One month ago, I had the privilege of celebrating Mass on the altar above the tomb of St. John Paul II. Our small pilgrimage group had requested a Mass at one of the altars, either in the crypt or in St. Peter’s Basilica itself. We never expected that we would be given this particular altar, and all in the group were rather excited. One of my friends, who is an American serving on the general council of his religious community, asked me how we had arranged it. He had been trying for months through various contacts in the Vatican. I told him how we asked simply for a Mass in the basilica. Of course, he was very surprised that no special arrangements had been made. I was simply thankful to the Holy Spirit for arranging it and giving both the pilgrims and me such an important spiritual opportunity. As we made our way to the altar of St. John Paul, we went by the tomb of St. John XXIII. I hope someday to celebrate a Mass on the altar above his tomb as well. Both are personal heroes of mine because of their efforts to expand the role of all in the Church, especially the laity, which was so central to the charism of the founder of my religious community, St. Vincent Pallotti. In his homily for their canonizations, Pope Francis spoke about the efforts of these two popes in this regard:
John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries.
The renewal and updating of the Church called for by the Second Vatican Council, initiated by St. John XXIII, is central to the work of the New Evangelization as articulated by St. John Paul II. This work continued through the efforts of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, especially in the Synod on the New Evangelization, and is finding even greater momentum through the witness of Pope Francis. All of them, along with Blessed Paul VI, the teaching of the Council, and Church leadership in general, have called all of the baptized to engage in greater co-responsibility for the life of the Church and for the work of evangelization.
When Pope Francis canonized St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II together, various pundits, both in Church and secular media, were quick to give their sometimes very simplistic analysis of the message that he was trying to convey. If there was any “message”, I believe that it is a continued or re-commitment to the on-going renewal of the Church in trustful cooperation with the Holy Spirit and in prayerful communion with the saints.
St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II were both visionary leaders who put forward programmatic plans for not simply renewal of the Church as an institution, but renewal of all the baptized in faith and holiness who are called to go forth into the world and renew it as well. In 1959, St. John XXIII said, “Profession of the Christian faith is not intelligible without strong, lively apostolic fervor” (Princeps Pastorum, 32). The Second Vatican Council confirmed this understanding in Lumen Gentium through its teachings about the Universal Call to Holiness and the role of all the baptized in the mission of Christ. St. John Paul II was one of the drafters of the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem) along with the then Rector General of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate, Fr. Wilhelm Möhler, S.A.C. St. John Paul taught in his apostolic exhortationChristifideles Laici, which followed the Synod on the Laity in 1987, that
The Second Vatican Council has reminded us of the mystery of this power and of the fact that the mission of Christ – Priest, Prophet-Teacher, King – continues in the Church. Everyone, the whole People of God, shares in this threefold mission’” (14).
Sharing in the mission of Christ is not simply staying within the confines of the church building. Instead, especially in this time of the New Evangelization, all of the baptized are called to recognize that they are followers of the Christ who are sent on mission by him. In fact, Pope Francis even calls the baptized, in Evangelii Gaudium, “missionary disciples” (120).
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center and teaches for Saint Joseph’s College Online.
This blog post was first published on February 4th on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online
"John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries." - Pope Francis
This past Sunday was a unique and amazing day of four popes, the two pope saints, John XXIII and John Paul II and the two living popes, Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict! The renewal and updating of the Church called for by the Second Vatican Council, initiated by St. John XXIII, and central to the work of the New Evangelization as articulated by St. John Paul II continued through the efforts of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, especially the Synod on the New Evangelization and finding even greater momentum through the witness of Pope Francis. Among them all, along with Paul VI, the Council, and Church leadership in general has called all of the baptized to engage in greater co-responsibility for the life of the Church and for the work of evangelization.
Various pundits, both in Church and secular media, are quick to give their sometimes very simplistic analysis of why the two popes were canonized together and the message that Pope Francis is trying to convey. If there is any "message", I believe that it is a continued or re-commitment to the on-going renewal of the Church in trustful cooperation with the Holy Spirit and in prayerful communion with the saints.
St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II were both visionary leaders who put forward programmatic plans for not simply renew of the Church as an institution, but renewal of all the baptized in faith and holiness who are called to go forth to the world and renew it as well. In 1959, St. John XXIII said, "Profession of the Christian faith is not intelligible without strong, lively apostolic fervor" (Princeps Pastorum, 32). The Second Vatican Council confirmed this understanding in Lumen Gentium through its teachings about the Universal Call to Holiness and the role of all the baptized in the mission of Christ. St. John Paul II was one of the drafters of the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem) along with the then Rector General of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate, Fr. Wilhelm Möhler. St. John Paul taught in his apostolic exhortation Christifedles Laici, which followed the Synod on the Laity in 1987, that
The Second Vatican Council has reminded us of the mystery of this power and of the fact that the mission of Christ - Priest, Prophet-Teacher, King - continues in the Church. Everyone, the whole People of God, shares in this threefold mission (14).
