The goodness of Saint Joseph

Today is the feast day of Saint Joseph, which is by “a significant coincidence” also the day on which Pope Francis is inaugurated as Bishop of Rome and Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. St. Joseph is patron of the universal Church and, on a far smaller scale, also my own patron. So he can’t go unmentioned on the blog today.

Saint_Joseph

“In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong  and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness,  which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and  a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for  love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!”

Pope Francis, Homily at the Mass for the Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome

Art credit: Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus, by Guido Reni, ca. 1635

Continuity – Pope Francis’ coat of arms

coat of arms pope francis

Apart from the background, the shield of Pope Francis’ coat of arms is the same as the one he used as archbishop of Buenos Aires. Such displays of heraldry offer a hint at a person’s identity and priorities, and so it is with the Holy Father.

The sun with the logo ‘IHS’ refers to the Jesuit Order, to which Pope Francis belonged. The two lower emblems, the star and the spikenard flower (so not a bunch of grapes) refer to the Blessed Virgin and her spouse, Saint Joseph. Both saints rejoice in a special devotion of Pope Francis.

The motto underneath the shield is also unchanged: “miserando atque eligendo” comes from the holy Venerable Bede’s homily on St. Matthew’s calling by Christ. Rather longer in English, the Latin phrase means “Because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him”. This fits quite well with how we have come to know Pope Francis. No matter what we do or who we are, Christ chooses us because He regards us with mercy and that is a transformative act. Divine mercy makes us worthy to answer the Lord’s call.

The mitre and keys behind the shield are symbols of the power and duties of the papacy. Following Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis is the second pope to not feature the papal tiara on his coat of arms.

“Christ, Christ is the centre”

pope francisIn 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.”

The conclave is over, Pope Francis sets the tone

pope francis cardinalsIn 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.

Smiling Pope 2.0?

We’ve seen Pope Francis being compared to his immediate predecessors, as is only natural, but while seeing him individually greet the cardinals today, the similarities between him and Pope John Paul I are quite striking.

Look at these two videos, the first giving an impression of Pope Francis today, and the second showing some select footage of Pope John Paul II in 1978:

But ultimately, although it is a fun exercise and a means to get to know him, we must let Pope Francis be himself and allow him the time to find his place on the Chair of St. Peter. Perhaps he will continue to remind us of Pope John Paul I, or of any other pontiff that came before him. But simply seeing him as a carbon copy of anyone does neither him or his predecessors any justice.

Pope facts

pope francisAs the enthusiasm, even in the secular media, for Pope Francis hasn’t much waned since his election, here are some interesting facts about the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church.

First of all there is his choice of name. No other Pope before him was called Francis. The last time a Pope chose a name that had not been used before was in 1978, when Pope John Paul I was elected, although he chose a combination of two existing names. For a fully new name, we have to go back to 913, when Pope Lando started his reign of less than a year. Unlike John Paul I, Pope Francis does not have a “I” after his name, since there is no other Pope Francis in past or present to confuse him with. John Paul I did add the “I” to indicate that he was neither John XIV or Paul VII.

Pope Francis is also the first Pope from the Jesuit order. The last Pope to come from a religious order was Leo XIII in 1878. He was a Secular Franciscan. The last Pope to have made public religious vows was Gregory XVI in 1831, who was a Camaldolese monk.

Pope Francis’ age is only slightly noteworthy. At 76, he is two years younger than Benedict XVI was at his election. In fact, he is the second-oldest Pope since Blessed John XXIII, who was some 7 months older at his election. In general, Popes have rarely been in their 70s when elected. The aforementioned John XXIII, Benedict XVI and Francis are among them, but the next one we encounter if we go back in history is Pope Clement XII, who was 78 when he was elected in 1730.

As has been widely reported, Pope Francis is the first Pope to hail from the New World. None before him have come, as he himself put it in his first public words after his election, “from the ends of the earth”. The last Pope from outside Europe was St. Gregory III in 731. He came from what is now Syria. Pope Francis is the third Pope in a row from outside Italy, although he does have Italian roots.

Lastly, in the style of my earlier overview of modern conclaves:

  • 12-13 March 2013: 115 cardinals elected Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, as Pope Francis. The election took 5 ballots.

Photo credit: l’Osservatore Romano

Habemus Papam! – Simplicity hiding toughness

Pope-Francis

A new face, definitely a new name, and plenty of memories of both Popes John Paul (in appearance and in the way he was received). From what little we have seen of him, it is clear that Pope Francis (no “the first”!) is not like his immediate predecessors. And yet, there is much that is familiar.

My first glimpse of him, in footage showing him walking towards the balcony, immediately reminded me of the stature of a Pope Paul VI, or perhaps John Paul I. On the balcony… well, what else could we feel but sympathy mixed with joy. What an undertaking he faces! Poor Pope Francis… But then he addressed the crowd, asked them to pray for and with him, as Benedict XVI was wont to do as well. And that smile that eventually broke through on his face: a second smiling Pope?

Yesterday, it would seem, we received a Pope who is truly a servants of the servants of God as the world best knows it: a man who is not afraid to approach the weak, the sick and the poor, who shuns pomposity and vanity and, as we soon learned, chose to take the bus with the other cardinals back to the Domus Sanctae Marthae, instead of taking the limousine that was waiting.

But that humility should not be taken for weakness or even simplicity. As his chosen papal name indicates, underneath the simplicity of his appearance and actions, not unlike his two immediate predecessors, lies a person of great strength and faith. Whereas Benedict XVI was the professor who taught us about the faith, Francis will be the older brother who walks with us and shows us the way in love and charity.

The new papal face and name will take some getting used. I will miss Benedict XVI, but I am also certain that I will soon come to love Pope Francis.

As an aside, you’ll notice some changes in the blog. In the left sidebar I have added the photo of then Pope in place of the seal of the sede vacante, and on the College of Cardinals page, which you can find via the tab above, I have made Cardinal Kasper a  non-elector and removed the man who was once Cardinal Bergoglio.