Saturday, December 17, 2016

"Stop. Remember. Go Forward." – On Turning 80, Pope's Note to Self

Before anything else given the occasion, we'd be remiss to not share the traditional prayer that fits the moment....
V. Oremus pro Pontifice nostro Francisco. / (Let us pray for Francis, our Pope.)

R. Dominus conservet eum, et vivificet eum, et beatum faciat eum in terra, et non tradat eum in animam inimicorum eius. / (May the Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not to the will of his enemies.)

O God,
who chose your servant Francis
in succession to the Apostle Peter
as shepherd of the whole flock,
look favorably on the supplications of your people
and grant that, as Vicar of Christ on earth,
he may confirm his brethren
and that the whole Church may be in communion with him
in the bond of unity, love and peace,
so that in you, the shepherd of souls,
all may know the truth and attain life eternal.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.
On a practical note, where it hasn't already been called for by the Chancery of the place, pastors and liturgy teams might want to work in a relevant petition for the Prayer of the Faithful or other appropriate mention at this weekend's Masses.

*   *   *
Being made to give some acknowledgment to a moment he's always avoided making any kind of fuss about, this morning the Pope marked his 80th birthday with the cardinals resident in Rome at a Mass in the Pauline Chapel within the Apostolic Palace.

While well-wishes poured in from across the globe, the liturgy was to be the day's lone major event for the new octogenarian, whose Christmas calendar ramps up in earnest over the coming days.

(SVILUPPO: Per an early tweet from the chief Vatican spokesman Greg Burke, Francis followed the Mass by hosting a group of homeless men and women to share breakfast with him at the Domus (above right). Having established the custom over recent years, the diners are invited in from Rome's streets by the papal Almoner, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, seen alongside the pontiff.)

Soon to complete his fourth year as 266th Bishop of Rome (and showing little to no signs of slowing down), while Jorge Mario Bergoglio made passing reference to his milestone in a brief thank-you after Communion – calling the Italian term for old age (vecchiaia) "scary," and quoting from Latin and German poetry to ask prayers that his ninth decade might be "tranquil, religious and fruitful" – no mention of the reason for the gathering came in his trademark off-the-cuff homily, drawn as ever from today's readings....

In the moment when our watchful waiting of Advent becomes more intense; in this moment when the Church, today, begins to pray with the great ["O"] antiphons, this strong time when we approach Christmas, the Liturgy makes us stop a bit. It tells us: "Stop," and makes us read this Gospel passage. What does it mean to stop amid a moment growing in its intensity? Simply, the Church wants us to remember, to make memory: "Stop yourself, and remember. Look inside, see the way." Memory: this deuteronomical attachment that gives great strength to the soul. Memory, which Scripture itself underscores as a means of prayer, of encountering God. "Remember your leaders," the author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us. "Recall the memory of those first days"; the same thing. And then, in the same letter, that crowd of witnesses, in chapter 11, who made the path to arrive at the fulness of time: "Remember, look inside that you might go forward even better." This is the significance of the liturgy's daybook for us today: the grace of memory. We need to seek this grace: to not forget.

This not forgetting belongs to love; it belongs to love to always have it under our eyes much, as well as we have received it; it belongs to love to see our history: where we came from, our parents, our ancestors, the path of faith. And this memory does us good, because it makes ever more intense this watchful waiting for Christmas. A quiet day. The memory that, from the beginning, takes form in the choice of the people: "Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham" (Mt 1:1). The chosen people, who journey toward a promise with the strength of the Covenant, of the successive covenants which took place. Such is the way of the Christian, so is our path, simply put. This is a promise made to us, it is told to us: walk in my presence and you will be blameless as our Father is. A promise that will be fulfilled in the end, but which builds with each bond we make with the Lord, the covenant of faithfulness, of fidelity; and we see that we were not the ones to choose: we understand that all of us have been chosen. The choice, the promise and the covenant are the cornerstones of Christian memory, this looking inside that we might move forward.

This is the grace of today: to remember. And when we hear this piece of the Gospel, it is a history, a story of grace, a very great one; but also a story of sin. Along the way we always find grace and sin. Here, in the history of salvation there are great sinners, in this genealogy, and there are some saints. And we too, in our own lives, find the same: moments of great fidelity to the Lord, of joy in serving him, and some ugly moments of infidelity, of sin that makes us feel our need for salvation. And this is likewise our security, because when we need salvation, we confess the faith, we make a confession of faith: "I'm a sinner, but You can save me, You can carry me forward." And so one proceeds in the joy of hope.

In Advent, we have begun to travel this road, waiting in vigil for the Lord. Today we stop, look inside, we see that the path has been beautiful, that the Lord hasn't misled us, that the Lord is faithful. We look too at how it was in history as it was in our own life, that there've been beautiful moments of faithfulness and brutal moments of sin. But the Lord is there, with his hand stretched out to pick us up and say: "Go forward!" And this is the Christian life: go forward, toward that definitive meeting. This path of such intensity, in keeping vigil for the Lord's coming, never loses the grace of memory, of looking inside on all that the Lord has done for us, for the Church, across salvation history. And so we will understand because the Church makes us read these passages that can seem a little annoying, but here is the story of a God who has wished to walk with his people and, finally, make himself a man, like each of us.

May the Lord help us to take up afresh this grace of memory. "But it's difficult, boring, there are so many problems...." The author of the Letter to the Hebrews has a beautiful line for our complaints, it's beautiful: "Be tranquil – you haven't yet been made to shed your blood" (cf. 12:4). A bit of humor, too, from that inspired author, but so to help us go forward. May the Lord give us this grace.