Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pope Francis and the Passion of Christ

Cardinal Bergoglio kissing the feet of an AIDS patient
Pope Francis was elected less than a week ago, and it seems everyone already has opinions about him. The most critical seem to be coming from traditionalists in the Catholic Church, many of whom are having what Father Z calls a "spittle-flecked nutty" over our newly elected Pope Francis. The traditionalists point to Cardinal Bergoglio's record of not supporting the Latin Mass, and they are issuing statements of doom and gloom, saying this Pope will basically be a disaster.

Although many traditionalists say Cardinal Bergoglio has not supported the TLM, it has been pointed out in many places that within 48 hours after the issuance of Summorum Pontificum, Cardinal Bergoglio called for a Latin Mass in his diocese. The traditionalists do not take into account that Argentina is a Latino community. Latinos have their own way of celebrating Mass, which very much involves the entire community with much loud singing and clapping and Latino guitar music. Latino masses are basically the antithesis of the very personal Traditional Mass and its use of ancient Gregorian chant and the organ. Cardinal Bergoglio offered the TLM to the people, and they for all intents and purposes rejected it. He cannot be blamed for that.

I think Traditionalists are making a huge mistake in throwing hissy fits in regard to our new Holy Father. First and foremost, no Catholic ever has the right to make a judgment regarding any Supreme Pontiff. The Holy Father has only one judge to whom he must answer, and that is the actual Head of the Mystical Body: Jesus Christ. I have many times decried the disrespectful and outright scandalous statements that some so-called traditionalists have made against Pope Benedict XVI and other modern popes. The Pope is God's Anointed. He is the spiritual head of the Church on earth. To speak against him in his capacity as Pope is the same as attacking Jesus Christ Himself. The Pope, unlike any other person on earth, is referred to as "His Holiness." That is not a reference to him personally but to the office he holds. Our duty as the Mystical Body of Christ is to support the the Vicar of Christ without qualification. We expect liberals to speak out against the pope when he doesn't cater to their whims and desires, but Traditionalists are suppose to be the "grown ups." Unfortunately, that is not always true.

Our Lord gave us a promise that his Vicar can never mislead us. That doesn't mean that he will be a perfect human being and can never be wrong on secular issues. But the Holy Father can never mislead the church on spiritual issues. You either believe that or you don't, and if you don't believe that, you are on very shaky ground. As I quote on my sidebar from Sister Lucy, Fatima visionary, "He that is not with the Pope is not with God, and he that wants to be with God, has to be with the Pope." You can have all the outward trappings of Catholicism, but if you are not a papist, you are not Catholic.  Obedience and loyalty to the Pope are what separate us from Protestants.

I think we need to realize that we are living in extraordinary historical times. I stated in a recent post that I believe the papal conclave which just concluded was likely the most important papal conclave in the history of the Church. It was preceded by the startling resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Yes, other popes have resigned, but there were obvious outside extenuating circumstances that surrounded those resignations. Pope Benedict XVI's resignation seemingly came out of the blue. The Holy Father seemed to be going along just fine when all of a sudden he tells us that he is leaving, which struck the church and the world like a thunderbolt, much like the actual lightning strike on St. Peter's on the day of the announcement.

Lightning strikes St. Peter's Basilica on the day of
Pope Benedict's resignation announcement
Pope Benedict XVI then revealed in his last Angelus message on February 24 that God had called him to walk a different path, that he had been called to " 'scale the mountain,' to dedicate myself still more to prayer and to meditation." The Vicar of Christ was telling us that the decision to resign did not come from him but from God. As I previously posted, our Lord could have easily just taken the pope's life as He has done in the past, but I believe our Lord proceeded in this way to get our attention that this was no ordinary succession of popes, but that something extraordinary was happening.

When Pope Francis stepped onto the balcony, the world was again stunned. No one was expecting his election. He was not on any one's list to become pope. His election constituted many firsts: he is the first non-European pope in 1200 years.  He is the first Jesuit pope. He is the first pope from the Americas. He is the first Latino pope. although he is technically of Italian heritage, having been born to Italian immigrants in Argentina. He chose a name that has never been used by any pope in our 2000 year history. As Philip Lawler writes in
To grasp the full significance of this new Pope’s chosen name, consider this: For 1,100 years, every newly elected Pontiff had chosen a name that had been used by some other Pope before him. Since Pope Lando, who ruled from 913 to 914, every Pontiff on the historical records has a Roman numeral after his name, and the only Pontiff who chose a new name, John Paul I, explicitly said that he was taking the names of the two Popes before him, John XXIII and Paul VI. So when he chose an entirely new name, Pope Francis showed that he was prepared to strike out in a new direction.
Mr. Lawler further points out in his article:
Evoking the memory of St. Francis of Assisi, the name indicates a commitment to simplicity, humility, and wholehearted love for all of God’s creation. At the same [time] the name conjures up memories of the message that the great saint received from God at San Damiano: “Francis, go, rebuild my house, which as you see is in ruins.”
Pope Francis stepped out onto the balcony as our newly elected Pontiff wearing only the simple white cassock of the pope without the red velvet mozzetta with ermine, another precedent setting moment. He wore the stoll only when he gave the blessing and took it off immediately after the blessing. And of course, there was the extraordinary moment before giving his blessing when he requested the people to pray over him and ask God to bless him. He then humbly bowed down while a complete silence came over the vast crowd in St. Peter's Square. Some of the media immediately began checking their audio because they thought something had gone wrong. It was a truly amazing moment.

