Sunday, June 29, 2014

"The Problem For Us Is Fear" – On Pope's Day, Francis Calls Bishops To "Follow"

Marking the patronal feast of Rome – and, indeed, the papacy itself – on this solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul the city's 266th bishop led the 30th anniversary of the tradition instituted by St John Paul II, conferring the pallium on 24 new metropolitan archbishops named over the last year.

What's more, though, in the process Pope Francis gave himself a new one.... Well, a new-old one.

Six years after the chief MC Msgr Guido Marini devised a "Papal Pallium" adorned with red crosses for B16, at today's rites Francis ditched the model, restoring the same black-crossed version (above) worn by centuries of his predecessors and identical to that given every other archbishop. The sign of the "fullness of the episcopal office" which each metropolitan is entitled to wear at Masses within his province, the return to the common pallium serves to more fully underscore the woolen vestment's intended symbolism over the centuries – namely, a visible sign of the bond between the archbishops of the entire church and the See of Peter.

With the US represented by just one prelate – Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford – among others invested today were Archbishops Malcolm McMahon OP of Liverpool (head of the UK's largest diocese), Leo Cushley of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Paul Bui of Ho Chi Minh City, Wojciech Polak of Gniezno (the new Polish primate) and Franz Lackner OFM of Salzburg, a post whose centuries-old privilege of donning a cardinal's red vesture made him stand out among the violet zucchetti of the rest of the group.

While Papa Bergoglio's homily did not feature a similar bomb to last year's preach, in which Francis' unscripted call for a deepening of "synodality" in the church's governance sent shockwaves through the Vatican's Old Guard, today's text did see him launch a pointed examination of conscience for the prelates in attendance, asking them "Are we afraid?" and "if we are, what escapes do we seek to feel safe?"

"Do we seek the approval of the powers of this world?" Francis wondered, "or do we let ourselves be taken in by that pride which seeks gratification and recognition?" In the face of those temptations, the needed answer was to trust in "God's fidelity," he said, which must be "the source of our confidence and our peace."

Outside St Peter's, meanwhile, the pontiff returned to the front page of the newspapers in his own voice. For the second time in ten days, an interview with the Pope was released, this time in Il Messaggero, the dominant Rome-based daily, featuring his tidings to the city on its patronal feast. At the same time, the conversation focused much on what Francis called "moral" and "cultural degradation," which he said was visible in issues ranging from corruption and child prostitution to income inequality (the "golden calf" of "the money god") and poverty as well as – repeating an earlier comment – the "phenomenon" of valuing pets over people.

The first Pope-chat Francis has held with a female reporter, the Domus sit-down with Messaggero's Franca Giansoldati – which, notably, took place during Tuesday's infamous Italy-Uruguay World Cup match – likewise dwelt at length on the role of women in the church. (At right, Giansoldati is seen in an airplane selfie with Francis en route to last month's Holy Land tour.)

Saying that "Women are the most beautiful thing God has made," the Pope reiterated his call in Evangelii Gaudium that the "feminine question" in ecclesial life "must be deepened, otherwise you can't understand the church herself."

While Giansoldati explicitly set aside the question of female clergy, she asked Francis whether a woman would be named as head of a Curial dicastery, a prospect which the pontiff left the door wide open to by replying with a chuckle that "Well [orig: 'Beh'], many times priests [already] end up under the authority of their housekeepers."

Along the way, the pontiff exalted the figure of Pope Paul VI, who he'll beatify on 19 October at the close of the Synod for the Family. In Francis' judgment, Paul's 1975 exhortation on evangelization Evangelii Nuntiandi "remains an unsurpassed pastoral document," adding that, being "the first Pope who studied theology after the Council... for us Paul VI was the great light."

Asked where "the church of Bergoglio" is headed, the Pope said "Thank God I don't have a church, I follow Christ. I haven't founded anything." Programmatically speaking, though, he emphasized that "I've done nothing on my own," that his course of governance was merely "the fruit of the meetings before the Conclave" in the priorities and aspirations laid out by the cardinals. Still, as pertains to his own missionary vision, Francis again repeated that "the church must go out into the streets, seek the people, go into the houses, visit families, go toward the peripheries. It can't be a church that only receives, but one which offers."

Back to the basilica, today's rites made for the Pope's last major event before the Curia's summer hiatus, during which the release of his morning homilies at the Domus and the Wednesday audiences will be suspended.

