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?

3 Responses

  1. jong says:

    Thanks Sis. Claire.

    May God bless your first article in WPI and what a good gift to Pope Francis defending his dignity.

    I agree in your article and citation, the bottom line for all the faithful is to live a life of reparation to atone for the sins of other members.
    There are a lot of groups I don’t know if you are familiar with them in the Philippines.
    The AHFI, the Alliance of the Family International founded by Fr.Bing Arellano is one good example, the First Friday-Saturday Vigil for Reparation is a strong force to thwart the attack of satan forces.
    Fr.Stefano Gobbi also is a silent but a powerful Marian force, whose main mission is to defend the Pope & Church Magisterium and to prepare us for the Second Pentecost. Fr.Gobbi’s Cenacle Prayer is what you called a powerful spiritual force that strengthen Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus BXVI to embraced CCC675, the painful Way of the Cross for the Vicar of Christ to embraced to lead Christ Flock to Conversion, Penance & Prayer.
    Other group like Foundation Payer for Priest is also doing a lot of penance & prayers.
    The Four Men Group also….
    The Catholic Church has a lot of small groups silently dedicating their life of prayer & penance for the Church.

    I think there a lot of small groups who are silently fighting for the Church, they are the model of SILENCE that Pope Francis
    is imploring for help. SILENCE means we take the weapon of prayer as we are not fighting flesh & blood here but as Pope Francis describes the church enemies as packed of wild dogs.

    We need to use our sword Ephesians6:17, the Word of God.
    But we are a Marian Warrior we use a “powerful spiritual sword” according to Fr.Donald Calloway the Rosary is our “spiritual sword” no less than Mama Mary forge that sword and gave it to us in all major battles, the Holy Rosary is our main weapon.

    But since, St.JP2 envision the coming Age of Darkness, He left us with a timely weapon a Luminous Mystery.
    And St. Padre Pio affirmed this by saying “The Rosary is the weapon in these end times”
    Also, Sis. Lucia said the rosary will have more power & efficacy in the end times..
    Akita prophecy said the only weapon that will be left to us is the rosary.

    The Luminous Mystery is our powerful “spiritual sword” to defeat the forces of darkness spreading DECEPTION thru
    fake news/truth mix with intentional lies to poison the mind and sow confusions & divisions.
    A lot of fake catholic channels spreading videos & articles are fake news.

    Pope Francis is showing us how to become the Weapon itself, Pope Francis is a “Luminous Pope” living a life of humility, simplicity and transparency.
    Pope Francis reminded the Bishops in his homily “Sanctity is stronger than scandal” .

    The LIGHT shines in darkness but darkness did not overcome it. (John1:5)

    I have no doubt Pope Francis will lead the Church to Victory, my only fear is Pope Francis said He is the ‘Bishop in White”
    his life will be a beautiful sacrifice to heal the Church of it’s wounds.

    Thank you Pope Francis and may Jesus, Mama Mary, and St.Joseph be with you and our loving prayers always.



  2. Maria Balbina says:

    I fully agree with dear Claire´opinions expressed in this present and spiritual article about “Letter of Pope Francis to the People of God: Only penance and prayers?”
    Penance and prayer of each human being should can impel personal conversion. This transformation has repercussion in the action and in the social change. Thank you Pope Francis for all, including for theses guidelines and recommendations.

    The Holy Pope John Paul II suggested at least three effects of prayer:
    1- it informs: “fills the mind with truth and gives hope to the heart.”;
    2- it reforms: “”turns our attention away from ourselves and directs it to thr Lord.” ;
    3- it transforms” deepens our moral life by taking it from the shallowness of the sensate, to an increasing experience of divine life. Through prayer our mind is renewed , our soul is purified, our heart is converted and we radiate the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity.” Then, the behaviours can be conformed to the image and likeness of God.

    God bless you, dear Claire Navarro for this beautiful and Christian article.

    • Claire Navarro says:

      Thank you very much for your most thoughtful and kind comments (especially our Holy Pope John Paul II’s suggestions that you mentioned),
      Mrs. Domingues. Much love and prayers from me to you 🙂

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