It is October and the Holy Father invites us all to consider a fresh pair of intentions throughout the month. Like his predecessors did, Francis entrusts these intentions to the Apostleship of Prayer, his own worldwide prayer-network, for us to spread to the whole people of God.
This month, the first intention concerns an area we maybe don't pray about often - journalism, and journalists.
The month's missionary concern reminds us of World Mission Sunday and our missionary roles.
For some of us in Britain this month, we will gear up for the visit of the relics of St Claude La Colombière and St Margaret Mary, from Paray-le-Monial in France, reminding us of the fundamental role that devotion to Christ's heart has always played in the mission of the Apostleship of Prayer. It's a heart of mercy for the world, which is why we want to pray together with the Pope for these intentions.
Pope Francis invites us to pray this month "That journalists, in carrying out their work, may always be motivated by respect for truth and a strong sense of ethics". We would like to think that, like all professional people, there would be an ethical sense underpinning all their work because the journalist is, or should be, essentially a public servant with a role that is in the service of the human community. Journalism should be able to speak truth to power, fearlessly, not influenced by government, vested interests or other powerful forces.
Sometimes this will involve delving into and behind stories, discovering secrets and connections that some would prefer to remain hidden. Always, practitioners in a free press and media will recall that, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated that ""Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers". This human right is one way of recognising the dignity of the human person and how that contributes to the common good. We can expect journalists to respect that right and to call attention to instances where it is breached. Their credibility rests on their ethical responsibility and that makes theirs a demanding vocation. Yet Christ himself pointed out that the truth can set us free.
Governments may be said to have the right to reserve certain pieces of information for the common good. A good journalist will respect this and their ethical conduct will recognise this. But this right can all too easily be misused, for example to protect the privilege of those in power. The journalist can foreground such corruption but she or he must also act ethically, and never be motivated by person gain. At times, journalists have suffered persecution, injury and violent death for refusing to succumb to pressure.
So, part of our prayer and reflection this month could draw to mind the pressures that journalists often work under. It might even lead us to a greater appreciation of the sacrifices that they might be called on to make, when they choose to respect truth, to hold a strong ethical sense and to respect that fundamental human right to free information.
Our Missionary Intention this month draws our attention to World Mission Day (on October 16th): That World Mission Day may renew within all Christian communities the joy of the Gospel and the responsibility to announce it.
For us this comes in a year set aside as the Jubilee of Mercy. The Pope has already asked us all to think about our baptismal mission as a "as a great, immense work of mercy, both spiritual and material" (in his Message for World Mission Sunday, available online).
This Intention announces another: that "All peoples and cultures have the right to receive the message of salvation which is God's gift to every person". All people have a right to hear it; all then have the responsibility to proclaim it, all have the right to the deep joy it brings. It is a joy that comes directly from the wounded heart of the Saviour and which can, if we let it, reach directly into our own hearts.
This was something well known to St Margaret Mary and to her Jesuit spiritual director, St Claude La Colombière. When we in the London area welcome the relics of these two great saints, let us hope and pray that we too can welcome that deep joy and consolation. Then, as missionary disciples, confidently take it to all whom we meet.
Prayer moment: ask the Spirit of God to take us to an inner place of quiet and calm, and to help us let go of at least some of the distractions and noise of the day. Draw your attention to the fact that God is gazing on you now and allow God to look at you for a moment; you will come to see that God was looking at you in love before you turned to look at God! Ask that same Spirit to help you to ponder the place that respect for truth and ethical practice has in your daily life. One way could be to use, in the month of October, the prayer of daily reflection each evening, praying particularly about how you've acted truthfully and ethically in the day just ending.
Moment for reflection: Can I bring to mind, or ask God's Spirit to show to me, where in our shared life I have supported, or failed to challenge, journalists who have not respected the truth or shown a strong sense of ethics. Have I patronised media channels or publications that have done this? ways in my own living where I might have acted very ethically in reporting the facts, whether or not I am a journalist? Or, maybe, instances where I have done the opposite, misusing news or information that I have received? In my reflection, I can ponder whether I ought to make any resolutions to do a bit better.
Scriptural moment: Phil.4:8, where there is anything truthful and honourable, think about it; 1.Cor 6:12-13, that which is lawful is not necessarily helpful.
A Daily Offering Prayer (taken from the Living Prayer 2016 booklet of the Pope's Prayer Network, a few copies still available on request):
Father, we honour the heart of your Son, broken by human cruelty, yet the symbol of love's triumph, pledge of all that each person is called to be. Teach us today and every day to see Christ in the lives we touch, to offer him living worship by love-filled service to all our brothers and sisters. We ask this in the Heart of Christ - Amen.
See Pope Francis' video here: http://thepopevideo.org/en/video/journalists.html