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With Pope Francis residing in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery and Coptic Pope Tawadros II visiting from Egypt, the Vatican is temporarily home to no less than three Popes. But that’s not the only remarkable thing about this week. Tawadros and Francis are repeating a visit that took place exactly forty years ago between Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III.
In 1973, the Catholic and Coptic delegates came together on an important confession of faith in Jesus Christ, in many ways the essential unity to achieve before any further steps in ecumenism can be taken. In the next days, we should look with hope to the meetings between Pope Tawadros II and his associates with the various dicasteries of the Holy See.
As Pope Francis said in his address to Pope Tawadros II today:
“Of course we are well aware that the path ahead may still prove to be long, but we do not want to forget the considerable distance already travelled, which has taken tangible form in radiant moments of communion, among which I am pleased to recall the meeting in February 2000 in Cairo between Pope Shenouda III and Blessed John Paul II, who went as a pilgrim, during the Great Jubilee, to the places of origin of our faith. I am convinced that – under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – our persevering prayer, our dialogue and the will to build communion day by day in mutual love will allow us to take important further steps towards full unity.”
Photo credit: L’Osservatore Romano
On Tuesday, Bishop Dominique Rey gave an update about the Sacra Liturgia conference taking place next month in Rome. There are some interesting points he made which make this conference of special importance to anyone with some interest in the liturgy and its celebration. And, to be honest, as Catholics we all do, whether we’re aware of that or not. But let’s let the good bishop explain (with some emphases by me):
“Thank you for your presence this evening.
Sacra Liturgia 2013 is an event that follows on from the Adoratio 2011 Conference that I organised at the Salesianum in Rome two years ago. Inspired by the Year of Faith called to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and following on from the Synod on the New Evangelisation, I wanted to bring together key cardinals, bishops and other noted experts in the liturgy from around the world to underline the fact that formation in the sacred liturgy and its correct celebration is of the first importance in the life and mission of the Church.
I would like to emphasise this point: grace has a primacy in all our activities. The liturgy is the continuing action of Jesus Christ in His Church. It is where we encounter Christ and receive the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us for Christian life and mission. The New Evangelisation must be founded on the worthy celebration of the liturgy, and for that we need good liturgical formation.
This event was also inspired by the liturgical teaching of Benedict XVI. We are holding the conference in Rome, at the Pontifical University Santa Croce, in order to be close to Peter, and our delegates hope to join with our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, at the Mass of Saints Peter and Paul in St Peter’s Basilica.
The conference itself will be a time of shared reflection, study and celebration on different aspects of the liturgy and the mission of the Church. The programme is published on the conference website, but I would highlight the Keynote address of His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith: “The Sacred Liturgy, culmen et fons vitæ et missionis ecclesiæ” which will in many ways set the tone for the different and specific presentations that will follow.
The liturgical celebrations of Vespers and Holy Mass in the Basilica of St Apollinare will be in both forms of the Roman rite: there does not need to be any opposition between the two. The correct celebration of both have their rightful place in the Church of the New Evangelisation.
At this time we expect delegates from approximately 25 different countries. They include bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians and religious as well as lay men and women. Facilities will be available for delegates to listen to translations in French, English, Italian, Spanish and German. There is more information on the conference website www.sacraliturgia.com in each of those languages…”
Liturgy. Important stuff.
Cardinal Ranjith will give his address on the first day, in the evening of 25 June, with only the celebration of Vespers and the introduction, both by Bishop Rey, preceding it. The Latin bit of the title of this address means “source and summit of the life and mission of the Church”: an apt description of the liturgy from which many other topics flow.
It looks like Bishop Rey has a very clear purpose with this conference. I think it’s therefore apt to start a short series of profiles on some of the speakers with him. Hopefully I’ll be able to get it out sometime tomorrow morning.
Lastly, for those wondering why I choose to pay such specific attention to this conference: firstly, I myself am interested in the liturgy, so this conference is quite up my alley, and secondly, I was asked to do so. I am quite happy to respond to such request, and grateful that my little blog has apparently been noticed enough to warrant such a request.
