Francis. The first.

First year anniversary of this papacy. First pope named Francis. First Jesuit pope. First from the Americas. But the 266th Peter, in continuous succession of the first rock on which the Catholic Church was built.

Though some people see his ‘difference in style and tone’ as translating to a whole new package of different governance of the church all the way to changing church doctrine, this is not the case. That needs clarification.

Fr. Bernardo Cervellera clarifies here.

One year on from the election of Pope Francis as successor to the Apostle Peter, we are becoming increasingly aware that he is guiding the Church towards a revolution, fought not by the sword but by personal witness, without throwing away the past, but by helping authentic tradition to flourish once again.

This has been evident right from the outset, that first evening of 13 March, when presenting himself to the world from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica he asked us to pray together, and silence immediately descended on the packed square, which previously had been full of restless murmurs. Instead of proclaiming programs, he called for silence to listen to God’s program (the one that “always precedes us”).

The Bishop of Rome asked for the prayers of the faithful. Some naive television commentators saw this gesture as a sign that he would dispose of hierarchical clericalism. Indeed, with his silent bow, the Pope lowered himself: to show that he is not a monarch, but a person with a mandate, someone who takes very seriously what one billion Catholics do every day with the rosary: “We pray an Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be for the intentions of the supreme Pontiff”. The most traditional element was expressed in unison with the single most revolutionary, most ….progressive element.

The uniting of these two elements, the traditional and the progressive, appears to be characteristic of Francis.

Which needs continual clarification.

From this point of view, Francis is the ripest fruit of the Second Vatican Council, and especially of a “sound” reading of the Council. In these intervening decades – as was masterfully explained by Benedict XVI – the Church has been divided between a hermeneutic of rupture and a hermeneutic of continuity. The former read the Council as a watershed between the past and present-future: the latter read the development of the life of faith in unity with the past, albeit a past that is re-read and re-applied to the needs of modern man…

And now, Francis comes along.

50 years after the Council, Pope Francis goes beyond these two ruptures, the right wing and the left wing, and reaffirms the Council and the reading thereof as an exegesis of continuity. This is why his every action is both traditional and modern; he spends time in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and in a moving and loving silence draws close to the long lines of the ill and sick who each Wednesday fill the front rows at the general audience, worshipping both the “body” and the “flesh of Christ.”…

However, the world and those on the fringes of the Church are precisely those unlikely to understand this Pope’s witness, in their tug of war pulling him from the right and from the left, from above and below, without ever really allowing themselves to be touched by his vital message .

That is a key insight. Stay with that thought.

Alongside those who ask him to clarify his teaching, speak out in defense of those “values ??” that contemporary society wants to rid the world of, there are those who see him merely as a representative of Latin America, an emblem of how the Church from the developing world has defeated the wealthy Church of the North Americans and Europeans…

There are those who pull him even further, applauding his “openness” (real or supposed) towards homosexuals, gay marriage, communion for the divorced, women cardinals, in a rush toward the future.

But none of these interpretations stop to consider the present: a transparent man in his faith and the joy of his relationship with Christ, which is why he does not offer the world a doctrine or an ideology, but an encounter with Christ himself.

Full stop. That is Pope Francis, summarized in a sentence. It’s the Francis the pop culture media don’t yet get.

The pope, who – in keeping with the tradition of the social doctrine of the Church – said that an economy can not exist without ethics, is accused of being a Marxist. At the same time, those who seem to applaud him as a revolutionary at every unusual gesture, are turning him into a “cult” icon of mass consumption, without being touched in the slightest by his invitation.

That came up on my radio program this week in a compelling conversation with Word On Fire’s Fr. Steve Grunow, and National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez. Kathryn summarizes well here.

The viral photos. The magazine covers. “The Francis effect.”

But as my friend Father Steve Grunow, CEO of Word on Fire (the people who brought us the Catholicism series that partially aired on PBS in recent years), put it earlier this week, there is a danger for the faithful and for interested observers that we treat Pope Francis a little like a St. Francis statue in a garden: It feels good to have him there. He’s popular. He’s holy. I feel good about the Church now, some say. But the point is that he wants to bring people to Christ and challenge Christians to be real. To simply feel good about him or dismiss his challenges — which are the radical challenges of the Gospel – misses the message.

The message is simple. So simple, modern culture that politicizes and complicates everything, needs help even grasping it. Here’s help.

