Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pope Francis: We Have Not Done "Everything the Holy Spirit Was Asking" at Vatican II

An article posted this morning in the National Catholic Reporter by publisher Thomas C. Fox says Vatican Radio reports that in a homily today at the communal residence where he lives, Pope Francis called the Second Vatican Council "a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit."  Francis lamented that fifty years after Vatican II, some Catholics were still resisting implementing it.

This, of course, is music to the ears of progressive Catholics around the globe.

The NCR article follows:

Pope Francis on Tuesday offered his most explicit support in his young papacy to the work of the Second Vatican Council, saying it was "a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit." He made his remarks in a homily at a Mass celebrated at the Santa Marta residence inside the Vatican.

He criticized those who resist change and "wish to turn back the clock" and "to tame the Holy Spirit," asking if, 50 years after the council, "we have we done everything the Holy Spirit was asking us to do during the Council?"

The answer is "no," Francis said, according to a Vatican radio report.

"We celebrate this anniversary, we put up a monument but we don't want it to upset us. We don't want to change and what's more there are those who wish to turn the clock back." This, he went on, "is called stubbornness and wanting to tame the Holy Spirit."

Francis' homily was centered on the theme of the Holy Spirit and our resistance to it. It took its inspiration from the first reading of the day, which was the story of the martyrdom of St. Stephen who described his accusers as stubborn people who were always resisting the Holy Spirit.

He said: "The Holy Spirit upsets us because it moves us, it makes us walk, it pushes the church forward." He said it's wrong to try to tame the Spirit, adding, "the Holy Spirit is the strength of God, it's what gives us the strength to go forward, but many find this upsetting and prefer the comfort of the familiar."

Nowadays, he went on, "everybody seems happy about the presence of the Holy Spirit but it's not really the case and there is still that temptation to resist it."

He concluded his homily by urging we not resist the pull of the Holy Spirit. "Submit to the Holy Spirit," he said, "which comes from within us and makes go forward along the path of holiness."

Friday, April 12, 2013

What If God Were...Just a Stranger on the Bus, Trying to Find His Way Home?

In this 2008 photo, Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, second from left, travels on the subway in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Bergoglio, was known for taking the subway and mingling with the poor of Buenos Aires while archbishop. (Pablo Leguizamon/Associated Press)

It has been thirty days since Jorge Bergoglio was elected pope on March 13, 2013.  And thirty days since he stunned everyone by announcing he would be called Pope Francis.

Not only the first to be so named in the history of Roman Catholicism, but also the first to say that his name was inspired by St. Francis of Assisi and the saint's lifelong commitment to the poor, the marginalized and the innate sanctity of all God's creatures.

And for thirty days, I have held my breath -- and my tongue! -- hoping ... against hope ... that the most promising new pope since John XXIII would not disappoint, would actually turn out to be the genuine breath of fresh air that the church has needed desperately, for too many decades.

After railing for years against the relentless reversal of Vatican II -- by Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI -- I think it's time for me to say that the election of Pope Francis has good chance of being an achievement that I never expected the current College of Cardinals to deliver:  it opens up opportunities for the Catholic church that I feared I would not see in my lifetime.

As I watched TV in the moments leading up to Bergoglio's election, I thought to myself, half-joking, that the seagull perched stubbornly atop the Sistine Chapel smokestack might mean that the Holy Spirit was watching over the proceedings inside.  Maybe that thought wasn't as whimsical as it seemed.

Of course, the story of Pope Francis will be whether he can capitalize on those opportunities and bring them to fruition.  But the first thirty days have been an impressive beginning -- impressive enough that I dare to hope for more.

The most moving first impression was on the balcony, right after Francis was introduced to the waiting world.  When he asked the crowd in St. Peter's square to bless him, before he would bless them, I dissolved into tears.  It was exactly the right thing for him to do -- and a telling departure from the self-important, imperial papacies of the last fifty years.