Two days ago, Pope Francis spoke about the often-heard comment of people who are generally spiritual, even generally believe in God, but won’t go so far as to say anything concrete about what they believe in. The Holy Father asked, “But who is this God you believe in? An ‘all over the place’ god, a ‘god-spray’ so to speak, who is a little bit everywhere but who no-one really knows anything about? We believe in God who is Father, who is Son, who is Holy Spirit. We believe in Persons, and when we talk to God we talk to Persons: or I speak with the Father, or I speak with the Son, or I speak with the Holy Spirit. And this is the faith. “
God-spray… there’s an image. Father Tim Finigan got creative and advertised the imaginary product thusly:
All joking aside, the image and wording is thought-provoking and indicates what our faith is: not just some vague background noise to make us occasionally feel good, but a true relationship with a God who allows Himself to be known. We can know God, and we can let Him direct our lives. There are consequences to faith. If there weren’t, it wouldn’t really be faith.
In an address to the Pontifical Biblical Commission (of which Dutch Bishop Jan Liesen is a member), Pope Francis shone a light on the Catholic understanding of the Bible. This is an ever-necessary effort, as there is still much confusion and misunderstanding on exactly how the Bible fits in our faith and tradition.
In his address, the Holy Father explained:
“As we know, the Holy Scriptures are the testimony in written form of God’s Word, the canonical memorial that attests to the event of Revelation. The Word of God, therefore, precedes and exceeds the Bible. It is for this reason that the center of our faith is not only a book, but a history of salvation and especially a Person, Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. Precisely because the Word of God embraces and extends beyond Scripture to understand it properly we need the constant presence of the Holy Spirit who “guide us to all truth” (Jn 16:13). It should be inserted within the current of the great Tradition which, through the assistance of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Magisterium, recognized the canonical writings as the Word addressed by God to His people who have never ceased to meditate and discover its inexhaustible riches. The Second Vatican Council has reiterated this with great clarity in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum: “For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God “(n. 12).”
What we may gather from this is that the Bible does not exist in isolation: it is not a book that came into being as we know it today. Instead, it grew, developed and exists not for its own purpose, but to communicate the Word of God. And a second important point is the role of Tradition, the magisterium, and – not least – the Holy Spirit, which act as interpreters of this Word.
We are a Religion of the Book, but our religion is not about the book. It is about what - who - the book is about. And that gives us a hint about how we should relate to the Bible. As Pope Francis explains later:
“The interpretation of the Holy Scriptures cannot be only an individual scientific effort, but must always confront itself with, be inserted within and authenticated by the living tradition of the Church. This norm is essential to specify the correct relationship between exegesis and the Magisterium of the Church. The texts inspired by God were entrusted to the Community of believers, the Church of Christ, to nourish the faith and guide the life of charity.”
The nature of the Bible tells us how it relates to us and the greater body of faith. We should receive it as it was given: the testimony of the Word of God for the community of faithful.
In his address to media representatives yesterday, Pope Francis pointed out that, while the Petrine ministry is of course important, it is not what the Church is ultimately about:
“Christ is the Church’s Pastor, but his presence in history passes through the freedom of human beings; from their midst one is chosen to serve as his Vicar, the Successor of the Apostle Peter. Yet Christ remains the centre, not the Successor of Peter: Christ, Christ is the centre. Christ is the fundamental point of reference, the heart of the Church. Without him, Peter and the Church would not exist or have reason to exist. As Benedict XVI frequently reminded us, Christ is present in Church and guides her. In everything that has occurred, the principal agent has been, in the final analysis, the Holy Spirit. He prompted the decision of Benedict XVI for the good of the Church; he guided the Cardinals in prayer and in the election.”
In these days and weeks it is only understandable that much time and energy is devoted on the Pope. We need and should take the time to get to know him, and that will go on for some time yet. But let’s not limit ourselves to his person. After all, he is simply the shepherd who will lead us to the Good Shepherd.
No shepherd is a carbon copy of other shepherds. Pope Francis is not Pope Benedict XVI. But their ministries do compliment each other. We can’t see them in isolation, nor should we engage in competitions to see who is the better shepherd.
In many of his recent words, as in the quote above, Pope Francis reminds us of what his predecessor taught. In a sense, he is building his own ministry on that of Benedict, and that means we can’t put everything the latter taught and did behind us. Just like we can’t ignore what John Paul II taught, or Paul VI, or John XXIII…
The pontificate of Pope Francis exists in a continuity, and that continuity is the journey of “the Holy People of God … to encounter Jesus Christ.”
In his meeting with the cardinals who are still in Rome, Pope Francis brought the conclave period to an end today. In his address, which was characteristically filled with unscripted asides, the Holy Father looked back on the conclave, calling it a “period … filled with meaning not just for the College of Cardinals but also for all the faithful.”
