I’ve been struggling a bit to find the right way – i.e., the most useful, informative and ecumenical way – to include Pope Francis in these musings. As I indicated in my first “Pope Notes” a couple of weeks ago, I am enamored of the Christ-like presence he has brought to the church he heads, and like many millions across the planet – from every place and every religion – I see hope where before was stagnation, light where before was obfuscation, and intent to goodness that has rarely been so beautifully spotlighted as it has since his elevation to the Throne of Peter.
It was “I am a sinner” with which he introduced himself to his new protectorate and the world, giving each of us permission to admit the same in a new and more cleansing way than ever before. His humble gestures – the tiny car, the dormitory room, the plain white cassock, the iron cross – speak volumes, and his ability to draw forth profound lessons and cogent observations from even the most unheralded parts of the Gospel – and to deliver them in plain speaking that comes out sounding like down-home Shakespeare – has already hugely expanded the lexicon of scriptural insights available to us all, and promises to take us well beyond previous limits in the days and years to come.
And, therein lies the problem for me, since he is so prolific in so many ways – at least seven public addresses (homilies, sermons, speeches, exhortations) on a wide range of topics delivered every week, as well as a heavy slate of administrative actions, both bold and brave, occurring at a snowballing rate to prove his actions are as good as his words – that I could truly spend hours a day, and millions of words, trying to cover it all. Yet, I believe it is important to do this work because the example of a Christ-like life, so brilliantly played out by Francis, is far rarer than any pearl of great price, so beginning with this post, a new approach: A weekly “Pope Notes” report, as brief as possible, to highlight the best of his words and actions. I’m told by one of my good friends that such an approach would be of great value to him, and I can only hope that the same holds true for many of you.
Monday, 4.21: The Day After Easter
Tweet of the day: “Each encounter with Jesus fills us with joy, with that deep joy which only God can give.”
“Regina Caeli” Prayers:
At noon on Monday, Francis appeared at his study window to pray the “Regina Caeli” (or, Queen of Heaven) prayer – a traditional Catholic prayer to Mary used in the days following Easter – with those assembled in the square. An excerpt from his remarks:
“…Let us allow the joyous wonder of Easter Sunday to shine forth in our thoughts, glances, behavior, gestures and words…. If only we were so luminous! But this is not just cosmetic! It comes from within, from a heart immersed in the source of this joy, like that of Mary Magdalene, who wept over the loss of her Lord and could hardly believe her eyes seeing him Risen.
“Whoever experiences this becomes a witness of the Resurrection, for in a certain sense he himself has risen, she herself has risen. He or she is then capable of carrying a ray of light of the Risen One into various situations: to those that are happy, making them more beautiful by preserving them from egoism; to those that are painful, bringing serenity and hope.”
Wednesday, 4.23, St. George’s Day:
There having been no activities to report on Tuesday, the Vatican made up for it on Wednesday, with the Pope’s usual outdoor General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, but falling, as it did, between Easter Sunday and “Canonization Day” for the two Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, the crowds were great and Francis took longer than usual to direct his open-air platform through the people. Once he arrived at the altar, however, he was in rare form and I can’t resist the temptation to include an excerpt that is longer than I’d like:
“Dear Brothers and Sisters Buongiorno!
This week is the week of joy, we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. It is a true, profound joy, based on the certainty that Christ is now risen, He is dead no more, but is alive and active in the Church and in the world . This certainty dwells in the hearts of believers from that Easter morning, when the women went to the tomb of Jesus and the angels said to them, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead” (Lk 24,5) …
“‘Why do you seek the living one among the dead?’ These words are a milestone in history; but also a ‘stumbling block’ if we do not open ourselves to the Good News, if we believe that a dead Jesus is less of a nuisance than a living Jesus! Instead, in our daily journey, we often need to hear: Why do you seek the living one among the dead? How often do we look for life among dead things, things that cannot give life, that are here today and gone tomorrow. ‘Why do you seek the living one among the dead?’
“We need [these words] when we close ourselves within many forms of selfishness or self- complacency; when we allow ourselves to be seduced by the earthly powers and the things of this world, forgetting God and neighbor; when we place our trust in worldly vanities, in money, in success. Then the Word of God tells us: ‘Why do you seek the living one among the dead?’ Why are you looking there, it can’t give you life; it will give you joy for a day, a week, a month, a year, and then? ‘Why do you seek the living one among the dead?’ This sentence needs to enter into our heart! ‘Why do you seek the living one among the dead?’ Out loud! ‘Why do you seek the living one among the dead?’ And today when you go home say it in your heart, in silence ask why do I look among dead things for life? It will do us good!…
“You, why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? you who close in on yourself after a failure or you who no longer have the strength to pray? Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive, you who feel alone, abandoned by friends, and perhaps even by God? Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive you who have lost hope or you who feel imprisoned by your sins? Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive you who aspire to beauty, spiritual perfection , justice, peace?…
“Let us repeat the Angels question to have it in our heart and mind and let each of us answer in silence ‘Why do you seek the living one among the dead?’ Look dear brothers and sisters let’s not look among those many tombs that promise everything and give nothing. Let’s look for Him, Jesus isn’t in the tomb. He is risen! He is alive and gives life!” (For the full sermon: http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-audience-why-do-you-seek-the-living-among-the )
Pope’s Feast Day
For the second year in a row, St. George’s Day on April 23 was observed by the Vatican in “a special way” to honor the Pope, whose given name is, of course, Jorge, or George… just like mine :-).
