Thursday, March 21, 2013

Papal Perspective

Ever have the urge to just scream when you hear something totally stupid being offered as if words of wisdom?  Bad enough many in the secular media are clueless about papal conclaves but worse yet is when Catholic journalists, priests especially, babble pablum and proliferate pedestrian nonsense.

Recently, since the election and installation of His Holiness, Pope Francis, I have heard several Catholic commentators say on television and radio that finally we have a pope we can be excited about. Some have said that while JP2 and B16 were good philosophers and theologians, now we have a pope (Francis) who actually DOES something. They give a backhanded compliment to Pope John Paul II and say he made the papacy more visible from all his papal trips and that Pope Benedict XVI was the friendly professor who taught us so much about the faith. But in their estimation, DEEDS speak louder than SYMBOLS or WORDS.  I have heard more than I care to count about how JP2 was an excellent communicator and B16 was an excellent teacher, however, it is now F1 who is actually SHOWING us how to live the Catholic faith and not just know it.

This oversimplified perspective is dangerous. First of all, there is no competition between all three popes.  Each one had his own gifts he brought to the papacy.  Pope JP2 restored HOPE after a cynical world just got over Watergate, Viet Nam and the sexual revolution. Pope Benedict continued with reigniting FAITH which is an act of the intellect whereby divinely revealed truths are known and accepted. Pope Francis is now helping us rediscover LOVE, also known as CHARITY (faith in action).

Give credit where credit is due.  That is only just.  Pope John Paul II did not only make papal visits, he also canonized a LOT of saints; he established World Youth Day; he was pivotal in the demise of the evil empire (alias the Soviet Union) and the end of the Cold War and Iron Curtain. He revised the Code of Canon Law in 1983 and promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992. No small feats, any of them.

Pope Benedict also did more than merely speak words. His sharp theological mind was in the same league as the bright philosophical intellect of JP2. B16 may not have written as many papal documents as his predecessor, but he DID a lot in addition to his words of wisdom. Pope Benedict SHOWED us how to be REVERENT once again, especially at Sacred Worship. LEX ORANDI, LEX CREDENDI. What we believe and how we worship are organically integrated. It was Pope Benedict who restored the Extraordinary Form as a viable option in the Western (Latin or Roman Rite) Church AND he is the one who officially promulgated the 3rd Edition of the English translation of the Roman Missal.  Words do mean something. Acts are important but so are words. Ideas must inspire acts. Many of us remember our Baltimore Catechism instruction from the Nuns in parochial school: "Why did God make me? God made me to KNOWLOVE and SERVE Him in this world so as to be happy in the next"

Before any Christian can truly SERVE his or her neighbor, he or she must first KNOW the Lord and grow in LOVE of Him. It is from the love of God and the love of neighbor that we are impelled and motivated (by God's grace) to then SERVE God and serve our neighbor. We serve God, as Pope Benedict XVI aptly tells us by giving Him proper and reverent WORSHIP.  In Spirit of the Liturgy, B16 tells us that Moses was sent by God in Exodus to tell Pharaoh: "Let my people go so that they may worship Me in the desert."   Sacred Liturgy is the worship of God by man. Yet, true divine worship is a gift from God. He tells us HOW to do it and WHERE to do it.  The Temple of Jerusalem was the place par excellence in the Old Testament. In the Christian era, it is the church where the Holy Mass is offered and where the Real Presence (Body & Blood, Soul & Divinity of Christ) remains in the Tabernacle 24/7.

So, how can these ecclesiastical and journalistic nincompoops honestly tell us that Pope Francis is the first pope to SHOW us how to BE Catholic whereas Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul merely TOLD us what we should BELIEVE as Catholics? NO. All three pontiffs TEACH and give EXAMPLE.  John Paul II witnessed and demonstrated faith in practice when he went to the prison to forgive his would-be assassin and when he suffered the ignominy of a long and devastating illness that robbed him of his vim and vigor. Nevertheless, he kept going despite the mumbling and drooling toward the end.  He showed us what everyone knows already. Old age and illness often go hand in hand and the elderly and the infirm deserve our attention. Their suffering is holy and sacred.

