Pope Francis - Worldwide Prayer Network

By Father David Stewart SJ

October’s Universal Intention of Pope Francis – Pray with the Pope for the Laity’s Mission in the Church 
The Prayer Intention for October, offered to the whole church by Pope Francis through his worldwide prayer network, concerns ‘The Laity’s Mission in the Church’. He invites us to pray with him that ‘by the virtue of baptism, the laity, especially women, may participate more in areas of responsibility in the Church’.
We know well that each of us, as a baptised person, is empowered for mission through the Sacraments of Initiation - Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. Our word ‘mission’ derives from a Latin word ‘mittere’ which means ‘to send’; therefore, part of our Christian initiation is to know ourselves as people who are sent. And each sacrament is, as Pope Francis has taught, a moment, an action that ‘extends throughout history the salvific and life-giving action of Christ’.
Maybe this month we could usefully spend a few moments reminding ourselves about what we believe about Baptism. A good place to start is the actual rite. We can remember that this is a sacrament; as we were taught when younger or as catechumens, an ‘outward sign of inward grace’. Therefore, it is far more, far deeper than a ‘naming ceremony’, or christening. Looking at the ceremony of baptism, we see how the parents and godparents make important, solemn commitments, in the hearing of everyone, to ‘keep alive the flame of faith’ in the newly baptised person. We symbolise that by lighting a baptismal candle from the Easter Candle and by the ritual clothing with the white baptismal garment. These good people renew the grace of their own baptisms by solemnly and freely renewing their baptismal promises. Then at the heart of the rite is the threefold baptism with the blessed water at the font; baptism in the name of the Blessed Trinity.
The baptised person, from this point onwards, now has a mission. This is God’s mission, given to them by means of the Rite of the Church, because the Church’s very nature is missionary; it is to continue the work of the risen Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis has suggested several times that we could recall the day and date of our own baptisms, the start of our mission. Many people celebrate their birthdays but probably fewer mark their anniversary of baptism.
In this month’s Intention, the Pope highlights how, for many of us, that baptismal mission should mean taking more responsibility in the Church. He reminds us that women particularly have more to offer – in areas of responsibility, in genuine leadership. The whole self-understanding of the Church, renewed so powerfully at the Second Vatican Council, is that it is the People of God – all of them, not just some of them. Are women even allowed to take on areas of responsibility in the Church? If not, why not? Is there a risk of letting women participate in minor, though important, roles while excluding half of the People of God from areas of major responsibility and leadership? The Intention this month invites us to urgent reflection on this.
Our Christian spirituality underlines and feeds our mission yet at the same time our mission shapes our spirituality, or ought to. At the world gathering of directors and coordinators of his personal Prayer Network, convened by Pope Francis in 2019 in Rome, he reminded us powerfully that ‘the heart of the Church’s mission is prayer’. Mission without prayer would not really be mission but activism; often a good and wholesome enterprise but not always sustained by the grace we need. Let’s pray with the Pope this month and continue to pray as we go about our mission, linking our Christian lives to the Heart of Christ, in the Church.
Three proposals for the month ahead
1: Baptism and the two other Sacraments of Initiation, Confirmation and Eucharist, empower each of us for mission. Resolve to take a few moments of quiet meditation this month to reflect on where you see people in your parish or worshipping community, particularly women, carrying out that mission. Might it surprise you to think of what they are doing as ‘mission’? Then reflect on what particular mission and area of responsibility God’s inviting you, now, to discern as a baptised member of the People of God.
2: Make a resolution to get to know those people who have recently been baptised in your parish, adults and children alike, and say a prayer for each of them, their parents, sponsors and godparents. Send a message, or write a card or letter, to one or more of them, promising your prayers and support as they take up their Christian mission.
3: Follow Pope Francis’s suggestion about marking your own baptismal anniversary, just as we would a birthday. In 2014, at a general audience, he suggested: ‘Today, at home, go look, ask about the date of your Baptism and that way you can bear in mind that most beautiful day. To know the date of our Baptism is to know a blessed day.’ Why? Because ‘we are called to live our Baptism every day, as the current reality of our lives.’