reflections, updates and homilies from Deacon Mike Talbot inspired by the following words from my ordination: Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach...
Phone calls, improvised in-person visits, and other unconventional initiatives are part of the personal style of Pope Francis, who wants to be a shepherd in the midst of his flock.
Pope Francis arrived by surprise, in his blue Ford Focus, on Via Alessandria in the Salario neighborhood of Rome last Friday, to meet with an elderly woman he was acquainted with. She was unable to leave her house because of ill health, but she had requested several times to meet with him.
“The visit lasted about an hour, and when Pope Francis went back down to the street, he met a small group of residents, who welcomed him and greeted him with the usual affection. He shook everyone’s hand, and gave out hugs and smiles. In particular, the pope stopped to play with a child, while a young woman, seeing him, was unable to hold back her tears of emotion.
“Another man gave him a small crucifix. Alerted to the Holy Father’s presence, a sick man who lives in the same building as the elderly woman went to him to receive consolation and to ask for prayer, which the pope promised him. Back in the car, Francis continued to greet those present, blessing them.” (Ansa)
The pope likes to improvise like this, not for the pleasure of shaking up the tranquility of this or that neighborhood, but because he always wants to make those who need it feel his presence close to them, as best he can.
He did the same thing recently with one of his close collaborators: the new Polish cardinal Konrad Krajewski, who serves as the Papal Almoner — the Holy Father’s direct channel to those in need.
“Francis arrived by surprise. ‘I came for the poor, not for you,’ he said smiling to Fr. Konrad, who asks to continue to be called this way, despite his red biretta.” (Aleteia)
Sometimes it’s a phone call
Bergoglio began with his phone calls immediately after his election as pontiff, offering consolation and comforting words to those in need, or even just a greeting, perhaps after having been contacted through a letter. Other times, it’s to keep up the normality of his previous life, one of the motives that dissuaded him from occupying the papal apartments, inspiring him to choose the accommodations of Domus Sanctae Marthae instead, where he would be accompanied by the comings and goings of this hotel-type residence.
“‘We laughed and joked for about eight minutes,’ says Stefano Cabizza, who in 2013 was 19 years old. ‘He called me at about 5 p.m., after not finding me at home the first time. He told me to speak to him using the informal ‘tu’ [the form of “you” used with friends and equals in Italian, Ed.], saying to me, ‘Do you think the Apostles used ‘Mr.’ when they talked to Jesus? Or that they called him ‘your excellency?’ They were friends, as you and I are now, and I’m accustomed to deal informally with my friends.’ And he asked me to pray a lot to St. Stephan and also to pray for him. He gave me his blessing and I felt great strength grow within me. Certainly, it was the most beautiful day of my life.’” (Aleteia)
His phone calls are not just about a greeting and saying thank you. On these occasions (and perhaps in others not made public) there is also a part of his priestly ministry. Such is the story of Anna, pregnant by a man who was already known not to be willing to acknowledge the baby. Francis, as a pastor, answered the letter he received from her, calling the woman who was planning on having an abortion:
“‘Hello Anna, this is Pope Francis. I read your letter. We Christians shouldn’t lose hope. A baby is a gift from God, a sign of Providence.’ ‘His words filled my heart with joy,’ Anna recounts. ‘He told me that I was very brave and strong for my baby.’”
There are also announcements, specifically when he can give good news to an entire community, such as when Francis called Fr. Piergiorgio Rizzini, pastor of St. George in Braida, who recounts the pope’s promise (which he later kept) to talk another time about those “inconvenient” priests whose style is so similar to that of Bergoglio:
“I heard the first words … ‘This is Pope Francis,’” says Don Piergiorgio to the web TV of the news outlet of Verona. “Of course, I had a moment of confusion, but also of surprise and emotion. Then the conversation began. I had sent him a letter in which I thanked him for his attention towards Fr. Mazzolari and Fr. Milani. For us,” continues the pastor of St. George’s parish, “priests from the 1970s were an important reference point. And we think that they can be reference points for future priests as well. The pope then started to talk about some rigid attitudes present in the Church.”
