Saturday, February 15, 2014

"To Confirm in Unity": President's Day... and Pope's Day

For those of us in the States, a long holiday weekend's on – Monday marks the Federal observance of Washington's Birthday, more commonly known as Presidents' Day.

As veterans 'round these parts will recall, though, there's a fun confluence with this beat: the actual birthday of the Father of the Country, 22 February, is marked in the liturgy as the feast of the Chair of Peter – in other words, "Pope's Day," given the ancient celebration's focus on the ministry of the Bishop of Rome. That's why the feast of Chair has been the most common moment for the creation of new cardinals, as Francis will do for the first time next Saturday, 13 years exactly since one Jorge Mario Bergoglio received his own red hat. (For the record, of the nine consistories since 1998, four have taken place over February 22nd, and a fifth – B16's first intake in 2006 – was announced on the Petrine feast.)

In token of the civil holiday, keeping with house custom, below is the Prayer for the Nation written and first delivered in 1791 by the Father of the Stateside Church: John Carroll of Baltimore, the founding bishop of the country, an ally of Washington, cousin of the lone Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence and a brother of a signer of the Constitution....

We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope Francis, the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.

We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We pray for his[/her] excellency, the governor of this state , for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance.

To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.
In 1790, Washington addressed a letter to American Catholics expressing his supportive hope "that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their Revolution, and the establishment of your Government, or the important assistance which they received from a nation [i.e. France] in which the Roman Catholic faith is professed."

Aided by the contribution of the early church on these shores – a community then numbering some 25,000 souls (served by 22 priests) scattered across the 13 new states – the first Commander-in-Chief said that, "America, under the smiles of a Divine Providence, the protection of a good government, and the cultivation of manners, morals, and piety, cannot fail of attaining an uncommon degree of eminence, in literature, commerce, agriculture, improvements at home and respectability abroad."

The founding father added his prayer that "the members of your Society in America, animated alone by the pure spirit of Christianity, and still conducting themselves as the faithful subjects of our free government, enjoy every temporal and spiritual felicity."

In our own time, however – reflecting the reality that leadership in every age has its glaring moral deficiencies – only in recent years has the site of Washington's official residence in the nation's pre-DC capital become a memorial: not to the Chief Executive, but to the slaves he kept there.

When Washington died in 1799, the first President had over 300 slaves at his Mount Vernon home, making provision for their freedom only after his wife's death.

* * *
And now, given the other feast of these days, to Rome.

Needless to say, the potential of the Petrine office to turn the world on its ear has been manifested over the last 11 months to perhaps an unprecedented degree in modern times.

Still, it apparently bears reminding in some quarters that a Pope's authority derives not from opinion polls or the arbitrary, relativistic litmus tests of ideological constituencies within the church, however "faithful" or "enlightened" these might consider themselves. Far from any external factor, Tradition and the law itself confer upon the Roman pontiff – that is, he "in whom continues the office given by the Lord uniquely to Peter" – the "supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power" to teach, govern and sanctify the whole People of God: a role "which he is always able to exercise freely"... and, indeed, a munus to which each occupant brings his own definition of how best to wield the Keys.

Beyond the unique background and extraordinary public effect of their 266th holder, though, something very interesting has only just begun to develop, but hasn't been too widely noticed.

Nearly a half-century since Vatican II's close, it's rather remarkable that while the Council's ressourcement approach to ecclesiology has seen massive changes across aspects ranging from the liturgy and interfaith relations to inculturation and the role of the laity, much as the reforms significantly altered the optics of the papacy – read: the retirement of the tiara and the abolition of the Renaissance-bred papal court (well, most of it) – the substance of the office's sweeping, almost blank-check authority has remained entirely intact. Sure enough, it could even be argued that the technological advances of the decades since, coupled with the wide, unchecked berth assumed by the Curia over the period, have only served to strengthen Rome's hand even further.

At least, until now. Having written of his own need to consider "a conversion of the papacy," and begun to implement it in bulking up the consultative structures that surround the office – not to mention his design for the most thorough reform of the Curia since 1967's Regimini tinkering of Paul VI – Francis has set into motion a rethinking of the last ecclesial reality left untouched by the Council and its aftermath.

In other words, the biggest "sacred cow" of all will only be increasingly skewered over the reign to come – 11 months in, he's just warming up. And while the rebooted shape of things will only emerge with time, the consultations of the week to come – first with his "Gang of Eight," then the entire College of Cardinals before next weekend's Consistory – represent a milestone of no small significance for the project and its eventual outcome.

As policy goes, among the first major signs of the breadth of Francis' intent came on last June's feast of Saints Peter and Paul, when he spontaneously peppered his homily – always one of a pontiff's major texts of the year – with unscripted references to a more collaborative form of papal governance. (The Pope is shown above in the extraordinary moment at last November's closing of the Year of Faith, when the reliquary containing the bones of Peter was brought into public view for the first time, and put in his hands during the Creed.)

It didn't take long for word to swirl that Papa Bergoglio intentionally left the additions out of his prepared words to avoid leaks, panic or both among the translators and staffers who'd see the preach in advance. In any case, with an eye to the days ahead – and as the talk made for Francis' most extensive reflection to date on the office he's inherited – below is a re-air of the new Pope on the Foundation laid by his First Predecessor... and the mission as he sees it today (emphases original; unscripted portions in brackets):

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.