Thursday, June 13, 2013

Three Months Later, Francis Talks On... Talking

Three months ago today, Jorge Bergoglio was elected to Peter's chair... and while the first American Pope took the name Francis, as they tend to do, the natives have come to add their own moniker: Papa Chiacchierone – that is, "Pope Chatterbox."

Indeed, that was the case even before this last week. And now....

It's no bad thing, of course – among the crowds outside, Francis' easy way of sharing goes a long way toward explaining the rapt and rapid devotion he's been showered with. Meanwhile, even those Italians who apply the aforementioned term to others are often no slouches in earning the adjective for themselves.

Still, the danger is where malice enters the talk, and maybe it's no surprise to some that the balance is a common temptation for church-folk. In any event, on this St Anthony's Day – and, yet again, returning to a theme he's voiced before – it made for the core of the chatty pontiff's Thursday morning preach:

Pope Francis warned that anyone who "enters Christian life" will have “greater demands made of them than others" and not “greater advantages". He said Jesus mentions some of these demands, in particular the problem of “bad relations among brethren". If our heart harbors “bad feelings” towards our brothers, the Pope said, "something is not working and we must convert, we must change." Pope Francis noted that "anger towards a brother is an insult, it’s something almost deathly ", "it kills him." He then observed that, especially in the Latin tradition, there is a "wonderful creativity" in inventing epithets. But, he cautioned, "when this epithet is friendly this is fine, the problem is when there is another kind of epithet”, when the "mechanism of insult" comes into play, which is "a form of denigration of others."

Pope Francis continued: “There is no need to go to a psychologist to know that when we denigrates another person it is because we are unable to grow up and need to belittle others, to feel more important." This, he said, is "an ugly mechanism". Jesus, "with all the simplicity says: "Do not speak ill of one another. Do not denigrate one another. Do not belittle one another”. The Pope noted, "in the end we are all travelling on the same road", "we are all travelling on that road that will take us to the very end." Therefore "if we do not choose a fraternal path, it will end badly, for the person who insults and the insulted". The Pope noted that "if we are not able to keep our tongues in check, we lose”. “Natural aggression, that of Cain toward Abel, repeats itself throughout history." Pope Francis observed that it is not that we are bad, rather "we are weak and sinners." That's why it is "much easier", to "resolve a situation with an insult, with slander, defamation instead of resolving it with good means".

“I would ask the Lord to give us all the grace to watch our tongues, to watch what we say about others." “It is a small penance - he added - but it bears a lot of fruit." "Sometimes, we go hungry and think, ‘What a pity I didn’t taste the fruit of a tasty comment against another person." But, he said, "that hunger bears fruit in the long run is good for us." That's why we ask the Lord for this grace: to adapt our lives "to this new law, which is the law of meekness, the law of love, the law of peace, and at least 'prune' our tongues a little, ‘prune’ the comments that we make of others and outbursts that lead us to an easy anger or insult. May the Lord grant us all this grace".
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Two context-notes on the "monthiversary" liturgy at the Domus: for the first time, the group in attendance weren't employees of a Curial office or the Vatican City-State, but workers from the Roman embassies of the Pope's native Argentina, and staff from the UN Food and Agriculture Office, likewise based in Rome, whose World Food Day was the springboard of Francis' General Audience talk last week. 

Per the summary, the crowd on hand gave Papa Bergoglio his first opportunity to say Mass in his mother-tongue since his election – "It feels good!" he's reported to have said.

Speaking of Argentina, Francis' lead concelebrant this morning was an old friend from home who's likewise been shot into the stratosphere: Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev (left), now the de facto patriarch of the 6 million-member Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC), global Catholicism's largest Eastern fold.

On his shock election to the post in 2011, Shevchuk – at 43 today, still the youngest bishop in the worldwide Ukrainian Synod – was serving in Argentina as head of the eparchy for the growing diaspora there. As the archbishop of Buenos Aires doubles as ordinary to all the country's Eastern faithful whose churches lack their own leadership on the ground, the now-Pope quickly took the young hierarch under his wing, forming what by all accounts became a close bond.

By virtue of his place as the UGCC's head, even before his mentor's election, Shevchuk – a Gregorian summa cum laude proficient in six languages – already stood in line to become the youngest cardinal to enter the College since a certain Karol Wojtyla of Krakow was given the red hat at age 47 in 1967. (After years of failing health, the major-archbishop's predecessor, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, took the rare step of retiring in early 2011.)

As the Pope prepares for a major ecumenical meeting tomorrow – the first Vatican visit of the new archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby – it bears noting that an awareness of the Francis-Sviatoslav axis has already encited panic on another key inter-Christian front: namely, Moscow, where the Russian Orthodox patriarchate has tended to view the Ukrainian Greek-Catholics as interlopers on what the ROC claims as its canonical turf. Over time, the tension has seen Rome yield to pressure from the Russians to sublimate the Ukrainians' concerns for the sake of a closer rapport with Moscow – above all, in the hope of achieving an unprecedented summit meeting between the Pope and the Russian patriarch, which had been an especially prized ecumenical goal of Francis' predecessor.

In a nutshell, even if the degree to which the Vatican's Moscow policy will change under the new Pope has yet to be reflected in substance, it's nonetheless fairly bankable that, yet again, the way things have been is in for some tweaking.