Thursday, 28 March 2013

Pope Francis' Call to Go Out!

Holy Thursday: Pope Francis kisses feet of youth in detention centre
Pope Francis means business. He is quickly giving a clear and definite direction to the Church.

The Church exists for mission and needs to get out into the world, to be with people as bearers of Christ’s presence and love in the reality of their lives.

Speaking to priests at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday he said:

“We need to'go out', then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the 'outskirts' where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live by going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.”

And what he emphasised in that homily he enacted later on Holy Thursday, when he celebrated the Mass of the Lord Supper, not in the splendour of St Peter’s Basilica, but in a Roman Detention Centre for youth where he washed and kissed the feet of 12 young people, including two girls.

This "going out" to where Christ’s light and grace are most needed is how he has lived his vocation and priestly ministry for many years.

Before the conclave began he spoke to the cardinals about the dangers of narcissism, of a Church caught up in herself. Here is a passage from that short speech, just now made public.

“Evangelizing pre-supposes a desire in the Church to come out of herself. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.

When the Church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referential and then gets sick. (cf. The deformed woman of the Gospel). The evils that, over time, happen in ecclesial institutions have their root in self-referentiality and a kind of theological narcissism.

In Revelation, Jesus says that he is at the door and knocks. Obviously, the text refers to his knocking from the outside in order to enter in. But I think about the times in which Jesus knocks from within so that we will let him come out. The self-referential Church keeps Jesus Christ within herself and does not let him out.

Put simply, there are two images of the Church: the Church which evangelizes and comes out of herself, and the worldly Church, living within herself, of herself, for herself.”
The Lord has given us a pastor "after his own heart", a shepherd's heart.
This Pope is seeking, in the grace of the Spirit, to model for the Church the core of the Gospel of God's redeeming grace.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Pope's Challenge to Franciscans!

At different times Pope Francis has spoken of why he chose the name Francis. His words and lifestyle options are a challenge to the whole Church. In particular, Franciscans experience themselves challenged to live more generously the charism they profess!

The Jesuit Pope with the Franciscan heart is calling us to to fidelity to our vocation.

Speaking to the world media two days after his election Pope Francis said:

"Francis of Assisi: For me he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who love and safeguards Creation. In this moment when our relationship with Creation is not so good—right?—He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … Oh, how I wish for a Church that is poor and for the poor!”

A week later, in his talk to the Diplomatic Corps, Pope Francis further elaborated on his choice of the name.

"As you know, there are various reasons why I chose the name of Francis of Assisi, a familiar figure far beyond the borders of Italy and Europe, even among those who do not profess the Catholic faith.

One of the first reasons was Francis’ love for the poor. How many poor people there still are in the world! And what great suffering they have to endure!

After the example of Francis of Assisi, the Church in every corner of the globe has always tried to care for and look after those who suffer from want, and I think that in many of your countries you can attest to the generous activity of Christians who dedicate themselves to helping the sick, orphans, the homeless and all the marginalised, thus striving to make society more humane and more just.

But there is another form of poverty!

It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the “tyranny of relativism”, which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples.

And that brings me to a second reason for my name. Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace.

But there is no true peace without truth!

There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth."

Hearing the Pope speak of the beauty and importance of Francis' Gospel vision, Franciscans throughout the world repeat the words of our blessed Founder: "Let us begin again, for up to now we have done little or nothing!"

Friday, 22 March 2013

Gestures that Speak...

Back Seat: Pope Francis with Argentinians in the chapel of Casa Santa Marta
The Italian media are speaking of “a revolution of small gestures,” of the "Bergoglio-style" that is refreshing the Church. Reported anecdotes abound of Francis' symbolic first actions.

Instead of adorning himself with an ornate gold cross as Popes traditionally do, he wears a simple cross around his neck. He pointedly refuses to sit on a throne after his election and met his fellow cardinals standing, on equal footing. Since then he has also refused a "throne" - meeting with other religious leaders he sat on a chair similar to theirs, and one not placed on a raised dais.

The night he was elected, according to New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Vatican officials and staffers came forward to meet the new Pope. He politely put them off: “Not now, the people are waiting.” Then he went to the balcony. When he appeared before the world, he was plainly dressed, a simple white cassock, no regalia, no finery. He began with the simple “bona sera” and ended by wishing us all a “good night, have a good rest”, as if talking to family members.