There is something about Pope Francis that has captured the aspirations of the world. It’s something of God. He is a humble servant who points us in the direction of the compelling, joyful alternative that is the life of the Gospels. It’s a self-sacrificial alternative. He seems to be just the tender father we needed as a guide…

The pope has referred to the Church as a field hospital. We go to the doctor for checkups, for advice, for medicine. And so it is here. Come to Church, all who are weary, is again and again the pope’s message. There is love there — for you — from the Creator of the universe. There is mercy there: Never tire of asking for God’s forgiveness. There is such grace-filled liberation in this…

Perhaps that’s all you really need to know about Pope Francis: He is invitational; he invites everyone to the life he has dedicated his life to, walking other people through it, because in it he knows the peace and merciful love the world needs. It’s an ecumenical blessing as it offers healing and flourishing. And, yes, a light that illuminates everything.

The world is noticing, whether they really see what they’re gazing at or not. Yet.

Pope Francis surprises

It hasn’t yet been a week since he was elected, but the man announced as Cardinal Bergoglio/Pope Francis who first appeared to the world on the loggia of St. Peter’s and stood stiff and straight and speechless for what seemed a long time took only a few minutes to throw the world off balance. In a good way.

The ‘firsts’ are legendary now. First Jesuit pope, first Pope Francis, first pope to ask for the people’s prayers for him and bow to receive it in a moment of silence, before he blessed them. And so on. He is who he is, and so profoundly and historically weighty an elevation as this was not going to change him. Take a look at this brief video of the cardinals greeting him after the election. Many of them left laughing. And the account of the doorman at the Jesuit house in Rome who answered the phone when the pope called to thank the Father General for his gracious letter of congratulations.

Over the weekend Facebook was filled with photos of the new pope checking out at his hotel in Rome and paying his own bill from his own funds, in his white papal garments. Which were quickly followed by photos from inside the bus where cardinals were shuttled around Vatican grounds and there in one of the bus seats was a white-robed pope. He opted for that ride instead of a chauffered car. The Vatican is not used to this.

He greeted the credentialed journalists who covered the  conclave and his election – about 6,000 of them – and disarmed them with his ready wit and easy smile. And a message that was pointed and direct but warm.

The role of the mass media has expanded immensely in these years, so much so that they are an essential means of informing the world about the events of contemporary history. I would like, then, to thank you in a special way for the professional coverage which you provided during these days – you really worked, didn’t you? – when the eyes of the whole world, and not just those of Catholics, were turned to the Eternal City and particularly to this place which has as its heart the tomb of Saint Peter. Over the past few weeks, you have had to provide information about the Holy See and about the Church, her rituals and traditions, her faith and above all the role of the Pope and his ministry.

I am particularly grateful to those who viewed and presented these events of the Church’s history in a way which was sensitive to the right context in which they need to be read, namely that of faith.
Historical events almost always demand a nuanced interpretation which at times can also take into account the dimension of faith. Ecclesial events are certainly no more intricate than political or economic events! But they do have one particular underlying feature: they follow a pattern which does not readily correspond to the “worldly” categories which we are accustomed to use, and so it is not easy to interpret and communicate them to a wider and more varied public. The Church is certainly a human and historical institution with all that that entails, yet her nature is not essentially political but spiritual…

He also gave them a scoop.

Some people wanted to know why the Bishop of Rome wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes [OFM]: a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: “Don’t forget the poor!” And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor! Afterwards, people were joking with me. “But you should call yourself Hadrian, because Hadrian VI was the reformer, we need a reform…” And someone else said to me: “No, no: your name should be Clement”. “But why?” “Clement XV: thus you pay back Clement XIV who suppressed the Society of Jesus!” These were jokes. I love all of you very much, I thank you for everything you have done. I pray that your work will always be serene and fruitful, and that you will come to know ever better the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the rich reality of the Church’s life.

The next day, his first to celebrate Mass and deliver the traditional mid-day Angelus in St. Peter’s Square, Francis took to the streets near the Vatican in an impromptu outreach to the people. It must have given the papal security detail fits. But that’s how he sees the mission of helping people ‘to know ever better the Gospel’ and ‘rich reality of the Church’s life’ and it’s the way he did it in Argentina.

So what did papal biographer George Weigel, one of the top world experts on the Catholic Church and the papacy, chief Vatican analyst for NBC News, have to say about this pick, after all? After the beloved and legendary John Paul II. After Benedict XVI. Excellent philosopher succeeded by excellent theologian, both of whom had participated in Vatican II and the blueprint for the Church’s engagement with the modern world. After Weigel recently released his latest book ‘Evangelical Catholicism’ as a blueprint for ‘Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church’?