Just after the close of the first session of the Council, St. John XXIII canonized the Patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center, St. Vincent Pallotti, calling him "an innovator of new ways whereby people could come to know the love of God" (Cf. L'Osservatore Romano, January 23, 2013). Pallotti understood well the call of all to be apostles or what Pope Francis calls in Evangelii Gaudium, "missionary disciples" (120). The Center continues Pallotti's mission in the way that St. John Paul II described it to members of the Union of Catholic Apostolate when he said:
Continue to multiply your efforts so that what Vincent Pallotti prophetically announced, and the Second Vatican Council authoritatively confirmed, may become a happy reality, and all Christians become authentic apostles of Christ in the Church and in the world!
(Homily at San Salvatore in Onda, June 22, 1986).
Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us!
St. Vincent Pallotti, pray for us!
St. John XXIII, pray for us!
St. John Paul II, pray for us!
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center
"Commitment to ecumenism responds to the prayer of the Lord Jesus that 'they may all be one' (Jn 17:21). The credibility of the Christian message would be much greater if Christians could overcome their divisions and the Church could realize 'the fullness of catholicity proper to her in those of her children who, though joined to her by baptism, are yet separated from full communion with her' We must never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another. This means that we must have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicion or mistrust, and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God’s face” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 244).
Over the nine years that I was at St. Jude Shrine in Baltimore, Maryland, I had the opportunity to participate in and then to host an annual prayer service for Christian Unity. It became a very popular celebration and leaders from various Christian communities participated, including the Archbishop of Baltimore. To me, though, the most important people who participated were the people who went week to week to their faith communities in various parts of Baltimore, but never had the opportunity to pray together with Christians from other communities. Prayer is powerful and to underestimate its power to unite us leaves us lacking in the virtue of hope. Such hope is not naïve, but is based on firm trust in the work of the Holy Spirit.
The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will begin on Saturday, January 18th and conclude on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on January 25th. Year after year, Christians are invited to pray that “they may be one.” St. Vincent Pallotti, patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center and founder of the Union of Catholic Apostolate, worked diligently for unity in the Church, using the liturgical Octave of the Epiphany in Rome as a means to unite in prayer members of the Eastern and Western traditions of the Catholic community who were rather disconnected from one another. This celebration was held in the city of Rome from 1836 until 1968. His feast day, on January 22nd, is in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Collaboration of all Christians can lead us toward Pallotti’s vision, hope, and prayer that one day we may be “one fold, under one Shepherd, Jesus Christ” (Cf., Jn 10:16)
Since our mission as the Catholic Apostolate Center is derived from the charism of St. Vincent Pallotti, who fervently prayed for such a day, we invite you to pray not only individually, but draw other Christians together in prayer. Prayer, though, is not the only thing that we can do. We can learn more about what the Roman Catholic Church teaches about the needed work for building unity among Christians. We invite you to explore the many resources that we have on our new Christian Unity page. May we also take up the call of the Catholic Church spanning from the time of the Second Vatican Council to the appeal of Pope Francis today:
"The search for unity among Christians is an urgent task... We are well aware that unity is primarily a gift from God for which we must pray without ceasing, but we all have the task of preparing the conditions, cultivating the ground of our hearts, so that this great grace may be received" (Address to the Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, June 28, 2013).
Our new Christian Unity resources can be found here.
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center
Ever consider yourself an apostle? Last year, the 42 year-old Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, returned to Broadway for another run. The Apostles reflectively sing during the Last Supper, “Always hoped that I'd be an apostle, knew that I would make it if I tried,” as if they really knew what they were getting into when they agreed to Jesus saying “Follow me!” Of course, they didn’t. It would be like you saying, “Always hoped I’d be a volunteer, knew that I would make it if I tried.”
At some point someone, even if that Someone was speaking within, invited you to consider doing volunteer service and now you are doing it. Did you know exactly what you were getting into when you applied? Like the Apostles, probably not. You hoped to serve and give of yourself. Now after some time of service, you have much more of an idea of what you are doing and what it means to give of yourself in service. Even if your time of service is not coming to an end right now, you might be asking a couple of questions:
“What am I going to do next?”
“What am I going to do with my life?”
No need to panic over them. Spending time reflecting on these questions is important, but sometimes that reflection can move in the direction of narcissism.Obviously, service is focused on others rather than ourselves. An outward-focus, while inwardly deciding, can offer a possible way forward. A bit of wisdom from Pope Francis from this past Easter Sunday speaks to this needed balance:
“Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.”
Notice that we are in the middle, not as passive participants, but actively living the mercy and love of Jesus Christ toward a world in need of care, to people in need of service. We are sent by him. We are apostles.
