Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Pope's Call

With the "Launch Mass" now in the books, the papal transition has reached its close, and the various participants and spectators of these last weeks have already begun heading home.

Things will remain eventful, however... and as further evidence of how much Pope Francis is jamming into the shredder of Vatican protocol, the Catholic world might want to start getting used to a six-word phrase that's looking bound to stun many over the years to come – "The Pope is on the phone."

Es verdad – beyond reaching out in the flesh, Jorge Bergoglio has spent a good part of his first week in white quietly burning up the lines to places and people he can't immediately visit. 

A practice mostly eschewed by his recent predecessors, PopeCalls look set to become a key element of Francis' ability to keep personally close – and on the equally crucial governance side, duly appraised.

Even before his first appearance at the balcony, the new pontiff placed a call to his predecessor at Castel Gandolfo, then another one last night on B16's onomastico, St Joseph's Day. Among others who've already been rung up include the Nuncio to Argentina (to ask that no trips for the Inaugural be made) and the Father-General of the Jesuits, while yesterday morning's public watch party in Buenos Aires received a 3.30am call from Francis over the sound system before the Mass and last night, the Pope dialed the hometown newsstand where he'd buy his morning paper to thank the family who owns it for their daily time together over the years and ask for their prayers.

Still, even if Papa Bergoglio's reaching deep into his new world, its heavy reality would seem to be even an lonelier one for him than those who've come before. While most of the cardinals traveled to Rome for the Conclave with their priest-secretary or some other aide, the Argentinian came alone... and now that he won't be leaving, it doesn't seem that anyone's being flown over to join him – reports are that the Maltese Msgr Alfred Xuereb, previously Benedict's junior secretary since 2007, will be Francis' key aide in the Apartment.

More on that in due course. For now, as things begin to settle in after these momentous weeks – and for some of us, the clean-up begins – another call is worth revisiting: that is, to the journey of Lent, which begins its climax come the weekend with Palm Sunday.

While Francis' Holy Week messages begin with the Sunday homily, thanks to a Zenit translation, the following is an English rendering of the 2013 Lenten Message the new Pope issued as Cardinal Bergoglio this past Ash Wednesday in Buenos Aires. 

As the intense experience of these days winds down and with an eye to the one just ahead – may it give us all a little extra something as we prepare for these days to come.

*   *   * 
To the priests, the consecrated and the laity of the Archdiocese,

Rend your hearts, not your garments;
Return now to the Lord your God,
Because He is compassionate and merciful,
Slow to anger and rich in mercy …

Little by little we get used to hearing and seeing, through the media, the black chronicle of contemporary society, presented almost with perverse enjoyment and we also get used to touching it and hearing it around us and in our own flesh. The drama is in the street, in the neighborhood, in our home, and, why not, in our heart. The suffering of the innocent and peaceful never ceases to hit us; contempt for the rights of the most fragile persons and peoples are not that foreign to us; the dominance of money with its demonic effects such as drugs, corruption, the trafficking of persons, including children, together with material and moral misery are the common currency. The destruction of fitting work, the painful emigrations and the lack of a future are also added to this symphony. Our errors and sins as Church are also not absent from this great panorama. The most personal egoisms are justified, and not because of this are they lesser, the lack of ethical values in a society that metastasizes in families, in the coexistence of neighborhoods, villages and cities, speak to us of our limitation, of our weakness and of our inability to transform this innumerable list of destructive realities

The trap of impotence makes us think: Does it make sense to try to change this? Can we do anything in face of this situation? Is it worthwhile to try if the world continues its carnival dance disguising everything for a while? However, when the mask falls, the truth appears and, although for many it is anachronistic to say it, sin reappears, which wounds our flesh with all its destructive force, twisting the destinies of the world and of history.

Lent comes to us as a cry of truth and sure hope, which answers yes, that it is possible not to put on makeup and draw plastic smiles as if nothing is happening. Yes, it is possible that everything be made new and different because God continues to be “rich in kindness and mercy, always willing to forgive,” and He encourages us to begin again and again. Today we are again invited to undertake a paschal journey to Truth, a journey that includes the cross and renunciation, which will be uncomfortable but not sterile. We are invited to admit that something is not right in ourselves, in society and in the change, to turn around, to be converted.

Strong and challenging on this day are the words of the prophet Joel: Rend your hearts, not your garments: be converted to the Lord your God. It is an invitation to all peoples; no one is excluded.

Rend your hearts, not your garments, artificial penance without guarantees for the future.

Rend your hearts, not your garments, formal and fulfilled fast which continues to keep us satisfied.

Rend your hearts, not your garments, superficial and egoistic prayer which does not reach the depth of our life to allow it to be touched by God.

Rend your hearts to say with the Psalmist: “we have sinned.” “Sin is the wound of the soul: Oh poor wounded one, recognize your Physician! Show him the wounds of your guilt. And given that our secret thoughts are not hidden from Him, make him hear the groan of your heart. Move Him to compassion with your tears, with your insistence. Importune Him! May He hear your sighs, make your pain reach Him so that, in the end, He can say to you: The Lord has forgiven your sin” (Saint Gregory the Great). This is the reality of our human condition. This is the truth that can bring us closer to genuine reconciliation with God and with men. It is not about discrediting self-esteem but about penetrating the depth of our hearts and of assuming the mystery of suffering and pain which has bound us for centuries, thousands of years, always.

Rend your hearts, so that through that crack we can really look at ourselves.

Rend your hearts, open your hearts, because only in a broken and open heart can the merciful love of God enter, who loves and heals us.

Rend your hearts says the prophet, and Paul asks us almost on his knees to “be reconciled with God.” To change one’s way of living is the sign and fruit of this broken and reconciled heart by a love that surpasses us.

This is the invitation, given the many wounds that harm us and that can lead us to the temptation of hardening us: Rend your hearts to experience in silent and serene prayer the gentleness of God’s tenderness.

Rend your hearts to be able to love with the love with which we are loved, to console with the consolation that consoles us and to share what we have received.
The liturgical time that the Church begins today is not only for us, but also for the transformation of our families, our communities, our Church, our homeland, of the whole world. They are forty days to be converted to the very holiness of God; to become collaborators who receive grace and the possibility to reconstruct human life so that every man will experience the salvation that Christ won for us with his Death and Resurrection. 
Together with prayer and penance, as a sign of our faith in the strength of Easter which transforms everything, we also prepare to begin as in other years our “solidaristic Lenten gesture.” As Church in Buenos Aires that marches towards Easter and that believes that the Kingdom of God is possible, we need to have spring from our hearts, broken by the desire of conversion and love, the grace and effective action that will alleviate the sorrow of so many brothers who walk with us. “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great” (Saint John Chrysostom). 
This Year of Faith we are living is also an opportunity that God gives us to grow and mature in our encounter with the Lord who makes Himself visible in the suffering face of so many youth without a future, in the trembling hands of the forgotten elderly and in the vacillating knees of so many families that continue to face life without finding anyone to support them. 
I wish you a holy Lent, a penitential and fruitful Lent and, please, I ask you to pray for me. May Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin look after you. 
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