Pope Francis to the cardinals: pointers to the future?

The text of the Holy Father’s address to the cardinals this morning is available. And it is charming. It is a simple speech in its vocabulary and construction, yet it seems pregnant with signals as to the way his petrine ministry will proceed.

Many of us have been struck by Pope Francis’ apparent desire to be his own man. His name, so novel yet so Catholic, is the strongest sign of that. He is not to be seen as a disciple of John Paul II, or Paul VI, or John XXIII, or Leo XIII, or even Benedict XVI. In fact, it seems he is not even to be labelled as a disciple of St Ignatius, the Jesuit founder. He is Peter with a large dollop of the saint of Assisi. While one cannot rule out that he is including reference to the Jesuit St Francis Xavier in his choice of name, it seems clear enough now that he is very much in the mould of St Francis of Assisi: the simpler dress, the simpler transport, the greeting of people, the encounter with Christ as central.

pope francis

Neither, however, is he dismissing his predecessor. Far from it. Note first this lovely passage from this morning:

I extend an especially affectionate thought, filled with gratitude, to my venerable predecessor, Benedict XVI, who, during the years of his pontificate enriched and invigorated the Church with his teaching, his goodness, guidance, faith, humility, and his meekness, which will remain the spiritual patrimony of all. The Petrine ministry, lived with total dedication, found in him a wise and humble interpreter with his gaze always fixed on Christ, the Risen Christ, present and alive in the Eucharist. Our fervent prayer will always accompany him, our eternal memory, and affectionate gratitude. We feel that Benedict XVI lit a flame in the depth of our hearts, a flame that continues to burn because it will be fanned by his prayers that will continue to sustain the Church on its spiritual and missionary journey.

It is a fulsome and touching tribute. But are there some real hints here for us to note? The emphasis on the Petrine ministry – he is to be Peter first. His gaze fixed on Christ – the centrality of the personal encounter with Christ that Benedict XVI emphasized so strongly. Christ present and alive in the Eucharist – is this that start of a focus by him on the liturgy? The flame lit by Benedict in our hearts, and fanned by Benedict’s continued prayers – he seems to confirm Benedict’s future hidden life, but also his continued influence on the Church. Time will tell.

Let us never give in to pessimism, to that bitterness that the devil tempts us with every day. Let us not give into pessimism and let us not be discouraged. We have the certainty that the Holy Spirit gives His Church, with His powerful breath, the courage to persevere, the courage to persevere and to search for new ways to evangelise, to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Christian truth is attractive and convincing because it responds to the deep need of human existence, announcing in a convincing way that Christ is the one Saviour of the whole of man and of all men. This announcement is as valid today as it was at the beginning of Christianity when the Church worked for the great missionary expansion of the Gospel.

Again Pope Francis mentions the Devil. This is what hampered Benedict the teacher – the constant obstruction of his divine mission by the demonic forces within and without the human fabric of the Church. Pope Francis seems intent on being a spiritual warrior, an exorcist. And here too he signals a commitment to the New Evangelization, an evangelization not only of the weaker members of the Church, but the whole world. He wants to make disciples of all nations. Coupled with his intention to confront the Devil at every turn, this missionary enterprise looks set to be in the classic Catholic mould: conversions and baptisms, not only the social service that has dominated modern missionary work. With wheaten bread must come also the Bread of Life, the Bread of Heaven.

Dear Brothers, have courage! Half of us are old: I like to think of old age as the seat of wisdom in life. Old people have wisdom because they know they have journeyed through life – like the aged Simeon and Anna in the Temple. It was that wisdom that allowed them to recognise Jesus. We must give this wisdom to young people: like good wine that improves with age, let us give young people this life’s wisdom. I’m reminded of what a German poet said about aging: “Es ist ruhig, das Alter, und fromm” – “age is the time of peace and prayer”. We need to give young people this wisdom.

He is not afraid to be old even in the midst of an ever more vigorously youthful Church. Age carries experience, and experience reflected and prayed upon brings wisdom. He has this to share, as had Benedict. It will be good wine, the vintage of the Lord.

I commit my ministry, and your ministry, to the powerful intercession of Mary, our Mother, Mother of the Church. Beneath her maternal gaze, may each one of us walk and listen to the voice of her divine Son, strengthening unity, persevering together in prayer and giving witness to the true faith in the continual presence of the Lord.

