In the past month, the 11-page Viganò testimony has made rounds, creating highly polarized discussions in mainstream and social media. His letter included a series of allegations and accusations against Pope Francis and many Cardinals who were implicated in the cover-up of McCarrick’s sexual misconduct. However, in just one week, the story completely dried up “like a fig tree that bore no fruit” (as recently quipped to me by Pedro Gabriel). However, the noisy clamor is still in the background.

In contrast, the Letter of His Holiness to the People of God, published at around the same time as Viganò’s testimony, was easily dismissed in social media as “insufficient”, “just penance and prayers”, “no concrete action”, “no real sympathy for the minors or abused” and “he was not so hard on the predators”.

The letter may seem to have been dismissed too easily but I am quite certain that other members of the Catholic faithful, whose voices may be unheard by typical news and social media, are heeding the Pope’s call with their penance and prayers with far stronger a firm, quiet and effective voice within Christ’s Church.

I thought to myself that I would write my first WPI piece about my own take on the letter of His Holiness and why it is critical for us to pay heed to this call to penance and prayer which was seemingly left devalued because of the supposed inaction of the Pope whereby most Catholics are perturbed for hearing “only penance and prayers” from him.

I see this as an often mistaken notion: the dichotomization between action on one side and doing penance and prayers on the other. I thought some devotional wisdom from the Church’s saints might shed some light into the incongruity of that dichotomy. I will also address this issue from the point of view of Sacred Scripture, private revelations and the vocation of the spiritual motherhood of priests


From the wisdom of the saints

As St. Josemaria Escriva writes:

“…When one tastes the love of God, one feels burdened with the weight of souls. There is no way to separate interior life from apostolate, just as there is no way to separate Christ, the God-man, from his role as Redeemer. The Word chose to become flesh in order to save men.”

— Christ Is Passing By

You have got to be a ‘man of God’, a man of interior life, a man of prayer and sacrifice. Your apostolate must be the overflow of your life ‘within “.

— The Way

This other quote from Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard’s, on his Soul of the Apostolate, also illustrates the importance of prayer in effecting the world:

Let the men eaten up with activity,” he says, “and who imagine they are able to shake the world with their preaching and other outward works, stop and reflect a moment. It will not be difficult for them to understand that they would be much more useful to the Church and more pleasing to the Lord, not to mention the good example they would give to those around them, if they devoted more time to prayer and to the exercises of the interior life…”


From Sacred Scriptures

The unity of prayer and action and the superiority of the former is also firmly rooted in Sacred Scriptures according to the story of Martha and Mary via Chautard’s Soul of the Apostolate:

Our Lord’s reply to Martha who, desiring Jesus to condemn the supposed laziness of her sister, meant that He should proclaim the superiority of the active life. But Jesus said: “Mary hath chosen the better part,” a reply which definitely establishes the pre-eminence of the interior life. What is to be concluded from this, if not that it was His express intention to show us, in this way, the superiority of the life of prayer over the life of action?”

On the other hand, John the Baptist sums up the teaching of all the prophets in two-words: Repent and Believe. Our Lord, Jesus Christ Himself repeats this message many times in the gospels: “Repent, and Believe the Gospel.” ~ Mk 1:15 (DRB)

Doing penance is calling us to communion with others and it is emphasized with a warning in Sacred Scriptures many times by Jesus Christ. I find this a realization that it’s not just about others but also about you (Luke 13:5) dedicating your lives doing penance for others’ sake so as to be numbered among the “faithful remnants” pleasing to God so that for your sake, He may shower His blessings and hold His wrath against The Church.

“I tell you, No; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” ~Luke 13:5 (NAB)

Perhaps, Jesus Christ’s words may seem to be provoking a doomsday fear but it is filial sort of fear that is compatible with the highest form of love for God. How many times have we read this from Sacred Scriptures and heard this on pulpits but let it fall on deaf ears? Have we continuously repented in our daily Christian struggles?


From private revelations

The Church has approved private revelations such as the messages in Fatima where the Angel said this triple-cry to the shepherd children: “Penance! Penance! Penance!” and where Jesus told St. Faustina, “’My daughter, have fear of nothing; I am always with you. All your adversaries will harm you only to the degree that I permit them to do so. You are my dwelling place and my constant repose. For your sake I will withhold the hand which punishes; for your sake I bless the earth.’” (Saint Faustina’s Diary, No. 431)”

This resonates with the Jewish teaching of the faithful remnants who are pleasing to God. According to this teaching, God is showering His blessings and withholding his wrath for the sake of this small group carrying the load for the rest. We have known similar accounts of faithful remnants in the Old Testament such as Noah and his family, Moses and Abraham.

Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) said in an EWTN interview with Raymond Arroyo about “faithful remnants“, “small numbers” and “small groups“:

Cardinal:”…And my idea is that really the springtime of the Church will not say that we will have in a near time buses of conversions, that all peoples of the world will be converted to Catholicism. This is not the way of God. The essential things in history begin always with the small, more convinced communities. So, the Church begins with the 12 Apostles. And even the Church of St. Paul diffused in the Mediterranean are little communities, but this community in itself is the future of the world, because we have the truth and the force of conviction. So, I think also today it should be an error to think now or in 10 years with the new springtime, all people will be Catholic. This is not our future, nor our expectation. But we will have really convinced communities with élan of the faith, no? This is springtime — a new life in very convinced persons with joy of the faith.

Raymond: But, smaller numbers? In the macro?

Cardinal: Smaller numbers, I think. But from these small numbers we will have a radiation of joy in the world. And so, it’s an attraction, as it was in the old Church.


From spiritual motherhood of priests

Another essential but little known charism within the Church is that of spiritual maternity of priests. I would even say it’s a hidden vocation nowadays. St. John Paul the Great was convinced of its importance that he himself established a cloistered convent (The Monastery of Mater Ecclesiae) located inside the Vatican City where nuns would pray for the Pope’s intentions and his service to the Church. Several accounts of spiritual motherhood can be found in the site of Congregation of the Clergy promoting Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity.

Approximately 120 years ago, Jesus began to reveal his plan for the renewal of the priesthood to consecrated women living in and out of convents. He entrusted this so-called “Priest Work” to spiritual mothers. Blessed Maria Deluil Martiny is a precursor of this work for priests. Regarding this great intention of her heart, Mother Maria Deluil Martiny said, “To offer yourself for souls is beautiful and great… but to offer yourself for the souls of priests is so beautiful, so great, that you would have to have a thousand lives and offer your heart a thousand times… I would gladly give my life if only Christ could find in priests what he is expecting from them. I would gladly give it even if just one of them could perfectly realize God’s divine plan for him!” She did, in fact, seal her priestly motherhood with the blood of martyrdom at age 43. Her last words were, “This is for the work, for the Priest Work!

After reading the entire document published by the Congregation of the Clergy, I realized why the Devil told St. John Vianney, “If there were three such priests as you, my kingdom would be ruined.” and why St. Josemaria Escriva mentioned a story about reading a book authored by one of the Fathers of the Church that priests have a ministerial archangel in addition to their guardian angels. That is why the vocation of spiritual motherhood of priests is so important in the life of the Church.


Now, Pope Francis has called us to penance and prayer:

“…[Likewise,] penance and prayer will help us to open our eyes and our hearts to other people’s sufferings and to overcome the thirst for power and possessions that are so often the root of those evils. May fasting and prayer open our ears to the hushed pain felt by children, young people and the disabled. A fasting that can make us hunger and thirst for justice and impel us to walk in the truth, supporting all the judicial measures that may be necessary. A fasting that shakes us up and leads us to be committed in truth and charity with all men and women of good will, and with society in general, to combatting all forms of the abuse of power, sexual abuse and the abuse of conscience.”

~ Letter of Pope Francis to the People of God

I would say that the Pope’s letter has sufficiently addressed the solution by our own continuous conversion through doing penance as practiced by the first Christians.

The Pope said:

“Together with those efforts, every one of the baptized should feel involved in the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need. This change calls for a personal and communal conversion that makes us see things as the Lord does. For as Saint John Paul II liked to say: “If we have truly started out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he wished to be identified” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 49). To see things as the Lord does, to be where the Lord wants us to be, to experience a conversion of heart in his presence. To do so, prayer and penance will help. I invite the entire holy faithful People of God to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting, following the Lord’s command.[1] This can awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of care that says “never again” to every form of abuse.”

I take this to mean that through prayer and penance, this would enlighten the minds of both clergy and lay faithful especially for the lay’s part in providing temporal solutions and assistance to the clergy. I have read his letter several times and believe in it where it requires obedience of faith (Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church, 21) from every member in communion with the Church.

Neglecting this duty may have bad consequences for the whole Church and it reminded me this quote from St. John Eudes, stating:

“The most evident mark of God’s anger, and the most terrible castigation He can inflict upon the world, is manifest when He permits His people to fall into the hands of a clergy who are more in name than in deed, priests who practice the cruelty of ravening wolves rather than the charity and affection of devoted shepherds. They abandon the things of God to devote themselves to the things of the world and, in their saintly calling of holiness, they spend their time in profane and worldly pursuits. When God permits such things, it is a very positive proof that He is thoroughly angry with His people and is visiting His most dreadful wrath upon them.”

St. John Eudes’ quote doesn’t mean that priests are excused for their bad behavior and their sins but it’s rather a realization that “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26). This is, actually, the purpose and main conclusion of Pope Francis’ letter. Let us not neglect this fundamental action, so important for the life of the Church, the action of offering up prayers and penance for the sanctification of the clergy.

{Photo credit: Instagram / EAST NEWS]


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Claire Navarro is a Filipina global IT professional (Governance, Risk and Compliance) now living in Portugal with her husband, Pedro Gabriel.  She was active in Catholic apologetics and pro-life initiatives back in the Philippines.

Letter of Pope Francis to the People of God: Only penance and prayers?
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