With great aplomb, Weigel called Francis ‘The First American Pope’, and pronounced him just the right pick.

The swift election of Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, S.J., as bishop of Rome is replete with good news — and not a little irony. To reverse the postmodern batting order, let’s begin with the good news.

A true man of God. The wheelchair-bound beggar at the corner of Via della Conciliazione and Via dell’Erba this morning had a keen insight into his new bishop: “Sono molto contento; e un profeta” (“I’m very happy; he’s a prophet”). That was certainly the overwhelming impression I took away from the hour I spent with the archbishop of Buenos Aires and future pope last May — here was a genuine man of God, who lives “out” from the richness and depth of his interior life; a bishop who approaches his responsibilities as a churchman and his decisions as the leader of a complex organization from a Gospel-centered perspective, in a spirit of discernment and prayer…

A pope for the New Evangelization. The election of Pope Francis completes the Church’s turn from the Counter-Reformation Catholicism that brought the Gospel to America — and eventually produced Catholicism’s first American pope — to the Evangelical Catholicism that must replant the Gospel in those parts of the world that have grown spiritually bored, while planting it afresh in new fields of mission around the globe.

Weigel nailed that, “parts of the world that have grown spiritually bored.” How to address the global culture today, and even find mission fields?

Here, in a statement that then-cardinal Bergoglio had a significant hand in drafting, is what John Paul II and Benedict XVI have called the “New Evangelization” in synthetic microcosm:

The Church of the 21st century cannot rely on the ambient public culture, or on folk memories of traditional Catholic culture, to transmit the Gospel in a way that transforms individual lives, cultures, and societies. Something more, something deeper, is needed.

Something much more, and much deeper, and much more accessible is needed.

That is the message that Pope Francis will take to the world: Gospel-centered Catholicism, which challenges the post-mod cynics, the metaphysically bored, and the spiritually dry to discover (or rediscover) the tremendous human adventure of living “inside” the Biblical narrative of history.

Judging from the boatload of other stories to cover, from Washington politics to Wall Street and Eurozone finances, Middle East flashpoints and middle America unrest, UN humanitarian relief missions to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, this is one to get right to get the rest at all. Because they are all centered on the dignity and humanity of the human person, and the right order of the way things ought to be, beautifully articulated in the Declaration of Independence, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other documents issued in between and since.

Pope Francis is officially installed at the Mass of Inauguration on Tuesday. It may be just another day to a lot of people. But it’s a new day for a lot of humanity.

‘Peter is not there’

The official Latin term for the time between popes holding the office of the papacy is the Interregnum. There is no pope. Vatican operations go into near shutdown or at least restricted mode with key officials doing only essential duties, attending to the most critical things, while the college of cardinals carry the weight of the church and world on their shoulders. But there’s no word for the uneasiness countless Catholics feel around the world for this time of the sede vacante, the empty seat. As one renowned cardinal put it last time around, in 2005, ‘it’s frightening, Peter is not there.’

Time and again over the past several days, I’ve heard Catholics in high places say they are unsettled, anxious, sad and even ‘orphaned’, which is especially poignant given that in his final message as pope, Benedict XVI said he takes each one of us with him (everyone in the world) and prays for us ‘with a father’s heart.’ One of his legacies is helping us see how we’re all in this together, that each one of us in the world has equal dignity and rights and responsibilities.

The cardinals are starting to work out the details of the process of going forward now. Benedict is finally resting and spending time in privacy, praying and reading and enjoying his favorite books and music, and praying some more. But his legacy is among the weighiest of the modern popes. Papal biographer George Weigel told me in an interview that he considered Pope Benedict XVI the greatest papal preacher since Gregory the Great.

Pause a moment with that one…

Carl Olson wonders, was he ‘The Last of the Giants’? It’s all hard to summarize, the pontificate and analyses of it. Read this whole piece, it’s a good one. But here’s the end of Olson’s commentary:

Judging Benedict XVI’s pontificate is a difficult thing to do, hardly possible on the day it has ended. The key question is: what criteria will be used to judge, and who will do the judging? With that in mind, I conclude this essay with two quotes, both from Mark Brumley, President of Ignatius Press, from whom I learned so much about John Paul II’s thought (when Mark was my professor in the late 1990s) and who has worked so tirelessly to bring the writings of Ratzinger/Benedict XVI to English-speaking readers throughout the world.