Pope Benedict demonstrated great humility when he chose to abdicate and step down so someone younger and healthier than he can shepherd the universal church with greater efficiency and effort. His ego did not prevent him from leaving the limelight to spend his final years in solitude and prayer. He also showed that despite his shyness and reserved manner, he did the best he could do and he gave his best. I was in High School seminary when Pope Paul VI was dying. I remember the election of Pope John Paul I and then Pope John Paul II. I went to Philadelphia to see JP2 visit the USA. I met him in person at a friend's ordination in 1985. He inspired many young people to discern a vocation to priesthood and religious life who may never have considered it otherwise. He made the papacy accessible and the esteem of the world was evident at his funeral. Not just popular, JP2 made a difference in his 26 year pontificate. Likewise, B16 had to follow in the fisherman's shoes of a truly Great and future Saint. No easy task, but he was the best choice. Pope Benedict renewed REVERENCE where Pope John Paul renewed hope, wonder and awe at being Catholic. Pope Benedict reminded us it is IMPORTANT to KNOW the faith since you cannot love what (or whom) you do not know. Now, Pope Francis is continuing the program by showing us different ways to express and live the faith in charity and in love.

I am proud and am grateful for all three popes. Even JP1 was an enormous blessing even though he only reigned one month as Vicar of Christ. The Smiling Pope, as he was called, brought joy into many hearts that had grown cold with indifference. Pope Paul VI was brave and courageous in defending Humanae Vitae but he was also very saddened and disheartened by the many priests and nuns who abandoned their vocation and even the Church during the late '60's and early 70's. In his last years some bureaucrats and ecclesiastics took advantage of his ill health and just made things worse. Liturgical abuses and sexual misconduct were at an all time high.  BAD liturgy + BAD theology go hand in hand and they promote BAD morality as well. Dissent from Humanae Vitae in terms of contraception and abortion were kindled in so-called Catholic colleges, universities and seminaries. Simultaneously, pedestrian and banal liturgies no longer worshipped God but exalted man and his concupiscence. Hence, God sent us JP2, B16 and now F1.

So, my brother priests in the media, WAKE UP and smell the espresso.  Stop dissing Pope Benedict as if he were some eccentric old uncle who is now in the nursing home and a new relative has joined the family. Stop comparing and evaluating recent pontiffs as if they were presidents or prime ministers. They are not.  Popes are SHEPHERDS of the universal church. They are the Vicars of Christ in earth. REMIND people and the world what gifts were given by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Francis is not going to undo what good has been done, philosophically or theologically by his immediate predecessors. He will be like his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, just as Pope John Paul II was a lot like Saint Paul the Apostle and Pope Benedict XVI was a lot like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure combined.  Every time I celebrate Mass, I thank God for the gift of Pope Benedict and his insights and influence on Sacred Worship. Every time I teach a religion class or preach a sermon, I thank God for the wisdom of both B16 and JP2.  Were it not for Pope John Paul II being elected in 1978, I may not have endured and survived 12 years of seminary.

Now that we have Pope Francis, I hope to learn from him and imitate him as well since he continues the good work begun by his predecessors.


Anonymous said...

Thank you very much Fr. John for pointing out to those not just in the secular Media but even in the Catholic Media (Vatican Radio and Rome Reports) that Francis is the only Pope that matters now. How true it is that all of the Popes in 2000 contributed something. I am beginning to fear the start of a media created Personality Cult where it is all about the Person and not the Message of the Gospel of Christ.

Anonymous said...

Well said!!

Kathleen said...

I can't tell you how much this means to me ~ as I have been really struggling with this issue so much since Pope Francis was elected, that I became worried I would somehow take it out on him that both Blessed JPII and Pope Emeritus Benedict were so subtlety being treated like they hadn't got it right ~ but now finally this Pope has. A Protestant friend couldn't wait to ask me my opinion of the new Pope - and I knew what was coming; he is choosing to not wear the red shoes, etc. .... things that an ignorant of the Catholic Faith person would interpret as holiness compared to his predecessors. I had to bite my tongue!! I love and miss both Blessed JPII and Pope Emeritus Benedict and I am so very grateful that we have already been blessed with two mostly likely saints, in just my own lifetime. They have taught me well and strengthened my faith. Thanks again for everything you wrote.... God bless you!

annmarie said...