Ever think of yourself as an apostle? We are. Each one of the baptized is an apostle of faith and charity to a world in need of the mercy and love of Jesus Christ. We share in his mission. This is our primary vocation (from Latin vocare – “to call”) in life. We have a vocation to be an apostle. Don’t believe me? I’m not the one who said it, Blessed John Paul II did. He was talking to my religious family, the Union of Catholic Apostolate, but his point was meant for all:
“Continue to multiply your efforts so that what was prophetically announced by Vincent Pallotti, and the Second Vatican Council authoritatively confirmed, may become a happy reality, that all Christians are authentic apostles of Christ in the Church and in the world” (Homily of June 22, 1986).
Blessed John Paul II was simply expanding on what was said during the Second Vatican Council in a document that he helped to write, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity. But, what does it mean to be an “authentic apostle of Christ in the Church and in the world?” It means living as one who is sent, and not simply living for ourselves or being only a follower. We are sharers in the mission of Christ in his priestly, prophetic, and royal offices (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 783-786). We are “consecrated” through baptism (priestly) to “witness in the midst of the world” (prophetic), in service, especially to “the poor and the suffering” (royal). Nothing passive here! Our vocation as apostles of Jesus Christ is an active one that moves us outward beyond ourselves to a world in need of his presence through us.
Our vocation as baptized is our primary vocation. All of the other vocations as married, single, consecrated, or priest are all secondary to this primary vocation as follower of (disciple) and sent by (apostle) Jesus Christ. Each is a way one can live out the primary vocation. How does one decide? Through a process of discernment, one is called to be informed, pray, make a choice, and take action. I make it seem easy. The process is not an easy one, but necessary in order to make a truly informed choice about how to live our vocation as an apostle. You might not be ready to make a choice about what way to live this vocation for life, but living it out as an apostle is what you are already doing in your volunteer service and probably did long before now.
Maybe the Apostles in Jesus Christ Superstar were not so far off then, we do want to be apostles; we only need to try.
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center. This piece was written for the Catholic Apostolate Center partner Catholic Volunteer Network, "Shared Visions" Newsletter.
"The apostolate of the laity derives from their Christian vocation and the Church can never be without it."
These words come from the opening lines of the “Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity” (Apostolicam Actuositatem), one of the nine decrees that come out of the Second Vatican Council. They are quite moving and powerful documents that were handed down to us by the council fathers. This particular document on the laity shows that the Church is dependent on the apostolate of all people. But the term “apostolate” seems so daunting; clearly the word is rooted in the idea of being an apostle. I tend to think back to the Twelve Apostles, which creates a certain amount of anxiety. How can I even think about living up to the great examples of these twelve? Yet they are our example, and our apostleship is essential to the life of the Church.
In the Church we tend to use the word apostle quite a bit and in many different ways. It appears in terms such as: apostolic, apostolate, and apostleship. To find a secular answer, I looked up the word “apostle” in a Merriam-Webster dictionary. In using a dictionary, my hope was that I might come to a better understanding of what it means to be an apostle. The first definition that I came across for apostle was "one sent on a mission." This first meaning really helps expand the idea of the New Evangelization in simple terms. The discovery of this definition led me to formulate the following question: "What is our mission as baptized Catholics?" This is a very important question that has been the subject of major debate. A simple answer is that we are called to go out into the world around us and proclaim the Good News of our Lord, Jesus Christ. How this is accomplished is a decision that must be made by each one of us. We must find our own niche in the greater mission of Christ. We have been given a divine mission that we must go out and complete.
An interesting dilemma of this universal apostolic call is that for some reason people tend to shy away from it. I think that people tend to think that they are not worthy of such a calling or that they are not holy enough. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have all been given the necessary gifts from God to be able to be an apostle. These gifts are not always automatically known to us. Because of this, it is essential that we go out into the world and discover what our God-given talents are. Once we have become aware of our gifts, the task at hand becomes more manageable and attainable.
Personally, I have found that being an apostle in the world today can be quite difficult. Through my active search and prayer to recognize the gifts and talents God has given me, I have discovered that I am someone who is easy to talk to. In response to this realization, I make myself available for people, especially my close friends, and I make sure that I both listen and give general advice when necessary. Doing this, however, can be difficult because there are many instances when time is limited, and I need to make a decision about what to put on hold. This can be difficult, so I stop to think about the things on my agenda versus the needs of the person seeking my counsel. Taking this time to reflect makes the decision quite clear.
I developed a series of questions that has helped me in this process. I’ve found it very beneficial to go over them every now and again, particularly during the Lenten season. The questions are: Do I understand what it means to be a true apostle of Christ? Do I have an understanding of my mission at this current time in my life? Am I making decisions that help in my mission? Do I understand the gifts that God has given me to fulfill my mission? Do I thank God for these gifts and abilities?
My hope is that you find these questions as helpful as I have. Mary, Queen of the Apostles, pray for us!
Pat Fricchione is the Research & Production Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center.