To please the enemies of the Christians, Herod Agrippa had put St. James to death, and now he planned to do the same to St. Peter, the Head of the Church. Once he had him in prison, he set a heavy guard about him to make sure he would not escape. But all the Christians of Jerusalem were begging the Lord to save St. Peter, and their prayers were answered. The night before he was to be condemned, St. Peter was peacefully sleeping in his prison cell between his two guards bound tightly by two chains. He was unafraid of death and ready to do God's will. Suddenly an angel appeared and tapped him on the side to awaken him. He told him to get up at once, put on his cloak and sandles and follow him. At the same moment, both the chains fell from his hands! Out the two went, past two sets of guards, to the gate. This iron gate opened to them by itself and the angel led St. Peter out to the street. Then he disappeared. Up to then, Peter had thought he might be dreaming, but now he new that God had really sent an angel to free him! What joy and gratitude filled his heart! At once, the Apostle went to the home of Mary, St. Mark's mother, where many Christians were praying for his safety. He knocked at the door and a young woman named Rhoda came to ask who it was, without opening the door. When she heard St. Peter's voice, she ran joyfully to tell the others. They, however, could not believe the news. "It must be his angel," they said when she kept insisting. Meanwhile St. Peter knocked again. At last they let him in, and their happiness was immense when they saw it was truly St. Peter himself! He told them how the angel had freed him, and altogether they blessed and thanked the Lord. The feast day is August 1st.
Bishop, Doctor of the Church, and the founder of the Redemptorist Congregation. He was born Alphonsus Marie Antony John Cosmos Damien Michael Gaspard de Liguori on September 27,1696, at Marianella, near Naples, Italy. Raised in a pious home, Alphonsus went on retreats with his father, Don Joseph, who was a naval officer and a captain of the Royal Galleys. Alphonsus was the oldest of seven children, raised by a devout mother of Spanish descent. Educated at the University of Naples, Alphonsus received his doctorate at the age of sixteen. By age nineteen he was practicing law, but he saw the transitory nature of the secular world, and after a brief time, retreated from the law courts and his fame. Visiting the local Hospital for Incurables on August 28, 1723, he had a vision and was told to consecrate his life solely to God. In response, Alphonsus dedicated himself to the religious life, even while suffering persecution from his family. He finally agreed to become a priest but to live at home as a member of a group of secular missionaries. He was ordained on December 21, 1726, and he spent six years giving missions throughout Naples. In April 1729, Alphonsus went to live at the "Chiflese College," founded in Naples by Father Matthew Ripa, the Apostle of China. There he met Bishop Thomas Falcoia, founder of the Congregation of Pious Workers. This lifelong friendship aided Alphonsus, as did his association with a mystic, Sister Mary Celeste. With their aid, Aiphonsus founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer on November 9, 1732. The foundation faced immediate problems, and after just one year, Alphonsus found himself with only one lay brother, his other companions having left to form their own religious group. He started again, recruited new members, and in 1743 became the prior of two new congregations, one for men and one for women. Pope Benedict XIV gave his approval for the men's congregation in 1749 and for the women's in 1750. Alphonsus was preaching missions in the rural areas and writing. He refused to become the bishop of Palermo but in 1762 had to accept the papal command to accept the see of St. Agatha of the Goths near Naples. Here he discovered more than thirty thousand uninstructed men and women and four hundred indifferent priests. For thirteen years Alphonsus fed the poor, instructed families, reorganized the seminary and religious houses, taught theology, and wrote. His austerities were rigorous, and he suffered daily the pain from rheumatism that was beginning to deform his body. He spent several years having to drink from tubes because his head was so bent forward. An attack of rheumatic fever, from May 1768 to June 1769, left him paralyzed. He was not allowed to resign his see, however, until 1775. In 1780, Alphonsus was tricked into signing a submission for royal approval of his congregation. This submission altered the original rule, and as a result Alphonsus was denied any authority among the Redemptorists. Deposed and excluded from his own congregation, Alphonsus suffered great anguish. But he overcame his depression, and he experienced visions, performed miracles, and gave prophecies. He died peacefully on August 1,1787, at Nocera di Pagani, near Naples as the Angelus was ringing. He was beatified in 1816 and canonized in 1839. In 1871, Alphonsus was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX. His writings on moral, theological, and ascetic matters had great impact and have survived through the years, especially his Moral Theology and his Glories of Mary. He was buried at the monastery of the Pagani near Naples. Shrines were built there and at St. Agatha of the Goths. He is the patron of confessors, moral theologians, and the lay apostolate. In liturgical art he is depicted as bent over with rheumatism or as a young priest.
How impressed were you with the National Diaconate Congress last week?
