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elizabeth prout

Cause for Elizabeth Prout Moves Forward

Elizabeth Prout, also known as Mother Mary Joseph, was the founder of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion. They own and operate Our Lady of Calvary Retreat Center. Elizabeth was born on September 2, 1820, in England. She died on January 11, 1864. At the time of her death, the religious community she founded was small and poor.

Read more about Elizabeth Prout: “A Victorian Mother Teresa”: Servant of God Elizabeth Prout (1820-1864)

At the end of the 20th century, a renewed interest in the life and work of Mother Mary Joseph provided the impetus for the cause for her canonization to be opened. Her body was exhumed on June 20, 1973, and on July 30 reburied beside Passionists Father Ignatius and Blessed Dominic in a new shrine at Sutton, England.

Now, the cause for the canonization of Elizabeth Prout has reached another milestone. Early in January the Positio, which is all the documentation concerning her life and acts of heroic virtue, was reviewed by the theologians of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints at the Vatican and approved. Later this year the Positio will be reviewed by the Cardinals and bishops of the Congregation. If approved again,  the recommendation will be given to Pope Francis that Elizabeth Prout be declared “Venerable.” It is hoped that this level of the process will be completed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Elizabeth’s birth in 2020.


The Year of Mercy Continues

Amoris Laetitia, which is Pope Francis’ official response to the Synod discussions on marriage and family seeks to encourage everyone to be a sign of mercy.

On April 8, 2016, Pope Francis issued a new document, an apostolic exhortation, titled Amoris laetitia (The Joy of Love). The roots of this document go back to 2013, when a questionnaire dealing with issues of marriage and family life was sent from the Vatican to all dioceses of the world for response.

The responses to these questionnaires formed the basis for discussion of marriage and family in two Synods of Bishops, one in October 2014 and the second in October 2015. Both Synods received fairly significant media coverage when they were in session because the issues raised during the discussions were so difficult and so contemporary.

Following after these two Synods, Pope Francis proclaimed the Jubilee Year of Mercy which began in December 2015. In the document of proclamation, Pope Francis stated: “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.”

Then, in August 2015, Pope Francis announced some significant changes in the canon law regulating annulments. These changes went into effect in December 2015. In the document announcing these changes, Pope Francis again explained his motives: “Charity and mercy therefore require that the Church, as a mother, make herself closer to her children who consider themselves separated.”

Now, following in a direct path from these events, we have Amoris Laetitia, which is Pope Francis’ official response to the Synod discussions on marriage and family. Here again, the motive is clear: “[The exhortation] seeks to encourage everyone to be a sign of mercy and closeness wherever family life remains imperfect and lacks peace” (#5).

Pope Francis describes marriage as a gift to the Church and to society, and family as an “image of the Trinity, a communion of persons.” He expresses the hope that all who read the text of the document will “feel called to love and cherish family life.”

The text is lengthy, over 250 pages, but the introduction suggests a slow, almost meditative reading, even indicating which chapters would be more suited to married couples or those preparing for marriage, and which are more suited to priests or bishops in their pastoral ministry to married couples and families.

Chapter Four, entitled “Love in Marriage,” is a scriptural and theological study of the famous passage from 1Corinthians 13: 4-7 that begins “Love is patient, love is kind…” Each quality of love named in the passage is explained in a way that is both simple and profound, and is then applied to married life. Anyone, but especially married couples, will profit from a prayerful reading of the entire chapter.

Chapter Seven, directed to parents, discusses the education of children, in both morality with respect to the culture, and in the passing on of the faith. In the latter, Pope Francis states, example is much more effective than any words.

Chapter Eight, on “Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness” is directed more to bishops and pastors, but contains very important teaching for any reader. The heart of this chapter, as many theologians have pointed out, is that mercy is the hallmark of the Church’s ministry, and mercy must never be subordinated to law. “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed,” the exhortation states (#325), and consequently pastors must meet their people where they are, in the midst of whatever trials or irregularities exist in their lives. No one, Pope Francis says, is excluded from grace if their intentions are sincere. Therefore, no one is excluded from the ministry of pastors.

Writing specifically of those married outside the Church, Pope Francis teaches that every situation is different. Consequently, not everyone in an “irregular” marriage can be put into the same category. Rather, he says, every situation must be considered separately, since each situation has its own roots and causes. Also, in addressing each complex situation, Pope Francis gives renewed emphasis to the role of conscience and use of the “internal forum” as a means for an individual to acknowledge his or her own failings and assess suitable participation in the life of the Church community.

Pastors, we are told, are responsible not only for upholding the teachings of the Church on marriage but also for the “pastoral discernment of the situations of a great many who no longer live this reality” (#293). The way of the Church is not to condemn forever, but “to pour out the mercy of God on all who ask for it with a sincere heart” (#296).