In addition to the usual words of thanks to both the cardinals and his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, “a wise and humble interpreter with his gaze always fixed on Christ, the Risen Christ, present and alive in the Eucharist”, Pope Francis also touched upon various matters of faith. He likened the unity experienced in the conclave to the unity in the Church, which results in an openness to the Holy Spirit:
“As someone told me: the Cardinals are the Holy Father’s priests. But we are that community, that friendship, that closeness, that will do good for every one of us. That mutual knowledge and openness to one another helped us to be open to the action of Holy Spirit. He, the Paraclete, is the supreme protagonist of every initiative and manifestation of faith. It’s interesting and it makes me think. The Paraclete creates all the differences in the Church and seems like an apostle of Babel. On the other hand, the Paraclete unifies all these differences – not making them equal – but in harmony with one another. I remember a Church father who described it like this: “Ipse harmonia est.” The Paraclete gives each one of us a different charism, and unites us in this community of the Church that adores the Father, the Son, and Him – the Holy Spirit.”
And from his words we may perhaps also glean some idea of what the papacy ahead may bring, as Pope Francis outlined the mission of the Church: “to bring Jesus Christ to humanity, and to lead humanity to an encounter with Jesus Christ: the Way, the Truth and the Life, truly present in the Church and, at the same time, in every person.”
And although the subsequent conversations with each cardinal was heartwarming to watch, the content of the what the Pope actually said must not be ignored. It is easy to consider him a nice and humble man with his heart in the right place, he is also a staunch Catholic, with a living faith in the Lord. That is what makes him tick, it’s the foundation of his identity. In that sense, Cardinal Napier’s gift of an armband with the text “I believe in God” is as suitable as can be for Pope Francis.
I have a Dutch translation of the Pope’s address.
In little over an hour, the cardinal electors will make their way to the Sistine Chapel, and then the waiting game begins. While this conclave will likely not take too long, even if there is no really clear candidate who can immediately command 77 votes, the hours of today and tomorrow will no doubt crawl by.
So, while we wait, why not heed Cardinal Eijk’s request, obviously made yesterday, to pray:
“In the past ten days the cardinals have been intensely preparing themselves in Rome for the coming conclave. Through the thousands of journalists who are present here in Rome, the world is united with us. And we feel that unity with the world. On the eve of this conclave I would therefore like to ask the faithful in the Netherlands to pray for the cardinals who, starting tomorrow, will elect the bishop of Rome. Pray that we, filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit, may choose a good shepherd for the Church.”
Whether from the Netherlands or elsewhere, prayer must be our first priority, well before any consideration of who is papabile and who isn’t and what Pope we would like to see.
The timing of the upcoming conclave seems to me rather fitting. A start date of the 12th may well lead to the inthronisation of the new Pope to take place on the 19th, which is the feast day of Saint Joseph. He is the patron of the Catholic Church, which is reason enough to note this (near) coinciding of events, but, as some readers may know, St. Joseph is of special significance to me as well. I took his name for my baptismal name and his intercession has been evident several times. One of the most notable examples did not even involve me directly: my fiancée, before our relationship started, prayed a novena to St. Joseph that I might return her feelings for me, which was exactly the rapid result. I only heard of this until after we got together.
The Pope emeritus’ birth name is Joseph, so perhaps Cardinals Josip Bozanic, Giuseppe Betori, Giuseppe Versaldi, Giuseppe Bertello or José Policarpo should be especially prepared… ?
All joking aside, I gladly follow Cardinal Dolan’s example in praying a novena to St. Joseph, starting tomorrow, and I will share it on the blog. A novena is a nine-day prayer for a special intention. Our intention can be that the conclave may be successful according to God’s will, that the cardinals may be open to the Holy Spirit and that the new Pope’s reign may start as and remain a blessing for the Church and the world.
The prayer and intention for the day will be published every morning from tomorrow until the 19th on this blog.
With the conclave approaching rapidly, and Dutch Cardinal Wim Eijk being the sole voting Dutch cardinal, Amsterdam-based priest Fr. Pierre Valkering writes an ill-considered open letter to him, published today in populist newspaper De Telegraaf.
He writes to urge Cardinal Eijk to vote for a candidate who will change Catholic teachings on sexuality, and, as he admits in the opening paragraph, he is writing “based on my own understanding of [the] Holy Spirit in these matters.” Already there does a main problem become clear. As faithful Catholics, clergy or laity, we do not, first and foremost, act on our own understanding of the Spirit, but understand Him through the Church. Any personal understanding (or misunderstanding) must always be considered in the relationship between God and His people, as the one can’t contradict the other: God won’t be telling His people as a whole one thing, and tell an individual something else altogether.
