My Church~ On the Eve of St. Patrick’s Day
Photo credit: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters New York Times
The question is asked in so many of the quarters of my life. “What’s happening to my Church?” They don’t really mean the Universal Church. They don’t mean the people of God. They don’t think of the Church as the dedicated community of men, women and youth who dedicate their lives to the call of Jesus in service of justice and compassion. By the Church they mean the Vatican, the Pope and the scarlet robed hierarchy.
When I’m asked, “What’s happening to my Church?” my first answer is, “I have no idea! I’m watching this drama with you; but I do believe the Holy Spirit is in charge.”
That is an accurate answer, but not completely honest. With the exception of Pope Benedict’s untimely withdrawal, nothing else surprises me. Although in retrospect, I see his Sede Vacante as part of his plan. The Holy Father Benedict spent his pontificate doing what he does best, writing theology. Benedict XVI is an exceptional theologian and I am in awe of his insights.
He left the chair of Peter, Pope Benedict said, because he lacked “strength of mind and body.” The only other Pontiff to abandon his chair was the hermit, St. Celestine V, who in 1294 left his office due to overwhelming Vatican corruption. Like our own Holy Father Benedict, Celestine abandoned his office to commit to a life of prayer. This was the same Celestine, whom Dante recognized in the abyss. The cowardice of this Great Refusal placed him –in Dante’s fantasy-in the deepest hell in his Inferno.
I saw and recognized the shade of him
Who by his cowardice made the great refusal.
—Inferno III, 59–60
In 2009, Benedict XVI proclaimed a worldwide year of St. Celestine. Surely, his Holiness saw the actions of Celestine as not only moral, but honorable. It is with the greatest humility and magnanimous courage that the Holy Father released his power and authority.
I hear Jesus saying “Blessed are the Meek, Blessed are the poor in spirit.” So I bless Pope Benedict in his journey into sanctuary, to pray, reflect, and wait for sister death to lead him into eternity. With him I trust that Divino Afflante Spiritu will lead Mother Church.
With that said the nightmare of priest scandals, and the Vatican’s full fledged attempt to sinkhole the world’s chronology back a few centuries is beyond disappointing. It’s actually heart-wrenching. I’m a dedicated fan of Vatican II and believe that it was the Lord who called us to reform and enter the Modern Age. And my people have been Christians since before St. Patrick- who interestingly was sent to Ireland by Pope Celestine I.
I hear people say that we have lost credibility, our shepherd left his post. Yet I’m proud of our fragile old Pope who lived through Nazi Germany, wars, famines, upheavals too many to name. I couldn’t miss the theatrics as we watched as our pope ascended out of the Vatican Gardens (in a helicopter). He’s gone, but I know that our tabernacle is not empty.
I’m a realist. On one hand my expectations on an organization that is more than 2,000 years old and represents some 1.2 billion of the earth’s population, is that it’s human. Yet in my soul I know that we as church are called to be the people of Christ, to be Christ to the world. Yet, as I ponder the plague that has struck both my personal and ecclesial family, I also see the healing. I see this reversal of tradition as a call to conversion.
And now we welcome the pontificate of Cardinal Bergoglio, the Jesuit from Argentina, His Holiness Pope Francis I. There is new hope, revived trust that we as a family of faith will face the mounting stress of the 21st-century’s issues together.
Yes, Pope Francis is a conservative in his theological and doctrinal positions as well as his thoughts on orders of discipline, but he is outrageously passionate about his commitment to the disenfranchised. I love his radical humility. When he called for all of us to bless him before he spoke, I wept. When he chose the Our Father and the Hail Mary for his opening message, I wept. But then of course, I am Jesuit educated and have committed myself to incarnating the Gospel in all my activities -my commitment to academics, my art, in my relationship with my friends, students, my role as wife, mother, sister, aunt and grandmother. In style and vocation I am Dominican- Third Order territory actually since 78, but in essence most simply, I am a follower of Jesus and his Mum.
I prefer to stand in the light, to celebrate this man’s refusal to play royalty. I’ve heard that in his directives to his cardinals, he ordered them to come to his meetings in “black cassocks, and not red with white lace surplices”.
Don’t get me wrong, I love embroidery and lace. I love wearing great fabrics, but outside of Mass and official activities, I think our church men could follow the example of our Sisters and dress in ways that make us feel like family.
In times of confusion, fear and disappointment, I hold the words of Jesus close as he promised, “I am with you always, (Matthew 28:20). And almost daily, I think of St. Peter when so many of the followers had run away from Jesus in fear. In essence our first Holy Father Peter said, “Where would I go Lord, you have the words of eternal life (John 6:68)?
So I say, let’s welcome this new Pontiff. Let’s commit to changing the world one day at a time, one person at a time, starting with ourselves.
I invite you to clink onto the link to The New York Times. They offer a most informative article.