Tweet of the day: “A simple lifestyle is good for us, helping us better share with those in need.”
Santa Martha Mass:
Thursday was another day full of things to report, not the least of which was the Pope’s resumption of his more-or-less-daily morning masses in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, or Santa Martha dormitory, where he lives. These brief but pointed homilies are my favorites because they are short, pithy and never fail to cast a new light on old ideas, and this one, focused upon Bat-like Christians, is no exception. From the Vatican report:
“Taking his cue from the gospel reading of the risen Christ appearing before his disciples, Pope Francis began by noting how instead of rejoicing over his resurrection, the disciples were struck by fear instead of joy.
“‘This is a Christian’s disease. We’re afraid of joy. It’s better to think: Yes, yes, God exists, but He is there. Jesus has risen and He is there. Somewhat distant. We’re afraid of being close to Jesus because this gives us joy. And this is why there are so many ‘funeral’ (mournful) Christians, isn’t it? Those whose lives seem to be a perpetual funeral. They prefer sadness to joy. They move about better in the shadows, not in the light of joy, like those animals who only come out at night, not in the light of day, who can’t see anything. Like bats. And with a little sense of humor we can say that there are Christian bats who prefer the shadows to the light of the presence of the Lord.”
“But, the Pope continued, Jesus through his resurrection, gives us joy, the joy of being Christians and following him closely, the joy of traveling on the path of the Beatitudes.
‘So often, we are either upset by this joy or fearful or we think we have seen a ghost or believe that Jesus is just a way of behaving. ‘We are Christians and so we must behave like this.’ But where is Jesus? ‘No, Jesus is in Heaven.’ Do you talk with Jesus? Do you say to Jesus: ‘I believe that You are alive, that You are risen, that You’re near me. That You will never abandon me’? A Christian life should be this: a dialogue with Jesus, because – this is true – Jesus is always with us, always there alongside us with our problems and our difficulties, with our good works.” (For the full report: http://www.news.va/en/news/the-popes-mass-at-santa-marta-no-fear-of-joy-2)
Interfaith Outreach: Buddhist Feast of Vesakh:
I am amazed at the amount of time and energy Pope Francis seems to be dedicating to the task of uniting faiths, of removing divisions, of building bridges. And, last Thursday, in keeping with this thrust, the Vatican released a message of solidarity with Buddhists for the Feast of Vesakh. An excerpt:
“As Buddhists and Christians, we live in a world all too often torn apart by oppression, selfishness, tribalism, ethnic rivalry, violence and religious fundamentalism, a world where the “other” is treated as an inferior, a nonperson, or someone to be feared and eliminated if possible. Yet, we are called, in a spirit of cooperation with other pilgrims and with people of good will, to respect and to defend our shared humanity in a variety of socioeconomic, political and religious contexts. Drawing upon our different religious convictions, we are called especially to be outspoken in denouncing all those social ills which damage fraternity; to be healers who enable others to grow in selfless generosity, and to be reconcilers who break down the walls of division and foster genuine brotherhood between individuals and groups in society.”
Mass to Honor New Saint Jose de Anchieta:
Almost lost in the hubbub surrounding the Canonization Mass for Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II was the elevation earlier in the month of St. José de Anchieta (1534-1597), founder of both Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Among the Popes remarks at Thursday afternoon’s Mass to honor new St. José:
“St. José de Anchieta knew how to communicate what he had experienced with the Lord, what he had seen and heard from Him … He was a boy aged nineteen. He had so much joy that he was able to found a nation: he put in place the cultural foundations of a nation, in Jesus Christ. He had not studied theology, and he had not studied philosophy; he was a boy! But he had felt the gaze of Jesus Christ, and he had let himself be filled with joy, and chose light. This was and is his holiness. He was not afraid of joy”.
Tweet of the day: “We must not let ourselves fall into the vortex of pessimism. Faith can move mountains!”
