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'What about you?': Pope Francis' Philadelphia homily calls on religious to inspire vocations

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Famous words from Leo XIII to St. Katherine Drexel spoken at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.

During Pope Francis' U.S. tour, he led mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. Though each U.S. mass the pontiff held was touching, it was this homily that stood out among the others with a focus on the words "What about you?"

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - On September 26, Pope Francis delivered Mass in the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, where he delivered a homily meant to inspire young people to "have the same high ideals, generosity of spirit, and love for Christ and the Church."

The Catholic World Report reminds that the Catholic legacy is evidenced by the numerous shrines and parishes throughout Philadelphia, each of which represent generations of continued ministry.

Pope Francis also commented on the buildings, saying they represented "a story about generation after generation of committed Catholics going out to the peripheries, and building communities of worship, education, charity and service to the larger society."

He continued, saying the religious schools "trained children to read and write, to love God and neighbor, and to contribute as good citizens to the life of American society. All of this is a great legacy which you have received, and which you have been called to enrich and pass on."

It was then the pontiff spoke of a meeting between Leo XIII and Philadelphia-native St. Katherine Drexel. When discussing the needs of the missions, then-pope Leo XIII asked Drexel, "What about you? What are you going to do?"

"Those words changed Katharine's life, because they reminded her that, in the end, every Christian man and woman, by virtue of baptism, has received a mission," Pope Francis said. "Each one of us has to respond, as best we can, to the Lord's call to build up his Body, the Church."

The pontiff spent the next several minutes talking about the weight of the words "What about you" as he continued his homily:

"'What about you?' I would like to dwell on two aspects of these words in the context of our particular mission to transmit the joy of the Gospel and to build up the Church, whether as priests, deacons, or members of institutes of consecrated life.

"First, those words, 'What about you?' were addressed to a young person, a young woman with high ideals, and they changed her life. They made her think of the immense work that had to be done, and to realize that she was being called to do her part. How many young people in our parishes and schools have the same high ideals, generosity of spirit, and love for Christ and the Church? Do we challenge them? Do we make space for them and help them to do their part? To find ways of sharing their enthusiasm and gifts with our communities, above all in works of mercy and concern for others? Do we share our own joy and enthusiasm in serving the Lord?

The pope's question could not have come at a better time. The Pew Research Center Religious Landscape Study released information showing the median age of Catholic adults in the United States is 49-years-old with only 17 percent under 30-years-old. Where are the Catholic youth?

"One of the great challenges facing the Church in this generation is to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the Church's mission, and to enable them to fulfill that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world," the pontiff said.

"This will require creativity in adapting to changed situations, carrying forward the legacy of the past not primarily by maintaining our structures and institutions, which have served us well, but above all by being open to the possibilities which the Spirit opens up to us and communicating the joy of the Gospel, daily and in every season of our life."

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in June showed that one in every 10 people claim they are "culturally Catholic," meaning they believe the Catholic church is part of their heritage but is not something they believe in.

Though Pope Francis' homily was aimed toward practicing Catholics, being aware of the statistics can spur a revolution, where spreading "the joy of the Gospel" really does become an action believers can practice "daily and in every season" of their lives. In the midst of making several good points, the pontiff refused to let the matter fall to the sidelines and continued, saying:

"'What about you?' It is significant that those words of the elderly Pope were also addressed to a lay woman. We know that the future of the Church in a rapidly changing society will call, and even now calls, for a much more active engagement on the part of the laity. The Church in the United States has always devoted immense effort to the work of catechists and education. 

The pontiff's words struck chords throughout the audience and those at home as well. With only four in 10 Catholics saying they attend Mass at least once a week -and 16 percent admitting they rarely or never attend- it is important for everyone to stand and do what God has called them to do.

"Our challenge today is to build on those solid foundations and to foster a sense of collaboration and shared responsibility in planning for the future of our parishes and institutions. This does not mean relinquishing the spiritual authority with which we have been entrusted; rather, it means discerning and employing wisely the manifold gifts which the Spirit pours out upon the Church. In a particular way, it means valuing the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make, to the life of our communities," the pontiff continued.

In closing, Pope Francis thanked practicing Catholics for answering the question "What about you?" He also thanked and greeted those who were able to join in the Spirit: 

"Dear brothers and sisters, I thank you for the way in which each of you has answered Jesus' question which inspired your own vocation: "What about you?" I encourage you to be renewed in the joy of that first encounter with Jesus and to draw from that joy renewed fidelity and strength. I look forward to being with you in these days and I ask you to bring my affectionate greetings to those who could not be with us, especially the many elderly priests and religious who join us in spirit. 

"During these days of the World Meeting of Families, I would ask you in a particular way to reflect on our ministry to families, to couples preparing for marriage, and to our young people. I know how much is being done in your local Churches to respond to the needs of families and to support them in their journey of faith. I ask you to pray fervently for them, and for the deliberations of the forthcoming Synod on the Family."

So whenever you find yourself slipping away from God and His Word, whenever you feel you are not doing enough, whenever you feel as if your contributions are not great enough, ask yourself, "What about me?" and remember what Pope Francis had to say about the least.


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