Saturday, March 23, 2013

Pray for Protection of the Pope

We must pray for the protection of Pope Francis.

It is clear already that the new Bishop of Rome will not docilely follow the practices and conventions of his immediate predecessors.

His decision not to wear the customary red papal cape before stepping out on the loggia of St. Peter's the night of his election was the first sign that, in the words of Italian journalist Massimo Franco, "the end of the Pope-King and of the Vatican Court is over."

Jorge Brigoglio's previous life-style (his simple accommodations, his riding the bus to work, his pastoral ministry even as cardinal) will obviously carry over into his lifestyle as pope.

It has been reported that when he walked into the papal apartment his initial reaction was, "There's room for 300 people here --I don't need all this space."

The new bishop of Rome sounds more like Jesus of Nazareth and Francis of Assisi ("Go sell all that you have and give to the poor...Take nothing with you on the road...Deny yourself").

Pope Francis explained his choice of the name. He said that a cardinal from Brazil urged him not to forget the poor. That encouragement led him to reflect on Francis of Assisi and three aspects of the saint's life: self-imposed poverty, love of peace, and concern for the environment.

We must pray for the protection of Pope Francis.

As beloved as he already is, Papa Francesco will inevitably face rejection, ridicule, and even persecution for being different. Bullying simple souls is no more a stranger on the world stage or in Church circles than it is on a school bus or playground.

Some well-meaning souls will reject his way of doing things on the grounds that he undermines the dignity of his office and the authority of the Church.

Some will ridicule him for "catering to the poor," for reflecting the pastoral more than the dogmatic, for threatening the mindset of the more "conservative" members of the Church.

Some will persecute him for his perceived involvement or lack-of-involvement  in response to Argentine politics, for whatever he decides to do about the scandals in the Curia, for his response to pedophilia and its cover-up.

I fear for his life. We must pray for the protection of Pope Francis.

It is common knowledge that anyone who dares raise his head above the crowd has placed himself in danger.

"They" killed Archbishop Oscar Romero, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Sister Dorothy Stang, lay-missionary Jean Donovan, even Jesus of Nazareth.

Pope Francis' walking among the people, shaking hands, kissing babies, and simply being accessible put him in danger.

We do not pray that he change his modus operandi. May it continue. May his pastoral sensitivity pervade the Church. May his intention to pass on an optimism and hope to younger generations who are looking for spiritual guidance be realized. May his papacy bring about that new Pentecost so intently hoped for at Vatican II.

We must, however, pray for his protection.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Francis the Fourth

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio surprised us all when he took the name "Francis" as Bishop of Rome and pope of the Church.

Cardinal Albino Luciani broke with tradition in 1978 when he took a double name; he chose "John" to honor Pope John XXIII and "Paul" to honor his predecessor Pope Paul VI.

If our historical record is correct, Pope John II (533-535) was the first Bishop of Rome to change his name (unless you count Jesus' changing Simon's name to Peter); he had been Mercurius, and it must have seemed inappropriate for a pope to have the name of a pagan god.

In 938 the Bishop of Pavia in Italy, Peter Canepanova, was appointed pope by the emperor; out of deference to St. Peter, the new Bishop of Rome changed his name to John XIV. Sergius IV in 1009 also had "Peter" as his baptismal name and did not want to have the same official name as the Apostle.

Gregory V (996-999), the first German pope, changed his name from Bruno, and Pope Sylvester II (999-1003), the first French pope, changed his name from Gerbert. There has been the suspicion that both did so in order to sound more "Roman."

The last two popes to keep their baptismal names were Adrian VI (1522-23) and Marcellus II (1555).

Taking a new name upon becoming pope is a custom, not a rule. Cardinal Bergoglio could have become Pope Jorge I. Instead he chose Francis, the first Bishop of Rome to have that name.

Since he is a Jesuit, Cardinal Bergoglio might have been influenced by the example of  Francis Xavier, who died in 1552, one of the original group of seven Jesuits ordained in 1537. Francis Xavier has been called "one of the greatest missionaries in the history of the Church." He is invoked as patron of foreign missions.

Francis de Sales, who died in 1622, is a bishop and doctor of the Church, remembered for his encouraging lay spirituality and for writing his classic Introduction to the Devout Life. He is patron of writers.

And, of course, there is St. Francis of Assisi, who died in 1226, the founder of  the Franciscans. This Francis is known for his simplicity, asceticism, humility, mystical experiences.

I like to think that all three in this triumvirate could be his inspiration.

Francis Xavier lived as a poor man in order to serve the poor. It is said that he slept on the ground and chose a diet of rice and water. He died at age 46.

Francis de Sales, known as a wise, learned, and gentle teacher, explained the teachings of the Church and Bible, urging the faithful to develop their spiritual lives.

Francis of Assisi, according to one story, heard God say to him, "Repair my church," and in his own unique way Francis did just that, calling attention to the church's failings and encouraging its reform.

If the qualities of each Francis surface in the pontificate of Pope Francis I, then the Church of the twenty-first century will have experienced another humble, wise, and reforming leader --just what we need in a church with "a disfigured face."