Looking at his non-verbals, which experts believe are much more truthful than language, he comes across as someone with simplicity, a prayerful man of faith and warmth, like one who comes “to serve and not to be served." This has since been confirmed by his subsequent meetings with different groups and his heart-felt, often unscripted, talks and homilies that reveal a deeply pastoral heart. It has also been confirmed by what we have learned about his choices and lifestyle as Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires. All this conveys a person of substance and yet one with a light touch.

The fact that almost every account of him uses the word "humility" or "humble" to describe him, is indicative of how we pick up people's actual “energy” much more than their words or actions. People are drawn to accessibility, to loving presence. A priest say: “I would go to him for confession!”

There is no doubt the Benedict, Pope Emeritus, is a man of great holiness and humility. However gestures can carry great power. And the right gestures can be bearers of transforming grace.

So Pope Francis, with the simplicity and wisdom worthy of his namesake, is letting his gestures speak a "word" that is capturing the attention of Church and world.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

A Call to Tenderness

Pope Francis kisses man with severe disabilities.
Before the Mass in St Peter's Square at which he formally inaugurated his Petrine ministry, Pope Francis greeted the people in the square. At one point he asked for the Popemobile to stop. He had seen a disabled man being supported by his friends. The Pope got out of the vehicle, went over, kissed him gently and blessed him.

This simple, tender gesture was a lived parable of the words he was to address to the Church and the world a short time later.

In a homily fragrant with the Franciscan spirit, Francis called us to be protectors of creation, of each other, and especially of the weak and poor.

"It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us... It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents."

"In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!"

But this must be done in love - "Only those who serve with love are able to protect!"

Indeed, not only with love, but tenderness. “Caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness.We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness.”

Pope Francis sees himself called to model this Christ-like tenderness before the world. “He [the Pope] must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important.”

May the Lord be blessed for Pope Francis, this humble servant who invites us to live the Gospel in loving tenderness.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Position Vacant: Awaiting the Conclave

Ronald Knox mused: “Perhaps it would be a good thing if every Christian, certainly if every priest,could dream once in his life that he were Pope, and wake from that nightmare in a sweat of agony.” As I write the Church and indeed a fascinated if puzzled world await the conclave and the election of the man who, as next Bishop of Rome, will carry an onerous burden of expectations and problems.

The Petrine ministry holds a unique place in Catholic theology and imagination. Indeed our Order has from the beginning emphasised our link with the “Roman Church” and the Successor of Peter. In the very first lines of our Rule Francis, on our behalf, promises obedience to the Pope.

However the Pope is not the Church nor is he above the Church – even if one might get that impression from some of the recent media comment. He exercises his ministry as a member of God’s people, among God’s people and for the sake of God’s people.

It is very interesting to notice that in Francis’ writings different visions of Church are present. When speaking of the friars relations with the hierarchy Francis uses the accepted language. So we hear of the “Lord Pope,” the cardinal who is to be “governor, protector, and corrector,” of the Order and that the friars are to be “always submissive and prostrate at the feet” of the Church. But in their relations within the fraternity and with the people the friars are to model a different type of Christian community. In this context definite Gospel terms and images are used: brothers, minores, ministers and servants, a mutual love greater than that of a mother, the washing of feet.

We frequently experience tension as we try to hold in balance these different realities of Church. The late Franciscan Cardinal Lorscheiter of Brazil said religious, and friars in particular, should expect this tension and consider it healthy. “The charism of religious is to be agents of renewal and creativity, the pioneers in discovering the pastoral and missionary needs of the Church. This is your gift, and you must not wait for the hierarchy to call you. The hierarchy has its own charism of coordination. Because of your charism will often be uncomfortable. However the Church will get alone well in the measure that you live this missionary charism.”  

In his moving final audience Pope Benedict stressed “the Church is not mine, not ours, but His” and “the Gospel’s word of truth is the strength and life of the Church.” Here he echoes the dying Francis who told us: “The Gospel must come before every other rule or precept.”

Whoever the new Pope will be (God bless him!) the friars will still need to hold in harmony two key elements of our Franciscan vocation: “obedience and reverence” for the Pope and the courageous living of our Gospel calling.