Saturday, June 29, 2013

"United In Our Differences: This Is the Way of Jesus" – On Peter's Day, Francis Seeks to Share the Keys

Today's feast of Saints Peter and Paul is the "Pope's Day" – the patronal feast of the bishop of Rome. Yet in marking his first 29 June as Peter's 265th successor, the first Francis to occupy the Chair kept to his own script in repeatedly veering from his prepared homily to speak of, among other things, an enhanced spirit of "synodality," or collegiality, between the Roman pontiff and the college of bishops.

Even if that prospect has already been voiced by Papa Bergoglio in less high-profile contexts, on a day where the global liturgy is centered on the Conferral of the Keys to the Prince of the Apostles – and nowhere more than at the Vatican, with the recipient's heir presiding and Arnulfo di Cambio's famous statute of Peter decked out in a cope, alb and the bygone tiara – what shapes up as a papal call for greater power-sharing is especially potent. 

The off-the-cuff lines were likewise notable in that Francis' apparent concept of "the Synod of Bishops" was of something far more expansive than the Vatican-chartered advisory body which holds an assembly every three or so years on a set topic, with some 200 of the church's 5,000-plus hierarchs in attendance. Here, the Pope's portrayal of "the Synod" was that of the episcopal college, full stop – just as the term entails in each Eastern church. Ergo, the combination of the concept and the spontaneous reference amid today's feast serve to indicate what could be a significant change to the form of Petrine governance kicking around in Papa Bergoglio's mind.

As all but one of the world's 35 metropolitans named over the last year received the pallium – the woolen band that signifies their office – from the pontiff's hand at the start of the basilica Mass, Francis' standard "three words" reflection focused on Christ's charge to Peter to "confirm your brothers." (The Pope is shown above with his hand-picked successor in Buenos Aires: now-Archbishop Mario Poli, long an auxiliary to Jorge Bergoglio in Argentina's premier diocese who, today, was emotional to the point of faltering in his turn before his mentor.)

On another front, meanwhile, in keeping with the custom begun last year with the choir of Westminster Abbey, an ecumenical group of singers – this time from a Lutheran church in Germany – joined the Sistine Choir for today's rites. As for what was missing, however, no reference was made to the first surviving ex-pontiff in centuries on the 62nd anniversary of Joseph Ratzinger's ordination to the priesthood.

To reflect Francis' changes on delivery, the Pope's unscripted asides are added in brackets below to the Vatican's English translation of the preach as initially prepared....

Your Eminences,
[Your Eminence, Metropolitan Ioannis,]
Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We are celebrating the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles, principal patrons of the Church of Rome: a celebration made all the more joyful by the presence of bishops from throughout the world. A great wealth, which makes us in some sense relive the event of Pentecost. Today, as then, the faith of the Church speaks in every tongue and desire to unite all peoples in one family.

I offer a heartfelt and grateful greeting to the Delegation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, led by Metropolitan Ioannis. I thank Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I for this renewed gesture of fraternity. I greet the distinguished ambassadors and civil authorities. And in a special way I thank the Thomanerchor, the Choir of the Thomaskirche of Leipzig – Bach’s own church – which is contributing to today’s liturgical celebration and represents an additional ecumenical presence.

I would like to offer three thoughts on the Petrine ministry, guided by the word “confirm”. What has the Bishop of Rome been called to confirm?

1. First, to confirm in faith. The Gospel speaks of the confession of Peter: “You are Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16), a confession which does not come from him but from our Father in heaven. Because of this confession, Jesus replies: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church” (v. 18). The role, the ecclesial service of Peter, is founded upon his confession of faith in Jesus, the Son of the living God, made possible by a grace granted from on high. In the second part of today’s Gospel we see the peril of thinking in worldly terms. When Jesus speaks of his death and resurrection, of the path of God which does not correspond to the human path of power, flesh and blood re-emerge in Peter: “He took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him ... This must never happen to you” (16:22). Jesus’ response is harsh: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” (v. 23). Whenever we let our thoughts, our feelings or the logic of human power prevail, and we do not let ourselves be taught and guided by faith, by God, we become stumbling blocks. Faith in Christ is the light of our life as Christians and as ministers in the Church!

2. To confirm in love. In the second reading we heard the moving words of Saint Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tm 4:7). But what is this fight? It is not one of those fights fought with human weapons which sadly continue to cause bloodshed throughout the world; rather, it is the fight of martyrdom. Saint Paul has but one weapon: the message of Christ and the gift of his entire life for Christ and for others. It is precisely this readiness to lay himself open, personally, to be consumed for the sake of the Gospel, to make himself all things to all people, unstintingly, that gives him credibility and builds up the Church. The Bishop of Rome is called himself to live and to confirm his brothers and sisters in this love for Christ and for all others, without distinction, limits or barriers. [And not only the Bishop of Rome: each of you, new archbishops and bishops, have the same task: to let yourselves be consumed by the Gospel, to become all things to everyone. It is your task to hold nothing back, to go outside of yourselves in the service of the faithful and holy people of God.]

3. To confirm in unity. Here I would like to reflect for a moment on the rite which we have carried out. The pallium is a symbol of communion with the Successor of Peter, “the lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and of communion” (Lumen Gentium, 18). And your presence today, dear brothers, is the sign that the Church’s communion does not mean uniformity. Vatican II, in speaking of the hierarchical structure of the Church, states that the Lord “established the apostles as college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from their number” (ibid., 19). [To confirm in unity: the Synod of Bishops, in harmony with the primate. Let us go forward on the path of synodality, and grow in harmony with the service of the primacy.] And [the Council] continues, “this college, in so far as it is composed of many members, is the expression of the variety and universality of the people of God” (ibid., 22). In the Church, variety, which is itself a great treasure, is always grounded in the harmony of unity, like a great mosaic in which every small piece joins with others as part of God’s one great plan. This should inspire us to work always to overcome every conflict which wounds the body of the Church. United in our differences: [there is no other Catholic way to be united. This is the Catholic spirit, the Christian spirit: to be united in our differences. T]his is the way of Jesus! The pallium, while being a sign of communion with the Bishop of Rome and with the universal church, [with the Synod of Bishops,] also commits each of you to being a servant of communion.

To confess the Lord by letting oneself be taught by God; to be consumed by love for Christ and his Gospel; to be servants of unity. These, dear brother bishops, are the tasks which the holy apostles Peter and Paul entrust to each of us, so that they can be lived by every Christian. May the holy Mother of God guide us and accompany us always with her intercession. Queen of Apostles, pray for us! Amen.