy elders who are given a share in his ministry. Just so, Pope Francis has challenged us to be more inclusive in calling people of all backgrounds to the work of ministry. In the second reading, Saint James rails against the corruption of wealth. In the same way, Pope Francis has called on those of us in the developed world to live with less so that we will have more to share with the poor. Finally, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus assures the disciples that “whoever is not against us is for us.” Similarly, Pope Francis has challenged us to partner with those of all faiths and of no faith to work together for the common good.

The pope’s visit to the United States is sure to be marked with memorable moments as well as controversial challenges. For all of us, it will be an opportunity to share our faith with friends and family members who interest will be piqued by this charismatic successor of Peter.

Douglas Sousa, STL


God and Father of us all,
in Jesus, your Son and our Savior,
you have made us
your sons and daughters
in the family of the Church.

May your grace and love
help our families
in every part of the world
be united to one another
in fidelity to the Gospel.

May the example of the Holy Family,
with the aid of your Holy Spirit,
guide all families, especially those most troubled,
to be homes of communion and prayer
and to always seek your truth and live in your love.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, pray for us!

—Prayer for the World Meeting of Families.

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Everyday Stewardship: The Last Shall Be First

Posted on September 18, 2015 by - Everyday Stewardship

black-friday-1It seems to be human nature to want to be first, the best, or the greatest. We think there is a great value to be on top. We are sure if we can be better than everyone else, the prize waiting for us will ultimately satisfy. Jesus’ disciples argued about which one of them was the greatest. Jesus explained to them that the greatest was the one who chose to be last by serving all.

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The Pope Wants to Hear Your Best Joke

Posted on September 15, 2015 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

Pope Francis LaughingLooking for a safe place to exercise your Catholic humor? In honor of Pope Francis’s first visit to the United States, the Pontifical Mission Societies has launched a campaign called “Joke With the Pope.”

Participants are asked to “donate” a joke to one of three nonprofit organizations and the person with the funniest joke will be given the title of “Honorary Comedic Advisor to the Pope” and $10,000 will be donated to the organization they selected.

Click here to find out more or to submit your joke today

Embrace the Smallest

Posted on September 15, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, September 20, 2015, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Photo © AFP/Getty Images.

Long before he became the cardinal archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan was the rector of the North American College in Rome. He used to give regular talks to the seminarians, which were collected in a very good book called Priests for the Third Millennium. In one of the talks, Cardinal Dolan quotes a retreat conference given by the Passionist Scripture scholar Barnabas Ahern.

Father Ahern asked: what do you suppose was Jesus Christ’s favorite virtue? Was it faith? Was it hope? How about charity or justice?

All of those are contenders. But Father Ahern had something else in mind. Christ’s favorite virtue, he suggested, was humility. He made a persuasive argument.

Repeatedly in the Gospels, Christ chose the most humble. He chose the sick over the healthy… the weak over the powerful… the poor over the rich. The Gospels offer a reassuring message for all of us who feel unworthy, or fall short; they offer this blessed hope: Jesus often found more among those who, in the eyes of the world, seemed to be less.

And in this Sunday’s gospel, we see this again. To settle a dispute among the apostles over who, in fact, is the greatest, Jesus put before them the most inconsequential person in the room: a small child—a figure of perfect trust, and simplicity, and need.

“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me,” he said. “And whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”

To receive God, he was saying, open your arms. Embrace the helpless, and needy. Seek out the smallest. To receive God, don’t look above. Look below.

This seems to be a message Pope Francis has made a cornerstone of his pontificate —and again and again, he has modeled that kind of generosity of spirit toward the small, the forgotten, the marginalized. We can expect to see more of that, I imagine, when he arrives in America in a few days for his historic visit to Washington, Philadelphia, and New York. Analysts are predicting what message he might be coming to convey to the United Nations or to Congress. Will he challenge the rich and powerful? Press for more attention to the plight of immigrants? Call for mercy and dignity toward those who are most helpless, such as the unborn? Stay tuned.

But this much is certain: he will continue to embody the message Christ imparted to his disciples all those centuries ago. In gestures, words and deeds, he will challenge America—and, indeed, the world—to embrace those who are the smallest and, in doing so, embrace God.

Dcn. Greg Kandra


Father, your truth is made known in your Word.
Guide us to seek the truth of the human person.
Teach us the way to love because you are Love.
Jesus, you embody Love and Truth.
Help us to recognize your face in the poor.
Enable us to live out our vocation to bring love and justice to your people.
Holy Spirit, you inspire us to transform our world.
Empower us to seek the common good for all persons.
Give us a spirit of solidarity and make us one human family.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
—From USCCB, prayer based on Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth).

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Remembering September 11

Posted on September 11, 2015 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

We remember 9/11September 11, 2001 is a day that we will forever remember as our country lost thousands of innocent lives at the hands of men intent on delivering a fatal blow to our way of life. What those fanatics did not count on was the resilience of the American people who refused to allow the hatred of a few shake their faith in their country and their God.