It was amazing to see so many permanent deacons from across the United States – along with their wives and children – attending the conference. Deacon Ray Duplechain, who is the director of our Office of the Permanent Diaconate, did a wonderful job with other deacons in organizing this event, which had not been held in many years. There were a total of 1,300 permanent deacons who attended, and when you put that number together with their wives and children, the conference was attended by over 2,800 people. When Deacon Ray first began planning for the congress, the opening Mass was scheduled for St. Louis Cathedral because we weren’t expecting that many people to come. But as the numbers grew, we knew there was no way to fit nearly 3,000 people into the cathedral, so the all of the Masses were celebrated in a huge ballroom at the New Orleans Marriott. The deacons were all here to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the renewal of the permanent diaconate, and there was a great spirit during our five days together. I was also pleased there was a large contingent of deacons not only from the Archdiocese of New Orleans but also from the other dioceses in Louisiana. We had deacons from 18 foreign countries who attended.
What was it like for the deacons to see themselves gather in such record numbers?
I think it gave them a great sense of solidarity. There are more than 18,000 permanent deacons in the U.S., so about 7 percent of all deacons in this country attended. I’m not suggesting Deacon Ray would want to hold another conference of this magnitude any time soon, but it was a very valuable and spiritually enriching experience. We know it was important because the papal nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, made a point of attending and affirming the deacons in their ministry.
Why do you think the U.S. has more than half of all deacons in the world?
I think in part it’s because Americans are very practical people. The U.S. church realizes the intense nature of the deacons’ ministry and mission. We embrace their selfless service in reaching out to people, especially those on the margins of society. Some countries have been a bit hesitant to move into the permanent diaconate. I think that’s in part because many countries rely on lay catechists to reach remote communities, and they do much of what deacons do in ministry. I believe many countries are trying to see how advantageous it would be to have permanent deacons.
New Orleans has been a gathering spot for a lot of Catholic conventions this year.
Yes, just in the last few days, we also hosted a joint conference of the National Black Clergy Caucus, the National Black Sisters’ Conference, the National Black Catholic Seminarians Association and the National Association of Black Catholic Deacons. It was a blessingto be able to welcome those four groups because they bring their experience of the Catholic faith with them, and it also enriches our local church.
Pope Francis tends to draw a positive reaction from young people and the July 31, 2018, crowd in St. Peter’s Square was no exception. It was a joyful and sometimes noisy group of some 70,000 youth age 13-23, visiting from 19 nations.
C.I.M. is an international association for altar boys and girls C.I.M. that unites diocesan and national referents for this pastoral task in the Roman-Catholic Church.
The most important activity of C.I.M. is the organization of the international pilgrimage of altar boys and girls that takes place every four or five years in Rome. In such occasions, there is the possibility to meet altar boys and girls coming from all over the world.
Pope Francis welcomed the young people and said he admired them for coming despite the hot weather (it was in the 90s F).
“I am happy to see you in such great numbers here in Saint Peter’s Square, adorned with your colorful banners,” the Holy Father said. “Thank you very much for giving me the emblems of your pilgrimage!
“I am a pilgrim with you. You have come from many countries throughout the world, yet all of us are united by our faith in Jesus Christ. We are journeying together with him who is our peace. I thank your President, Bishop Nemet, for his kind greeting on your behalf. And now, I give the word to you, for a moment of conversation.”
The Pope then had a question-answer session with the altar servers, responding to questions submitted in different languages from different countries.
Following is the Vatican-Provided Translation of the Q/A Session:
Saint-Père, en tant que servants d’autel et aussi comme croyants, nous nous donnons la paix par le signe de la paix durant la Sainte Messe. Comment pouvons-nous contribuer à faire sortir cette paix également hors des murs de nos églises et être des bâtisseurs de paix dans nos familles, dans nos pays et dans le monde?
Thank you! You put it very well: peace and Holy Mass go together. Just before the sign of peace, we ask the Lord to grant peace and unity to the Church community. Peace is his gift; it transforms us, so that, as members of Jesus’ body, we can share in his sentiments, think as he thinks, and love as he loves. At the end of Mass, we are sent forth with the words: “Go in peace”. Concrete commitment to peace is proof of the fact that we are truly Christ’s disciples. Making peace begins with little things. For example, at home after a quarrel, do I go off by myself and act hurt, or do I make an effort to go back and reach out? Am I willing to ask myself in every situation: “What would Jesus do in my place?” If we can do this, if we really put it into practice, we will bring Christ’s peace to our everyday lives. Then we will be peacemakers and channels of God’s peace.