He emphasizes Mary yet again, an emphasis seen both in word and in action these last two days.

Pope Francis might not be the pope I was hoping for, but he seems like the pope we all need.

And still no mention of Vatican II…

Further thoughts on Pope Francis

Things are beginning to sink in all round. Pope Francis is a man who defies a neat single labelling.

Pope Francis I appears on the central balcony

So far in a quick web survey there emerges that in Buenos Aires he took a strong moral line on such matters as same-sex ‘marriage’, to the manifest annoyance of the Presidentrix of Argentina. He is theologically “conservative” but strong on “social justice” (and as Dr Shaw rightly asks, why the “but”?!). He scaled down the episcopal style of life in Buenos Aires, living in a small flat, taking public transport to work and often cooking for himself. He is said to have refused several offers of curial posts, avoiding coming to Rome unless he had to.

Jesuits are notoriously un-liturgical. Many are suggesting that either he will place a low priority on liturgical matters, leaving things be, or he will positively dismantle the restoration of tradition.On traditionalist blogs some are going hyper about Cardinal Bergogolio’s alleged non-implementation of Summorum Pontificum and his hostility to tradition, yet it seems he allowed the old rite Institute of the Good Shepherd to open a house in his diocese. IN Argentina he had oversight for eastern rite Catholics, which suggest that he is familiar with the eastern liturgies.

I suspect his Jesuit simplicity will indeed see him adopt a simpler papal style, and that he will be vigorous in stamping his authority on the Curia. But for all the mainstream media’s wishcraft that he will simplify the Church by reducing its pomp and grandeur (this on the BBC) and opt for the poor and marginalized, this may be true to a degree, but they may find that he administers a dose of noble Roman simplicity that is far too strong for liberals and progressives. Simplicity for him may well mean, “Do as you’re told and don’t argue”, “Do it my way or no way”, “You are either for me or against me”, “It’s either yes or no, not maybe”. Simplicity can be very direct indeed.

Francis – is it Assisi or Xavier? Maybe it is both – Assisi appeals to all Italians, and certainly chimes with his hitherto simplicity of life; Xavier is a nod to his Jesuit order and to the role of evangelization in the Church.

Rocco Palmo provides a good ad hoc translation of Pope Francis’ first address and it has some interesting moments. Some snippets:

And before anything else, I’d like for us to pray for our bishop-emeritus, Benedict XVI. Let us pray together for him, that the Lord bless him and Our Lady keep him in her care….

Note his graciousness to Benedict, and his use of Bishop Emeritus, not Pope Emeritus. Very promising – Pope Emeritus jars immensely!

And now, together, let us start this road: bishop and people. This [new] path of the church of Rome, which “presides in charity” [over] all the churches. A path of brotherhood, of love, of trust between us. Let us pray always for ourselves: one for the other. Let us pray for all the world, that we all might know a great fraternity. I wish you that this journey as Church, that we begin today and on which my Cardinal-Vicar [of Rome] will help me, might be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city!

Fascinating – he confirms that Rome “‘presides in charity’ [over] all the churches”. What might this mean for his approach to ecumenism? Charity suggests that he will approach the other churches with humility and peace; presiding suggests that he will not shrink from the Petrine primacy one iota. And he plans to bear fruit in evangelizing the city of Rome! Evangelization, very Pope Benedict, very missionary, very St Francis Xavier.

And now I’ll give you my blessing… but first – first, I ask you this favor: before the bishop blesses his people, I ask that you pray to the Lord that he might bless me: the prayer of the people, seeking God’s blessing for their bishop. In silence, let’s please make a prayer for me….

Some are saying that he asked the people to bless him, and horrified they were too! But it seems that Pope Francis asked the people to pray for him that he might be blessed, which is another thing entirely. A bishop asking for prayers sounds mighty healthy to me. And so what if a pope bows to his people: it adds a little more substance to the last of the papal titles, Servant of the Servants of God. Recently I have been asserting that the media presentation of the Vatican Council, and the Council’s reception in some parts of the Church, was marked by a hermeneutic of power, especially with regard to lay activity in the Church, as was evidenced in the reaction to the Bishop of Portsmouth’s restructuring plans. Its antitdote is the hermeneutic of serviceand it seems that Pope Francis will be happy to adopt that hermeneutic himself.