We did not break apart in the face of unspeakable tragedy. We broke down and wept in the arms of our neighbors, one nation, under God. We did not fall before our enemies. We fell to our knees before the throne of God and poured our hearts out to him.

Churches swelled as even the hardest of hearts softened as God spoke calmly even in the midst of chaos. Men and women who hadn’t uttered a prayer in years had their lips loosened and cried into the heavens. God spoke and God moved in his people and across this country.

In the days that followed those attacks, men and women sacrificed for one another, digging through rubble for signs of life, ministering to those in need, and loving each other with full hearts. People donated their savings, their resources, and even their very blood for those they have never met. This was love, unconditional, being shown for the world to see.

Fourteen years later, and we continue that legacy of faith. We mourn for those we lost, we pray for their families, and we continue to trust that God is in control even in the most chaotic of circumstances. We give as God has given to us and we we vow to always remember those we have lost.

Who Do You Say that I Am?

Posted on September 8, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, September 13, 2015, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Photo of indistinct cross in background.A new Pew Forum Study looking at the views of American Catholics on family life, sexuality, and Catholic identity has concluded that 45% of Americans are Catholic or are “connected to Catholicism.” It gauged people’s views of the topics mentioned, but in some ways, the figure of 45% is one of the most interesting findings. The 45% are comprised of those who claim to be Catholic now, those who were raised in the faith and now no longer practice, and those who claim a “cultural connection to Catholicism.” Sherry Weddell pointed out in an article for Aleteia  that the study showed a large number of those who no longer actively practice their Catholic faith are “willing to be persuaded back into the pews, with the right outreach.”

Multiple reasons can account for why people drift away from the church, and the right word to use here is drift, for the experience of leaving the church does not happen overnight. Some leave because of conflicts and abuses of power by priests, but the vast majority never had such an experience. Most are like people you and I know who have drifted away over time due to apathy and disinterest. While some connection to a Catholic heritage is important to many, connections to a formed community seem less important, or at least the numbers make it seem that way. The 2013 study and book, American Catholics in Transition, reported that the “pre-Vatican II generation is the only group where more than half (54%) attends weekly Mass.” They state that for most who identify as Catholic, monthly Mass attendance is the new norm.

All people have a need to belong. Psychologists point out belonging is part of what makes us human. Those who drift away still want to belong. They have just chosen to belong to something else, and usually it is a group of people who has similar beliefs. But if they still label themselves in some way Catholic, they must continue to hold some core doctrinal beliefs. The question is, do they grasp the true implications of those beliefs? For as we can see in our modern times, religious belief can be one of the most powerful forces on earth.

Jesus understood the power of faith when he questioned his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” If they truly believed that he was the Christ, the anointed one, the One for whom they had longed, they would be able to accept his difficult command:

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

Those who would be able to accept their crosses and give away their lives, particularly in the persecutions that followed Jesus’ death and resurrection, not only believed that they had met the Christ, they knew they belonged to him. The apostles, the other disciples close to Jesus, and those who would join this “movement” sometimes called The Way, would have had a sense of being transformed not just by their belief, but also by acceptance by and belonging to this new community of faith.

Jesus still asks today, “Who do you say that I am?” Those who give the right answer yet choose to not live out their faith are like those who have cheated on a test: they know the answer, but do not know why it is the right answer. By the grace of God some will be transformed by simple belief in isolation from others, but without community, most will not. Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy, the great stewardship leader, said, “Belonging leads to belief.” The majority of those cultural Catholics maintain some belief, but they are unsure of why they still do. They also maintain some form of Catholic identity, perhaps because the psychologists are correct and they have a need to belong. Yet they are still drifting, unsure of really their place in the grand scheme of things.

Pope Francis is issuing a Jubilee Year of Mercy and what better time to reach out to our brothers and sisters who are drifting? We need to throw open the doors of our churches and offer the greatest of hospitality, like the father who rejoiced at the return of his prodigal son. We need to offer healing for wounds caused by the church, as well as those wounds that occurred when we could not be there in their lives. We need to fill our churches with a joy of the Lord that is contagious and life-giving. We need to reach out and let those who have left our midst know that we have eagerly awaited their return. For then, when asked by Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” they will not only know the answer, but will know why it is the answer and the implications of such an answer. Then, more will be able to accept the crosses and give away their lives so that our church and world can be transformed.

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS


Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,
and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him.
Show us your face and we will be saved.
Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money;
the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;
made Peter weep after his betrayal,
and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.
Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:
“If you knew the gift of God!”

You are the visible face of the invisible Father,
of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy: let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.
You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness
in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error: let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.

Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing,
so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,
and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm,
may bring good news to the poor,
proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed,
and restore sight to the blind.

We ask this of you, Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of
Mercy; you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.
—Prayer of Pope Francis for the Jubilee. © Copyright Pontifical Council for the Promotion of New Evangelization, Vatican State. All rights reserved.

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