South African Bishops “Ad Limina” Visit:
Every five years, all Bishops are required to join with the others serving in their respective countries (or sometimes regions, where the countries are small) on a pilgrimage to Rome to meet with their colleagues and review the progress being made back home. They are also greeted on these visits by the Pope, who may take advantage of the opportunity to express his concerns, delights or congratulations to those in attendance, depending upon the circumstances. Pope Francis has not been bashful in expressing his opinions to his brother bishops on these occasions, including the Ad Limina Visit of the bishops serving in South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland, just concluded. From the report of his audience with them:
“[Pope Francis] notes the serious pastoral challenges [their] communities face, according to the bishops, such as the declining birth rate which affects the number of vocations, the tendency of some Catholics to drift away from the Church in favor of other groups who seem to promise something better, and abortion, which ‘compounds the grief of many women who now carry within them deep physical and spiritual wounds after succumbing to the pressure of a secular culture which devalues God’s gift of sexuality and the right to life of the unborn’. He adds, ‘The rate of separation and divorce is high, even in many Christian families, and children frequently do not grow up in a stable home environment. We also observe with great concern, and can only deplore, an increase in violence against women and children. All these realities threaten the sanctity of marriage, the stability of life in the home and consequently the life of society as a whole. In this sea of difficulties, we bishops and priests must give a consistent witness to the moral teaching of the Gospel”. (Full report: http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-meets-bishops-of-southern-africa)
Tweet of the day: “None of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice.”
With Sunday’s dual canonization of two popular, recent Popes almost nigh, there was much focus on preparations for the unknown numbers who would be arriving. (It turned out to be approximately 800,000.) From the Vatican report:
“Over two and a half thousand volunteers will be working throughout the weekend to distribute four million free water bottles and hand out 150,000 free liturgical booklets. They’ll also be providing information about free access to the Mass and disability assistance points, which will be located in three areas close to St Peter’s Square… Up to a thousand extra portable toilets are being set up close to St Peter’s and surrounding areas, while 17 giant video screens will be broadcasting the Mass live around the city, including one at the Terminal 3 departure lounge of Rome’s Fiumicino airport.[emphasis mine]
“[Today, Saturday,] there will be a prayer vigil starting at 5pm in the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, followed by adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and an exhibition of items pertaining to Pope John XXIII and the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Other prayer vigils, with the opportunity for Confession in different languages, will take place throughout the night in churches around the city centre, including the church of St Mark beside the Campidoglio for English speaking pilgrims and visitors…
Sunday, 4.27: Canonization of Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II
From Francis’s homily following the formal declaration of both former Popes as Saints:
“…Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side. They were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalized by him, by his cross; they did not despise the flesh of their brother because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles. These were two men of courage, filled with the boldness of the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy.
“They were priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother.
“In these two men, who looked upon the wounds of Christ and bore witness to his mercy, there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy. The hope and the joy which the risen Christ bestows on his disciples, the hope and the joy which nothing and no one can take from them. The hope and joy of Easter, forged in the crucible of self-denial, self-emptying, utter identification with sinners, even to the point of disgust at the bitterness of that chalice. Such were the hope and the joy which these two holy popes had received as a gift from the risen Lord and which they in turn bestowed in abundance upon the People of God, meriting our eternal gratitude.
Tweet of the day: “inequality is the root of social evil.”
Fourth Meeting of Council of Eight Cardinals
One of Francis’s first acts upon being made Pope was the creation of a council of 8 Cardinals, drawn from all six populated continents, to help him re-write the “Apostolic Constitution” which governs the Curia, or administration, of the Roman church. They have already met three times (in October, December and February) and will continue meeting frequently for at least another year, or so, until all aspects of the church administration have been examined. Meanwhile, also today, the first meeting of a different Council of Cardinals, this one appointed to help rectify issues with the infamous “Vatican Bank,” was held to draft guidelines for their action.
Tweet of the day: “Who among us can presume to be free of sin? No one. Let us ask God to forgive our sins”
Santa Marta Mass:
In his homily this Tuesday morning, the Pope began to look at the community of Christians – not even yet called by that name – with which we are presented in the Book of Acts of the Apostles, calling the picture drawn there “an icon” made with three brushstrokes: Harmony, Testimony to the Risen Christ, and regard for the needs of the Poor:
“This is what Jesus emphasized…, the Pope said. For everything is the work of the Holy Spirit, ‘the only One who can accomplish this’. For ‘it is the Holy Spirit who creates the Church. The Spirit creates unity; the Spirit spurs you on to bear witness; the Spirit makes you poor, for He is true wealth; and he does this so that you may take care of the poor. That is why Jesus tells us: “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit”. We don’t know how: the Spirit comes and goes, but he does all these things’.
“In closing, the Pope issued this invitation: ‘Let us think about our communities, about our parishes, about our movements, about our seminaries, about our dioceses. It will do us good to compare ourselves a little with this [icon]: is my community in peace and harmony or is it divided? Does my community give testimony to Jesus Christ or know that Christ is Risen, does it know it intellectually while it does nothing, does not proclaim it? Does my community care for the poor? It is a poor community?’ May the Holy Spirit, he said, ‘help us to take this path, the path of all those who are reborn in Baptism’. (For full report: http://www.news.va/en/news/the-popes-mass-at-santa-marta-4)
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With that, dear readers, I finally bring this first weekly synopsis of the works and words of Pope Francis to a close. I’m sorry it seems so sterile, and I know it is too long. I look forward to alleviating both of these conditions in the weeks ahead as I refine my technique.
And, you should know that, even as long as it is, I have omitted a great deal more than I have related about this seventh week of the second year of the startling Papa Bergoglio!