I miss BXVI! I value greatly his intellect (ONE of his little grey cells is more than all of mine!) but most of all that he valued the transcendent in the Liturgy: I want to be taken beyond myself by the Liturgy - by beauty, by silence, by awe and wonder. A pedestrian everyday liturgy, where people going up to Communion reminds me of nothing so much as a disorderly canteen queue, will never enthuse me with knowledge, love and service of God .... and I can participate better by listening to a really good choir than by being tempted to inflict my singing on those around me.

My Protestant sister made a good observation: when I said that I hope Pope Francis will evangelise with more than good works, she remarked that the Press are picking up on that because it is the bit they can understand. I am already encouraged by his remark that the Church must do more than good works, otherwise she is no more than another NGO.

We have indeed been fortunate in the Popes of my lifetime; they have all been great men. This one is already inspiring me to greater committment, just by reason of my knowing he carries the SJ tradition - I read the life of St Ignatius at an impressionable age .... and ended up a Catholic!

fr jim said...

Relax john, I'll have Msgr. Dellesandro bring some decaf espresso beans over..... Nothing wrong with the pictures & esp the good work of CV!
When PF speaks truth, the wolves will strike....
Til then... Rejoice that we have a memory 2k old, not 2-3 papacy's (thank God)
Come, let us go to die with Christ!

DeLaCruz said...

I agree with you 100 % - very well said.

Doug said...

Thank you Father! You said so well what has been going through my mind - it reminds me when VP Biden said he was amazed how quickly the conclave process came to a consensus because American politics would not have. Well, I thought you're comparing apples to oranges and you're Catholic. But, thank you for pointing out to those who have brushed aside our two former Pontiffs that they each had unique and masterful gifts that helped us, if we were open to them, on our faith journey to become holy. JP2 was the main reason I left the Presbyterian church to join the Roman Church. I even had a scrap book of him. So, when B16 came along I was a little tepid towards him because JP2 meant so much to me, but I soon learned to love B16 as much for his gifts -you are so right he reminds of the angelic doctor Aquinas at times. And yes I fell in love with F1 immediately but I do love and would defend these 3 popes equally because each has been my Holy Father on earth and my guiding star to Jesus and Heaven.
God Bless You Father!

Black Biretta said...

Fr Jim, you misunderstand my photo. I AGREE with the titles under each pontiff. JP2 restored HOPE, B16 FAITH and F1 CHARITY. All three are necessary theological virtues. thanks for comments. God bless and have a good Holy Week and Triduum

avemariadec8 said...

Thank God Father, that there are still priests like you around
It is bad enough to hear about the Conclave like it was a "campaign" and now my humble, humble, opinion, Pope Francis may be spontaneous and true to his character, but he is no fool, and nobodies fool
+Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever, Amen!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Well now after the news video and pictures have been taken of the visit of Pope Francis to Pope Emeritus Benedict clearly showed the "nincompoops" that Fr. John said so well that Benedict did the right thing in stepping down a month ago. All you have to do is see how thin tired and frail he is getting these "Wise Talking Heads" to SHUT UP with the stupid talk and finally give him the simple RESPECT he deserves.

Alex F. said...

Thank you so much for this post, Father (and for all you do for the Church!). Just as there are different religious orders with different charisms throughout our Church's history to address the various and varying needs of the Church, so too does God send us Supreme Pontiffs with different gifts to minister and guide His flock!

Anonymous said...

All I have to say is well said, Father! Thank you for this much needed piece! May God bless you abundantly during this Easter season! Sorry this is a little late, I just noticed this post today.

Peter Northcott said...

JP II Body
B XVI Mind
F I Soul...

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