First, in a 2005 interview with ZENIT, Mark was asked, “What will Pope Benedict XVI bring of himself and his theological interests to the pontificate?” He replied:

Although Ratzinger the prefect is distinguishable from Ratzinger the theologian, we are blessed in Pope Benedict XVI with a theologian and pastor who has thought and prayed long and hard about Jesus Christ, the Church and her mission to the world.

He will, I believe, continue the twofold task of Vatican II — renewing the inner life of the Church and reinvigorating the Church’s mission in the world. He is committed to a renewal of biblical studies and a deepening of ordinary Catholics’ appreciation of and participation in the sacred liturgy.

He staunchly proclaims the universal call to holiness of Vatican II. He understands the importance of dialogue among Christians and dialogue with world religions and seekers, while he upholds the integrity of Catholic faith and insists on a renewed missionary drive to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.

And he knows that in the areas of morality and social justice, the Christian message has not been tried and found wanting, as G.K. Chesterton noted, but has been found difficult and left untried. Furthermore, he sees the threat of radical relativism and many other “isms.”

And today, in a press release, Mark states:

Although Pope Benedict’s pontificate has been relatively short, he has accomplished a great deal amidst profound challenges, both within the Church and in the world. By stressing the “hermeneutic of reform” in contrast to the “hermeneutic of rupture,” he has shown the way forward in clarifying the relationship between the Second Vatican Council and the Church’s Tradition. He has presented clearly, forcefully, thoughtfully, and winsomely “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), and he has strengthened the Church’s efforts to evangelize the world. He has sought to deepen the renewal of the Church’s worship and sacramental life by fostering a recovery of “the spirit of the liturgy.” He has appointed and elevated men to the episcopate who perceive the importance of an authentic understanding of the Second Vatican Council, in light of the Church’s Tradition and the “joy and hope, the grief and anguish” of our world (cf. Gaudium et Spes, no. 1).

And then he ended it all with utmost humility and simplicity. His final public words:

Thank you – thank you from my heart!

Dear friends, I’m happy to be with you, that I can see the Creator’s beauty around us, and all the goodness you’ve given to me – thank you for your friendship and your affection!

You know that this day of mine hasn’t been like those before. I’m no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic church…now I’m just a pilgrim beginning the last part of his journey on earth.

With all my heart, with all my love, with my prayer and all my strength – with everything in me – I’d like to work for the common good of the church and all humanity. I feel your kindness so much.

Let us always move together toward the Lord for the good of the church and of the world. Thank you for bringing yourselves [here] – with all my heart, I give you my blessing….

Thank you and goodnight!

Tom McDonald, a savvy, witty blogger, hardly knew what to say.

And so it ends.

The last great man of Europe takes the stage for the final time, and reminds us that greatness is measured not by political machinations, military or economic might, or even important discoveries, but in staying grounded in the vast messiness of this frustrating and glorious human family with compassion, humility, and gentleness.

He was the teacher we needed at the time we needed him. The Holy Spirit is funny that way. As the world was careening towards armageddon, with almost half its population locked in near-slavery, He gave us a firebrand: a charismatic leader who spoke with a force that toppled nations.

When our greatest enemy was ourselves–our prosperity, our tendency to selfishness, our triviality, our refusal to be taught–he sent a quiet viticulturist of souls. In one of those great cosmic ironies that proves God is a brilliant joker, He sent a teacher to a people unwilling to be taught: a people under the delusion of a radical individualism that says each man is his own Lord and Master, and thus must find his own way by his own light, rather than by the one Light Who illuminates all.

For a people easily distracted by an infinitely multiplying, utterly inconsequential number of small things, he turned the bright beam of his intellect on the big things: the things that mattered: hope, faith, love. In an era when the people who have assumed the mantle of “humanism” are the most anti-human of all, he gave us a true Christian humanist rooted where it must be rooted: in the God who loves.

Non-Catholics can’t possibly understand the connection truly faithful Catholics have to their pope.  He’s not magic, he’s not a god, and oddly enough he doesn’t even need to be holy or even particularly inspirational. (Fortunately, this last part is rare in the history of Christ’s Church.) What he is, is this:  a promise. He is a promise, made by the Incarnate Lord, of a visible leadership that will last for all time, beginning with the flawed, hot-headed, cowardly fisherman who sat at His right hand, and stretching down through the millennia to us today. “Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam.”