This extraordinary document makes no changes in Church teaching. However, it challenges each member of the Church to place mercy above judgment. Pope Francis teaches eloquently of the presence of grace in the sincere heart, whatever might be the circumstances of the person’s life.

May each of us take this teaching to heart, not only for others but also for ourselves.

Sister Elissa Rinere, CP

Pope Francis

Four Americans Cited by Pope Francis

During his visit to the United States in September 2015, Pope Francis became the first pope ever to address the U.S. Congress. He spoke eloquently of the history of our country as a land of freedom and opportunity, and he articulated his hope that even in these turbulent times in the world, the United States would continue to represent these values to the world.

In the course of this address to Congress, Pope Francis named four Americans whom he set before us as models worthy of imitation. The four were Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. Each of the four was, in his or her own circumstances, a reconciler who sought to bring about peace where there was no peace.

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States, elected in November 1860, and re-elected in November 1864.  His presidency coincided with the Civil War, which began with the battle of Fort Sumter in April 1861, and ended on April 9, 1865 following the Battle of Appomattox. Lincoln was assassinated just five days later, on April 14, 1865.

Pope Francis, citing Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, spoke of Lincoln as a guardian of liberty who labored tirelessly that “this nation under God might have a new birth of freedom.” Pope Francis went on the mention the value of dialogue over polarization, and the idea that building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and a spirit of cooperation.

The second American pointed out by Pope Francis was Martin Luther King, Jr. who led the non-violent movement for civil and political rights for African-Americans in the 1960’s. Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He was assassinated in Memphis, TN on April 4, 1968.

Pope Francis spoke of Dr. King’s dream of equality for all people as a dream that still inspires so many today. He said that this dream of equality awakens what is deep and true in the life of a nation. Pope Francis expressed happiness that America continues to be, for so many, a land of dreams that lead to action, participation and commitment.

The third American cited by Pope Francis was Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. She was born in New Yok City in 1897, and throughout her life worked tirelessly on behalf of the poor and oppressed. As Pope Francis said in his address the Congress, Dorothy Day’s passion for justice was inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.

What began for Dorothy Day as a newsletter, The Catholic Worker, became a nation-wide system of houses in which the poor and homeless were welcomed as “ambassadors of God.” Day was a pacifist, as was Martin Luther King, Jr. In the 1960’s the Catholic Worker supported the civil rights struggle, to the point of Catholic Worker houses in Georgia being violently attacked by the Ku Klux Klan.

By the time of her death in 1980, Dorothy Day was regarded by many as a saint. Her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, first published in 1952, is still in print. The cause for Dorothy Day’s canonization is now in process in Rome. She is quoted as saying “If I have achieved anything in my life, it is because I have not been embarrassed to talk about God.”

The fourth American mentioned by Pope Francis was Thomas Merton who, after a very turbulent childhood and youth, lived the last decades of his life as a Trappist monk. Pope Francis described Merton as a source of spiritual inspiration, a man of prayer and dialogue, and a promoter of peace.

As an author, Thomas Merton is remembered for his more than seventy books, many of them dealing with spirituality, social justice and pacifism. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, was first published in 1948, and remains widely read today. As a contemplative and a mystic, Merton is remembered for opening dialogues between Christianity and the great religions of the East, especially Zen Buddhism. Merton died in 1968, while in India participating in an inter-religious symposium. He is buried at the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemane, in Kentucky.

The visit of Pope Francis to the United States was certainly a well planned and well considered event. Consequently, placing these four Americans before the entire country as examples of virtue can be taken as a very deliberate move. What was the message Pope Francis wanted to give us, especially during this Year of Mercy?

Perhaps delving more into the life and work of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day or Thomas Merton will provide us with several different insights and responses. The qualities cited by Pope Francis included dialogue, tolerance, compassion, understanding, social justice, peacemaking. What qualities can you find in these four great Americans?

Sister Elissa Rinere, C.P.


Simplification of the Annulment Process

As was widely reported by so many news outlets recently, Pope Francis has revised some of the laws which govern the annulment process in the Catholic Church. The official document in which these changes are explained is an apostolic letter issued motu proprio; that is, by the pope’s proper authority.

Although there are many technical points to the changes made in canon law, the overall purpose of the changes is not technical, but extraordinarily pastoral. In the opening paragraphs of the official document, Pope Francis stated: “Charity and mercy therefore require that the Church, as a mother, make herself closer to her children who consider themselves separated.”

Pathways of reconciliation for the millions of Catholics separated from the Church through divorce and remarriage was a significant concern for the bishops who participated in the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family. A simplification of the nullity procedures was one of the pathways they recommended to Pope Francis, and clearly he has found the recommendation worthy of acceptance.

A committee of canonists and theologians worked on this plan for several months, and the outline of the simplified process was issued by Pope Francis on August 15, 2015. The implementation date for all dioceses of the Church is December 8, 2015. This new approach to the nullity process represents the most substantial changes made to this section of Church law since the 18th century.

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