Santo Padre, somos acólitos. Servimos o Senhor junto do altar e contemplamo-Lo na Eucaristia. Como poderemos viver a contemplação espiritual a exemplo de Maria e o serviço prático a exemplo de Marta, procurando reconhecer concretamente, na nossa vida, aquilo que Jesus quer de nós?
In a real way, as altar servers, you share in the experience of Martha and Mary. It would be wonderful if, alongside your service to the liturgy, you could become more involved in the life of your parish and also spend some time in silence in the Lord’s presence. In this interplay of action and contemplation, we come to realize God’s plan for us. We see the talents and interests God has given us and how best to develop them. Even more importantly, we place ourselves humbly before God, just as we are, with our good qualities and our limitations, and ask him how we can best serve him and our neighbor. Don’t be afraid to ask for a word of helpful advice when you are wondering how to serve God and all those people throughout the world who need our help. Remember: the more you give yourself to others, the more you will get back in personal fulfillment and true happiness!
From Antigua and Barbuda
Holy Father, as altar servers it makes us sad to see how few of our own age group come to Mass or take part in the life of our parishes. In some countries, for a variety of reasons, the Church is rapidly losing many young people. How can we, and our communities, reach out to these people and bring them back to Christ and to the family of the Church?
Even now, as young people, you can be apostles, capable of drawing others to Jesus. This will happen if you are full of enthusiasm for him, if you have encountered him if you have come to know him personally, and been yourselves “won over” by him. So here is what I would I say. Try to know and love the Lord Jesus more and more, encountering him in prayer, at Mass, in the reading of the Gospel, in the faces of the lowly and the poor. Try also to be friends, with no strings attached, to all those around you, so that a ray of Jesus’ light can shine on them through your own heart in love with him. There is no need for lots of words; more important are your actions, your closeness, your desire to serve. Young people – and everyone else for that matter – need friends who can give a good example, who are ready to act without expecting anything in return. In this way, you will also help others to see how beautiful is the community of believers because the Lord dwells in its midst. And to see how beautiful it is to be part of the family of the Church.
Heiliger Vater, viele Menschen sagen, sie brauchen Gott, Religion und Kirche nicht in ihrem Leben. Warum sollte man sich gerade für den katholischen Glauben entscheiden, was ist das wichtigste dabei? Und warum ist der Glaube für Sie so wichtig?
Faith is essential; it gives me life. I would say that faith is like the air we breathe. We don’t think, with every breath we take, how necessary air is, but when it isn’t there, or it isn’t clean, we realize right away how important it is! Faith helps us to grasp the meaning of life: that there is Someone who loves us infinitely and that Someone is God. We can recognize God as our Creator and our Saviour; we can love God and accept that our life is his gift. God wants to enter into a living relationship with us. He wants to build relationships, and we are called to do the same. A person cannot believe in God and then think that he or she is an only child! All of us are children of God. We are called to make up God’s family, the Church, the community of brothers and sisters in Christ. As Saint Paul says (Eph 2:19), we are “members of the household of God”. And in this family of the Church, the Lord nourishes his sons and daughters with his word and with his sacraments.
Szentatya, a mi ministránsi szolgálatunk szép, nagyon szeretjük. Szolgálni akarjuk az Urat és felebarátunkat. De jót tenni nem mindig könnyű, nem vagyunk még szentek. Hogyan fordíthatnánk át szolgálatunkat a mindennapi életben a szeretet konkrét tetteire az életszentség felé vezető úton?
Yes, it does take effort to keep doing good and to become saints… I see that you servers are committed to taking this path. The Lord Jesus gave us a simple plan for advancing in the way of holiness: the commandment of love of God and of neighbor. Let us make an effort to deepen our friendship with God, to be grateful for his love and to want to serve him in all things. In this way, we cannot help but share the gift of his love with others. To make the commandment of love all the more concrete, Jesus gave us the works of mercy. They are demanding yet within the reach of all. We have only to start asking ourselves: “What can I do today to meet the needs of my neighbor?” It makes no difference whether it is a friend or a stranger, a countryman or a foreigner. Believe me, by doing this, you can become real saints, men, and woman who transform the world by living the love of Christ.