That's not to say all will be quiet, however – beyond whatever spontaneous things come up (and they will), Tuesday brings the fifth meeting of Francis' "Gang of Eight" cardinal-advisers on the reform of the Curia; set to run four days, the session will be the group's longest to date. In addition, on Friday the Irish Catholic reported that the pontiff's first meeting with survivors of sexual abuse – the first papal meeting with victims at the Vatican – is expected to take place next weekend.

* * *
Here below, meanwhile, the Vatican's English translation of the Pope's homily at this morning's Mass for the Petrine feast....
On this Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the principal patrons of Rome, we welcome with joy and gratitude the Delegation sent by the Ecumenical Patriarch, our venerable and beloved brother Bartholomaios, and led by Metropolitan Ioannis. Let us ask the Lord that this visit too may strengthen our fraternal bonds as we journey toward that full communion between the two sister Churches which we so greatly desire.

“Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod” (Acts 12:11). When Peter began his ministry to the Christian community of Jerusalem, great fear was still in the air because of Herod’s persecution of members of the Church. There had been the killing of James, and then the imprisonment of Peter himself, in order to placate the people. While Peter was imprisoned and in chains, he heard the voice of the angel telling him, “Get up quickly… dress yourself and put on your sandals… Put on your mantle and follow me!” (Acts 12:7-8). The chains fell from him and the door of the prison opened before him. Peter realized that the Lord had “rescued him from the hand of Herod”; he realized that the Lord had freed him from fear and from chains. Yes, the Lord liberates us from every fear and from all that enslaves us, so that we can be truly free. Today’s liturgical celebration expresses this truth well in the refrain of the Responsorial Psalm: “The Lord has freed me from all my fears”.

The problem for us, then, is fear and looking for refuge in our pastoral responsibilities.

I wonder, dear brother bishops, are we afraid? What are we afraid of? And if we are afraid, what forms of refuge do we seek, in our pastoral life, to find security? Do we look for support from those who wield worldly power? Or do we let ourselves be deceived by the pride which seeks gratification and recognition, thinking that these will offer us security? Dear brother Bishops, where do we find our security?

The witness of the Apostle Peter reminds us that our true refuge is trust in God. Trust in God banishes all fear and sets us free from every form of slavery and all worldly temptation. Today the Bishop of Rome and other bishops, particularly the metropolitans who have received the pallium, feel challenged by the example of Saint Peter to assess to what extent each of us puts his trust in the Lord.

Peter recovered this trust when Jesus said to him three times: “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21: 15,16,17). Peter thrice confessed his love for Jesus, thus making up for his threefold denial of Christ during the passion. Peter still regrets the disappointment which he caused the Lord on the night of his betrayal. Now that the Lord asks him: “Do you love me?”, Peter does not trust himself and his own strength, but instead entrusts himself to Jesus and his mercy: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (Jn 21:17). Precisely at this moment fear, insecurity and cowardice dissipate.

Peter experienced how God’s fidelity is always greater than our acts of infidelity, stronger than our denials. He realizes that the God’s fidelity dispels our fears and exceeds every human reckoning. Today Jesus also asks us: “Do you love me?”. He does so because he knows our fears and our struggles. Peter shows us the way: we need to trust in the Lord, who “knows everything” that is in us, not counting on our capacity to be faithful, but on his unshakable fidelity. Jesus never abandons us, for he cannot deny himself (cf. 2 Tim 2:13). He is faithful. The fidelity which God constantly shows to us pastors, far in excess of our merits, is the source of our confidence and our peace. The Lord’s fidelity to us keeps kindled within us the desire to serve him and to serve our sisters and brothers in charity.

The love of Jesus must suffice for Peter. He must no longer yield to the temptation to curiosity, jealousy, as when, seeing John nearby, he asks Jesus: “Lord, what about this man?” (Jn 21:21). But Jesus, in the face of these temptations, says to him in reply: “What is it to you? Follow me” (Jn 21:22). This experience of Peter is a message for us too, dear brother archbishops. Today the Lord repeats to me, to you, and to all pastors: Follow me! Waste no time in questioning or in useless chattering; do not dwell on secondary things, but look to what is essential and follow me. Follow me without regard for the difficulties. Follow me in preaching the Gospel. Follow me by the witness of a life shaped by the grace you received in baptism and holy orders. Follow me by speaking of me to those with whom you live, day after day, in your work, your conversations and among your friends. Follow me by proclaiming the Gospel to all, especially to the least among us, so that no one will fail to hear the word of life which sets us free from every fear and enables us to trust in the faithfulness of God. Follow me!