And the hits just kept on coming.  His insistence on not lording it over his fellow cardinals.  His refusal of elaborate liturgical brocade for his first papal blessing.  Paying his own bill at the place he lodged during the conclave.  Declining, so far at least, to live in the elaborate papal apartment or use the papal limo or ride in the bulletproof popemobile.  Insisting that he be able to touch actual human beings physically, even if it causes his security staff conniptions.

The simple attire for the first papal blessing was only the beginning of a liturgical modesty and warmth that contrasted sharply from the pomp of his predecessors -- and from the totalitarian worship of rubrics that they tried to impose on Catholic churches everywhere.  Might we actually be witnessing a return to the style of worship that Vatican II proclaimed as the baptismal birthright of every Christian?

This Franciscan style of liturgizing reached its most poignant expression to date on Holy Thursday, when the new pope washed the feet of two young women (leaving the rubricists aghast) and a Muslim (leaving the ecclesial traditionalists aghast).  If Pope Francis keeps this up, he may well repeal the suppression of liturgy begun by John Paul II and pursued to extreme by Benedict XVI.

As several commentators remind us, it is way too soon to know if Francis will recontextualize any of the rigid dogmatism that has characterized the Roman church in the decades since Vatican II.  As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he reportedly preached the narrow moral strictures that his predecessors declared official church positions.  So progress in any of those areas would be a pleasant surprise.

But on at least one controversial topic, Pope Francis does promise to be his own man:  in contrast to the last two popes, who condemned Latin American liberation theology, he appears to be a fan of it and of its preferential option for the poor.  If that continues through his papacy, the quest for justice and equality will at least set the church on a much better path than it's been on for a long time.  And that has the potential to at least diminish the preponderance of narrow moral strictures in what the church preaches to the world.

Given what we have learned about Bergoglio in Argentina, along with his choice of the name Francis, we have reason to hope that a commitment to the poor, the ordinary, the marginalized are at the core of who Pope Francis is.

Among the many stories and images of Jorge Bergoglio in the years before he was elected as Pope Francis, few are as enduring and endearing as his penchant for mingling with the poor, which included hanging out in slums and getting around Buenos Aires using its public transit system.

I don't know where the photo above first appeared, but it was featured in coverage of Bergolio shortly after the College of Cardinals elected him -- suggesting it was one of the things they found so attractive about him.

I notice something about the photo that apparently no one else has: What is striking about it is how much the scene was anticipated by the lyrics of "One of Us," a song released by singer Joan Osborne in 1995.  (A version is available on You Tube.)  Some of the lyrics bear an uncanny relationship to this part of Pope Francis's history:

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home

The point is not, let me hasten to say, that Pope Francis (then or now) should be considered "God...on the bus."

It is, rather, that one of the ways Bergoglio has experienced God's presence most intensely was by sharing space with the strangers on the buses and subways of Buenos Aires.  Doing that was his quiet but poignant way of personifying and proclaiming the message of Jesus, "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me."

That clearly is a central tenet of liberation theology -- a teaching that the church needs to hear and take to heart on every continent.  If Francis succeeds in taking that spirit global, he will have moved the Catholic church in the direction of St. Francis of Assisi more than any pope before.

If Francis prevails in that, the result may not be precisely the church that Vatican II envisioned.  But it will embody a significant part of that vision.  And a church that goes there will be more open to the present and to God's lure into the future -- and less likely to worship what it was in the past.

Let's just say that this is my personal prayer for Pope Francis.  And from what I have seen and heard over the last thirty days, I'm sure I'm not alone.  That's a very rewarding feeling.  For fifty years we have wandered in a desert made by derelict, deficient popes.  It would be so refreshing to see the church back on fertile ground.

One final irony about the lyrics to "One of Us."  The last verse reads:

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home
Just trying to make his way home
Like a holy rolling stone
Back up to heaven all alone
Just trying to make his way home
Nobody calling on the phone
'cept for the pope maybe in Rome

If things go well with Pope Francis, God will not be lonely up in heaven, waiting for the pope to phone from Rome.  Because God will find new companions on every bus and every subway and in every gathering of human beings.  Because those who gather will realize that God is in them and with them and among them.  And "Thy kingdom come" will be not just a prayer, but a lived experience.