Perhaps Pope Francis will be added to the triumvirate, and become thereby Francis the Fourth. We must pray for him.

(Father Richard McBrien's Lives of the Saints and his Lives of the Popes are two excellent, easy-to-read sources for learning more about the leaders and inspirers of the Church.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

If I Were Pope...

As the cardinals prepared for the conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, they met to assess the state of the Church and offer suggestions for the kind of leader needed to deal with the crises which the "disfigured face" of the Church is currently showing to the world.

Laity, religious and clergy around the world have likewise expressed their hopes and expectations for the new papacy.

Most of the priests I know have verbalized their wishes and prayers that the new Bishop of Rome will bring energy and credibility to the Church and its mission.

Among the wishful thinking were recommendations (in no specific order) which I have classified under the heading "If I were pope, I would..." some Vatican art treasures and give the receipts to help the poor (cf. Mk 10:21)

...ban the cappa magna (the long red cape or train some hierarchs wear) and simplify clerical and liturgical dress (cf. Mt 23:5)

...urge Catholics to focus on their relationship with God and their love for neighbor rather than their religious practices (cf. Mk 7:5-13)

...develop the responsibility and authority of bishops' conferences (cf. Lumen Gentium, 22-23)

...appoint a board of bishops (on a rotating basis) to oversee the work of the Curia (cf. an idea which surfaced during the Second Vatican Council)

...replace the current English translation of the Roman Missal with a translation developed and approved by the English-speaking bishops (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22.2)

...reaffirm the expectation that the faithful be actively engaged in the liturgy, fully aware of what they are doing (cf. Sacosanctum Concilium, 11)

...ordain women as deacons (cf. ancient Church practice)

...restate every human being's "right to freedom in searching for the truth and in expressing and communicating his opinions and in pursuit of art, within the limits laid down by the moral order and the common good" (cf. Pope John XXIII's Pacem In Terris, 12)

...reform the way the papal primacy is exercised without renouncing what is essential to its mission (Pope John Paul II's Ut Unum Sint, 95).

...respond to the victims of the abuse scandal, "do everything that we can to help, support, and heal them; secondly, that such acts be prevented by the proper selection of candidates for the priesthood, as much as possible; and thirdly that perpetrators be punished and be bared from any opportunity to repeat such acts" (cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Light of the World - A Conversation With Peter Seewald p. 28).

...revisit the requirement that limits Catholic theologians to explaining (but never exploring or questioning) the magisterium  (cf. the cooperation between bishops and theologians at Vatican II)

...declare a Year of  the Consecrated Woman, celebrating the vocation, ministry and heritage of religious sisters and nuns (cf. common sense).

The worldwide list of proposals and policies for the new Bishop of Rome would fill volumes. The expression of such hopes and dreams, however, seems to me a healthy sign --that laity, religious and clergy take the mission and ministry of the Church seriously and want very much to be involved in building the Kingdom of God on earth.  For that, "Amen, Alleluia!"

Friday, March 1, 2013

What Kind Of Pope?

I have heard the question asked dozens of times over the past several days: "What kind of pope do you want?"

Variations on that theme include: "What do you want the new Guy to do?" and "If you could choose the new pope, who would it be?"

The responses have been diverse:

"I hope the new pope can clean up the mess in the Vatican. He'll need to insist on transparency and honesty."

"The new pope will have to reform the curia if he hopes to have a successful papacy."

"We need a guy with some charisma --someone who'll restore confidence."

"We need a pope who will get us back on track --stop all this modernizing and get us back to the way the Church used to be."

"He should be a man of prayer, with a deep spiritual life, guided by the Gospel more than the human traditions of a stuffy old bureaucracy."

"I hope the new pope respects and promotes the direction set by Vatican II."

"The new pope is going to have to bring some new, younger people into the Church's leadership, like Cardinal Martini suggested."

"I don't have much hope for change. All the cardinals were appointed by either John Paul or Benedict.--it would take a miracle for us to get somebody who will really read the signs of the times and respond accordingly."

"I pray the Holy Spirit will choose someone who'll clean house."

"The new pope's got to ordain women as deacons, stop using the episcopacy as a reward or  some kind of  honor for officials in church bureaucracy, and finally respect bishops' conferences and collegiality."

"I really don't care who's chosen. He won't affect me. I go to church, say my prayers and try to live a good life. Popes don't do much for the average Catholic."

"Do you think it's too much to ask for another John XXIII?"

The National Catholic Reporter (March 1-14, 2013) published a list of cardinals the NCR considers "Top Ten Contenders." They are scarcely known to most Catholics, but with all the jokes accompanying his name, it is amusing that at the top of their list is Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Archbishop of Milan. (The amusement is in saying, "We now have  Pope Scola in the Vatican!")

Unlike the last consistory, this time there is no likely candidate. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was practically a shoo-in eight years ago. If the word "likely" were applied to the upcoming election, it would probably modify the noun "Italian."

In the meantime we wait and pray.