24 March 2013

"Pope Francis’ election has revealed a bit of poison just under the surface of these faithful."

Father Markey of St Mary's in Norwalk has put the election of Francis into context for his parishioners.  I reproduce it here in full, for it is well worth reading.

 “Annutio vobis cum gaudium magnum: Habemus Papam!”  We these joyful words Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran announced to the world that we have a new Vicar of Christ.  The many parishioners here at St. Mary Church who loved Pope Benedict XVI and who immediately embraced Pope Francis shows God’s grace at work.  Our Spanish Bible study class’ excitement for the first Latino Pope this past week was inspiring and made it difficult for us to even hold class because they only wanted to talk about the new pope!

            I knew virtually nothing about Pope Francis before he was elected but I am looking forward to see how the Holy Spirit will use this apostle from Argentina to move hearts closer to Our Lord. I got up very early this past Tuesday morning, St. Joseph’s feast day, to watch his inaugural Mass at St. Peter’s in Rome.  It was a beautiful sunny day with huge crowds and a magnificent liturgy, the Latin Mass in the ordinary form. 

            Immediately we see many beautiful and challenging themes in Pope Francis’ talks: the tenderness of St. Joseph as the model for our love of neighbor; it is not God who tires of forgiving but we who tire of asking for forgiveness; the Year of Faith as an antidote to our pagan culture of relativism and consumerism; people spend too much money on their pets when in fact they should be spending that money on poor suffering children; people spend too much money on cosmetics, failing to recognize that true beauty comes not from make-up, but from a relationship with God.  Certainly his Coat of Arms highlighting the Holy Family gives evidence that defending the traditional family will be a centerpiece of his papacy.

            We also see some of the familiar media pundits expressing disappointment that Pope Francis has a history of proclaiming the faith and morals of the Catholic Church, as if a pope would do anything less. While giving the impression that they are open minded, the media has its own magisterium with its own set of infallible teachings, and they blindly imagine that the Church would actually contradict Scripture and its rich 2,000 years of teachings.  Yet in the end, the extended media coverage of the conclave shows that they still care about the Catholic Church.

            There are also far too many shallow commentators who are attempting to undermine Pope Benedict XVI by comparing his approach to the papacy, a papacy steeped in tradition, to Pope Francis self-evident simplicity.  The implication is obvious: one is pompous and the other is humble. 

            The modern world has terrible difficulty grasping the importance of tradition and how authentic humility for a cleric consists of being docile to that what has been handed down to us from our forefathers. Even Christ did not assert Himself, but only acted according to what He had received: “I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me” (John 8:28).
            Remember that when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was one of the most influential Cardinals at the Vatican as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, he was widely known to walk to work everyday in a simple cassock through the streets of Rome.  When he became Pope in 2005, he humbly submitted to what the Lord asked of him, giving up his own personal preference for the received tradition.  As he wrote in Spirit of the Liturgy, “The pope’s authority is bound to the Tradition of faith, and that also applies to the liturgy.  It is not ‘manufactured’ by the authorities.  Even the pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development and abiding integrity and identity.”

            Pope Francis’ humility is admirable.  Pope Benedict XVI is also humble, but he has a different understanding of how this virtue is to be lived out. All of the talk about red shoes (a papal tradition that goes back to the earliest times of the church symbolizing the blood of the martyrs) versus black shoes needs to be understood within this context.

            Another unfortunate development with the election of Pope Francis has been some of the negative comments from various sectors of traditionally minded Catholics, particularly, those who favor the extraordinary form of the Mass. Because of rumors floating about when Pope Francis was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, some of the blogs and organizations who are supporters of Pope Benedict’s liturgical renewal have been making snarky comments, or slandering Pope Francis, even before he has had a chance to establish himself.  In this way, Pope Francis’ election has revealed a bit of poison just under the surface of these faithful.

            This negativity can be partially explained by the history of the liturgy after the Second Vatican Council.  One of the terrible injustices within the Church over the past 50 years that gets little attention is how the establishment treated the faithful who are devoted to more traditional liturgy. Stories abound of good Catholics being alienated from the Church.  Some of them have grown bitter, losing trust in the Church.

            Pope Benedict XVI saw this injustice and courageously proclaimed in his 2007 motu propio Summorum Pontificum that the Traditional Latin Mass had never been “juridcally abrogated”, and now all priests are free to offer this Mass.  With this document, many ostracized Catholics were won back to the Church.  Pope Benedict beautifully explained, "What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.  It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place."

            I am of the opinion that one of the immediate fruits of Pope Francis’ election is the purification of traditionally minded Catholics. If the extraordinary form of the Mass is to move forward and be discovered as the treasure that it truly is, a powerful gift received from our forefathers with a history of making sinners into saints, then those who promote the extraordinary form must be holy; and holiness means being able to carry the cross with charity.  Being reactionary and jumping to rash conclusions is not the way of the saints; filial love for the office of the pope is. We remember that Saint Catherine of Siena always addressed the Pope as "Sweet Jesus on earth."

            For those Catholics who fully grasped the amazing gift of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy and whose hearts burned with a filial love for him, this transition to a new spiritual father may take a little time. Yet the Holy Spirit is active and for those who are open, the Spirit is moving the faithful to embrace their new father.

             Pope Benedict’s papacy gave the liturgy room to grow and prosper, and it will not be taken away.  Now it is up to us who have this same conviction that our liturgical traditions are the essential vehicle for Catholic identity and holiness of life to move forward with hope, supporting our new Holy Father Francis.  May Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, inspire us to be true children of the Church.
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Greg J. Markey

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