Fr. Valkering criticises the previous Popes’ promotion of sexuality finding its fullest fruition within the marriage between a man and a woman who are open to new life. “All other forms of sexual experience, heterosexual and homosexual, are rejected.” This, he says, gives the vast majority of people the message that they don’t live properly. This, too, should not be surprising. It has become not done in modern society to criticise anyone about their personal life, but isn’t that what jesus Himself also did? Isn’t that what teaching is? Correcting people if necessary and teaching them what is right and wrong? The Church has been tasked with the same thing, and that has nothing to do with rejecting people. And if a person has a crisis of conscience about such matters, as the author writes about later, the right response is not automatically to disregard or change the teachings of the Church and follow your own wishes and desires. If you accept Christ as the Teacher you want to follow, you must also be open to letting Him teach you, even when the lesson is perhaps difficult to understand. The right course of action is then to try and find out why it is so difficult. Only then, by bringing our own motivations, conscience and obstacles to the light of Christ, can we start the process of change that Christ desires for all of us. And no, that is not always easy. But with trust and faith in the Lord, we know it is right.
Fr. Valkering continues,
“In an increasing number of countries, and certainly in the Netherlands, [...] the balance between the “moral right” and the sympathy in public opinion undoubtedly falls to people who live in all openness and honesty, even if they do not life in conformity to the Church’s sexual morals.”
This is a very slippery slope, and basically subjects the unchanging truths that Christ taught us to the wishes and opinions and, even vaguer, the feelings of the people. As if these truths are somehow changed as people think differently about them. As people of faith we profess that reality and truth are not what we make ourselves.
“People of the Church, on the other hand, make that same Church and everything she stands for implausible and unattractive when they do not really show themselves in their personal thought and action concerning sexuality, but do measure and judge the people who are honest and open, and do not approach them with the respect [...] that every person has a right to.”
As Christians and as people who strive to better ourselves we can’t sit down and adapt ourselves to our failings which keep us from following Christ in our actions and our entire being. But that is what Fr. Valkering is proposing. He essentially says that people can’t help who they are, that teaching people that they can change, that Christ asks us that, is akin to a lack of respect. That is, of course, rather at odds with what our faith has taught us over the centuries.
We must always respect and love our neighbours, regardless of who they are or what they do. However, criticising actions (or lack thereof) is never the same as criticising a person. Teaching a person that change is good and possible does not put a person down, but rather elevates him.
There is one thing that I will give Fr. Valkering credit for, and that is accusation that some workers in the Church can be hypocritical when they teach people about change but refuse it in themselves. But if a teacher has a failure, we can’t conclude that his teachings are incorrect, but we can ask ourselves if he is the right person to do the teaching.
Much talk yesterday about the heavy-handed Vatican forbidding the American cardinals from holding daily press briefings to inform people of what goes on at the General Congregations. But, as always, is there any basis about such a reading of the events?
As Fr. James Bradley rightly points out, the highest authority in the Vatican at the moment is the College of Cardinals. No one can bar them from doing anything, apart from standing orders from the former Pope, or themselves. Certainly, within the College there may have been some pressure upon the Americans to stop the briefings, but there is no reason to assume that anyone forced anyone else. In fact, given the situation in which information was apparently leaked to the media, a fairy strict communications shutdown is understandable. Of course, the daily briefings by Fr. Lombardi will continue, but the cardinals will devote themselves to the internal forum, which is of course the most important these days.
We should ask ourselves if we have any real need to know the details of the daily proceedings. Of course it’s interesting, but I don’t think that such a process of electing a new Pope should be sidetracked by too much focus on external communication and media briefings. The outcome is important, and those 115 cardinals (expected to be finally complete today) need our support in prayer and thought, not our need for answers and our thoughts about what they should do and who they should vote for. Leave that to the Holy Spirit.
In these events, the general congregations and the conclave, we must not forget the element of faith. Faith in the Holy Spirit, that He will guide His Church and grant her the shepherd she deserves and needs, and faith in the cardinal electors, that they will decide and vote according to their conscience and open to the whisperings of the Lord.
Photo credit: Cardinals O’Malley, DiNardo and George, Gregorio Borgia/AP