Pope Francis also seems to have a deep, deep devotion to our Blessed Mother.  It has been reported that Pope Francis says 15 decades of the Rosary every day.  Quoting once again from, His Holiness has said that he was inspired to this practice by the example of Pope John Paul II.
I felt that this man, chosen to lead the Church, was following a path up to his Mother in the sky, a path set out on from his childhood. And I became aware of the density of the words of the Mother of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego: “Don’t be afraid, am I not perhaps your mother?” I understood the presence of Mary in the life of the Pope.

That testimony did not get forgotten in an instant. From that time on I recite the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary every day.
Anyone who prays the Rosary on a regular basis knows the powerful effect it has on our lives.  Praying the rosary is all about experiencing the life of Christ through the eyes of His Blessed Mother.  The Rosary is a fully Christo-centric prayer, completely focusing us on our Lord and His Message because that is where our Blessed Mother was focused.  To pray the Rosary is to walk with Christ and His Mother on the road of salvation.  As St. Louis de Montfort said, "Never will anyone who says his Rosary every day be led astray. This is a statement that I would gladly sign with my blood."

In a previous post before the election of Pope Francis, I mentioned that while every pope is called to carry the cross with our Lord, I believe that this time the Church will be called to carry that cross with him.  We must all do this individually, but I believe that this time the Church will be doing this as a whole.  In his first homily as Pope, Our Holy Father emphasized the importance of the Cross and of participating in the suffering of our Lord upon the Cross:
The same Peter who had confessed Jesus Christ said to him: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let’s not talk about the cross. This is not a part of it. I will follow you in other directions, but not to the cross. When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we confess a Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.
I would like for us all, after these days of grace, to have courage, precisely the courage, to walk in the Lord’s presence, with the cross of the Lord; to build the Church upon the blood of the Lord, which was poured out on the cross; and to confess the only glory there is: Christ crucified. And in this way the Church will go forward.
I am struck by the phrase: "to confess the only glory there is:  Christ crucified."  The world does not see a man beaten so badly he is barely recognizable, nailed upon the cross unable to move and his body drained of every ounce of blood as "glory." This image is despised by the world, but as our Holy Father told us, the only glory is "Christ crucified." To move forward and share in that glory, we must be willing to take up that cross with our Lord and enter with Him into His Passion. A few days before the election of the pope, I heard a talk by a good and holy priest who said that he felt we as a Church are entering into our passion, just as Christ did on Calvary. In His Passion, our Lord was surrounded by those who wished to destroy Him and abandoned by all who professed to follow Him with the exception of a very small group of people including Mary, His Blessed Mother, John the beloved disciple and Mary Magdalene. As Bishop Sheen said, this represents innocence, the priesthood and the penitent.  We must stay close to the Cross and to our Blessed Mother who stands beneath the Cross if we are to survive in these evil times.

Pope Francis has also made it very clear that he is putting his papacy into the hands of our Blessed Mother. One of his very first actions as pope was to visit St. Mary Major. In his address to the Cardinals, Pope Francis stated plainly that he entrusts his ministry to the Blessed Mother:
To the powerful intercession of Mary, our Mother, Mother of the Church, I entrust my ministry and your ministry. Under her motherly gaze, may each of us walk joyfully, obedient to the voice of her divine Son, strengthening unity, persevering together in prayer and witnessing to genuine faith in the continuous presence of the Lord.
So many in the church now seem to be divided into their own camps and fighting with one another and even with the Holy Father. We face grave threats from outside the Church, but it seems that far too often, our worst enemies are ourselves and our own infighting. This could all be easily resolved by recognizing the universal authority of the Bishop of Rome instead of constantly questioning and criticizing that authority. I once again ask, do we believe that the Holy Father is the Divinely appointed head of the church on earth? If the answer to that question is yes, then there is no more room for criticism or questioning of that authority any more than we would question Jesus Christ if he actually sat in the Chair of Peter. The truth is that Christ does sit in the Chair of Peter through the person of the pope.

Let us follow His Holiness, Pope Francis, as he follows Christ.

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