13 March 2013

HABEMUS PAPEM! Franciscum; We Have a Pope! Francis

As far as initial impressions go I am impressed with the language and manner of our new Pope. He calls himself the Bishop of Rome. He speaks of himself as one of a community of Brothers and Sisters. He does not speak of the Diocese of Rome, but the community of Rome and he jokes about his brother Cardinals going to the ends of the earth to find such a Bishop! Francis refers to Benedict as the Bishop Emeritus -- because he is speaking in Rome; but clearly he has a sense of local Churches and their dignity. He asks first for the prayers of all of those present before mediating God's blessing to them --- and bowed profoundly towards all of us in requesting that blessing. His pectoral cross is made of wood, not gold encrusted with jewels. He wore only a white simple cassock and used the stole only while acting to give the blessing --- not as though everything he is and does is done "in persona christi" (as priest) but rather that it is done in Christ as is so with the rest of the Baptized. The media writes that the new Pope:  [[is known to live simply—before calling Vatican City his home, he lived in an apartment in Buenos Aires instead of the archbishop’s palace. He cooked his own meals, and instead of taking a private car to work, he took the public bus.]] And, after his introduction from the loggia, he apparently took the shuttle with the rest of  his "brother Cardinals" back to the house where they had all been staying and dismissed the papal limousine --- consistent with his former habits and values!

We know that names are very important and the choice of Francis is no small matter. St Francis of Assisi was known as called by God to reform the Church; he was humble, a lover of Christ, a man who empowered others and collaborated with St Clare and her Sisters. He walked with the poor and marginalized, preached without license to do so, and was famous for saying we had to preach the Gospel and use words if necessary! Because the Cross of Christ was truly at the center of his life he was a man of incredible joy and one who today is beloved by all Christians --- indeed by all mankind. And our new Pope is Francis I!! There is no doubt that Pope Francis is signaling there is to be something new afoot in the Church, something specifically "Franciscan" for instance. I am personally reminded of John XXIII's comments at the beginning of the Vatican II Council that we are not to be prophets of doom but of openness to a new era. As he wrote:

 [[In the daily exercise of Our pastoral office, it sometimes happens that We hear certain opinions which disturb Us—opinions expressed by people who, though fired with a commendable zeal for religion, are lacking in sufficient prudence and judgment in their evaluation of events. They can see nothing but calamity and disaster in the present state of the world. They say over and over that this modern age of ours, in comparison with past ages, is definitely deteriorating. One would think from their attitude that history, that great teacher of life, had taught them nothing. They seem to imagine that in the days of the earlier councils everything was as it should be so far as doctrine and morality and the Church's rightful liberty were concerned.

 We feel that We must disagree with these prophets of doom, who are always forecasting worse disasters, as though the end of the world were at hand. Present indications are that the human family is on the threshold of a new era. We must recognize here the hand of God, who, as the years roll by, is ever directing men's efforts, whether they realize it or not, towards the fulfillment of the inscrutable designs of His providence, wisely arranging everything, even adverse human fortune, for the Church's good. ]]

St Francis of Assisi was a man who truly saw the hand of God in things and helped usher in a new era in Church history, in the history of religious life, and in a revival of the Gospel's own option for the poor and marginalized. Francis I is known for having said after Benedict's conclave that he would have, dreaded living among the Curia, the introverted bureaucracy that holds the core of the Catholic Church in its grip. [[In the Curia I would die,]] he said in 2005. [[My life is in Buenos Aires. Without the people of my diocese, without their problems, I feel something lacking every day.”]] JP II called for the reform of the papacy and curia. Vatican II before him desired it but Paul VI had it taken off the table for papal (and curial) attention specifically. No reform has ever come and the impression sometimes given is that the curia is controlled by prophets of doom who are inheritors of the approach John XXIII condemned.

Thus, Francis I is certainly in my prayers and so is the Church. I am feeling a cautious excitement I have not felt in a very long time. I think it is the flowering of hope --- hope that perhaps the Holy Spirit has done what I feared human projects, agendas and sinfulness had made impossible --- or at least only very remotely possible! If our new Pope can be and do even a fraction of what St Francis was and did (and what Christ's Church so desperately needs today), the Cardinals will have elected a prophet and true pastor who helps remake the Church and world in light of the Gospel of the Crucified Christ. All of the little signs are there, signs of a new Spring after the cold and deadness of an extended Winter. Benedict was not able to break the hold of this long winter. May the Lord bring these small signs to full flower in Francis' pontificate! Like so many of the stories in Scripture, and like a Lent which leads to a true Easter, we have waited for a very long time.

As many of us sang at our perpetual professions: [[Uphold [us] Lord, according to your promise and [we] shall live, and do not bring to nothing all [our] hope!]] (Ps 119:116)