Thursday, 14 March 2013

Deo Gratias

Thank God for our new pope! I was in the pub last night watching on the "ThePopeApp" with some friends, several Catholics but quite a few non Catholics and the joy was palpable. Drinks were bought, the Holy Father toasted and we had a great evening celebrating.

I mean to expel thee from the rank thou holdest, deprive thee of thy office. And when that time comes, I will summon one who is a true servant of mine, Eliacim the son of Helcias, clothe him with thy robe, gird him with thy girdle, entrust him with the power that once was thine; to rule all the citizens of Jerusalem, all Juda’s race, with a father’s care. I will give him the key of David’s house to bear upon his shoulders; none may shut when he opens, none open when he shuts. I will fix him securely in his place, like a peg that is to carry all the royal honour of his father’s house; all the honour of his father’s house will rest upon him, as a man’s goods rest on a peg, the smaller of them, here a cooking-pan, there an instrument of music. Isaiah 22:19-24
So many things to like about him. We desperately needed someone who will spur on the New Evangelisation fruitfully and forcefully. Catholicism is an attractive religion full of beauty, goodness and truth, full of our very means of being. He seems to be a genuinely humble man, there are outward signs, but I've seen a couple of photos that have been taken of him surreptitiously on the tube and Fr Z has a story on his blog recounting how even he didn't realise he was a cardinal when he first met him. In particular I note the line "missionary fervor does not require extraordinary events. It is in ordinary life that mission work is done.". That he's practically unheard of is probably evidence of his humility too. Cardinal Dolan makes a strong case for humility being Jesus's favourite virtue in his book Priests for the Third Millenium, it seems we have a pope for our epoch.

He has picked the name Francis, presumably to signify the simplicity for which he will continue to strive in his pontificate. The other thing, however, with which he signalled the style of his pontificate was coming onto the balcony in just a plain cassock. He seems to be saying that this pontificate will concentrate on the acts of faith, the getting out there and getting one's hands dirty and less interested in the liturgical expression of that faith in which his immediate predecessor. Obviously, I think this is magnificent in itself, but I think it's maybe worth tempering it a little. For a Christian the move from the encounter with Jesus at the altar to the encounter with Jesus in our neighbour should be almost superficial, something which only happens on the surface. There's that line in the Tantum Ergo "Faith will tell us Christ is present when our human senses fail", this seems to go as much for seeing Christ in our neighbour as in the Eucharist. The liturgy and the good works should in fact all be one love, a continuum. I am reminded that the rags worn by St Francis were covered with as much beauty and gold as any other medieval cleric while he was serving as deacon in the liturgy. He had no problem giving the finest craft and artistry back to God or with lifting people's minds to heaven through beauty. I'm a little concerned that having been a genuinely humble man all his life, it's now important for him to be seen to be so. I think this may have been at the bottom of the lack of Urbi et Orbi liturgy. Another type of humility would to have seen the Church's liturgical laws governing these things and submitting oneself to them, even though one had the power to change them. Like I say, the evidence suggests that Pope Francis is genuine in his humility, but there is more than one way of looking at these things. There seems to be a potent but quiet charisma to this man. When he asked for silence he got it, when he prayed, the crowd prayed with him. when he smiled, the crowd cheered.

It will be interesting to see who he appoints to the Secretariat of State. This is the key role which up and till now has been filled with the not terribly effective but very nice Cardinal Bertone. It will be his replacements job to flush out the corruption which has set in with the roman curia. If they have any sense a selection of people will be keeping their heads down and behaving in the apostolic palace with this unknown quantity of a pope in play. That he is an outsider from the curia is simply ideal.

The other joy I have is that he is 76. This is not because I think he will die soon so the sacristy can get back to being prettified, it's because the cardinals who elected him probably think of him as a stop gap pope. Like they did when they elected Benedict XVI. Or John XXIII. Stop gap popes seem not to have been what the cardinals expected of late, and I imagine the Almighty has something similar in store for this holy, humble man.

Viva il Papa

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