And I will miss him more than words can express. He was “my” pope. I read him for years as Joseph Ratzinger, marveling at a mind so sharp it could convey complex points with utter simplicity. As someone called to a teaching ministry, I was inspired by his ability to teach at any level required of him, and teach so well that he also could inspire.

And that, my friends, bespeaks my sentiments exactly. I read him for years as Joseph Ratzinger, quoted him in articles I wrote and talks I gave and on radio shows, because he taught the depths of human truths with such clarity and elegance and art. All that Thomas said, yes.

In recent days, I’ve twice interviewed Fr. Joseph Fessio, founder and editor of Ignatius Press and former student of the former Fr. Joseph Ratzinger with whom he has maintained a close 40 year long friendship. It has been enlightening and joyful and inspiring to talk with him, a priest who can really call Ratzinger/Benedict “my pope.”

“He was different, and people came to listen to him. He offered a very personal, meditative reflection. As people now recognize, he was articulate, organized and coherent,” recalled Father Fessio, during an interview that shared recollections of Ratzinger’s role as a teacher and offered an appreciation of his gifts as an author.

But Father Ratzinger’s intellectual gifts were even more striking during the graduate seminars, “where there would be five or six of us. In each session, one person would make a presentation, and others would respond,” Father Fessio remembered. “Father Ratzinger would listen, and then, in the discussion, he would make sure that others also spoke. My German was not good, and I couldn’t say very much.”

During the seminars, Father Ratzinger “would sit back, and then, at the end of the seminar, in two or three sentence, he would summarize all that was said. He pulled the discussion together into an organic whole in a way that was always illuminating.”

Fr. Fessio told me Ratzinger/Benedict had the gift of synthesizing thoughts in something like “an intellectual symphony,” a beautiful and perfectly apt description of Benedict’s exquisite expression. “He had a power of seeing,” Fr. Fessio told me again on Monday. “He wrote with clarity, depth and breadth. His deep faith gave him the power of seeing everyting integrated as a whole, with an inner unity.”

From the interview in National Catholic Register:

Father Fessio recalled a remark the Pope made during a meeting some time after his election.

Another Catholic publisher asked the Holy Father why only Ignatius Press was publishing his works. Father Fessio recalled  that the Pope calmly responded, “Because when no one else cared, they published my works.”

Those of us who knew the mind and eloquent expression of Joseph Ratzinger always cared, in fact valued it highly, and hung on every word. Fortunately, they will be with us for a lifetime and many more after us, no matter who his successors are to the Chair of Peter.

Pope Benedict’s last audience

The world is watching. Hopefully, they’re watching, reading and listening to reputable sources on what the pope said at his last public address.

Here it is in full. It’s loaded with Benedict’s characteric nuance and gentle sounding references to loaded messages. He’s a maestro. 

A key snip:

When, almost eight years ago, on April 19th, [2005], I agreed to take on the Petrine ministry, I held steadfast in this certainty, which has always accompanied me. In that moment, as I have already stated several times, the words that resounded in my heart were: “Lord, what do you ask of me? It a great weight that You place on my shoulders, but, if You ask me, at your word I will throw out the nets, sure that you will guide me” – and the Lord really has guided me. He has been close to me: daily could I feel His presence. [These years] have been a stretch of the Church’s pilgrim way, which has seen moments joy and light, but also difficult moments. I have felt like St. Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of ??Galilee: the Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days in which the catch has been abundant; [then] there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the Church it has ever been – and the Lord seemed to sleep. Nevertheless, I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His – and He shall not let her sink. It is He, who steers her: to be sure, he does so also through men of His choosing, for He desired that it be so.This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish. It is for this reason, that today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.

Emphasis added, of course. To highlight the point otherwise lost on those who just listened to an address of nice words about a beloved church and faith and office of the papacy, etc. No, this was pointed. The ship has pitched and tossed about on stormy seas. But it is not the ship of fools the world and particularly the world’s opinion shapers believe or want to believe it is. It is ‘the Lord’s barque,’ even when he didn’t seem to be part of the crew. And “he does so also through men of His choosing, for He desired that it be so.This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish.” That is key.

No matter how imperfect the ministers, the ministry is set by the one who set it on course and continues to direct it, he was saying.

Do read his entire address. It was longer than usual and filled with gems that deserve consideration. In due time.

But since some big media want to highlight imperfect ministers and paint the church with the broad brush of accusation or condemnation or guilt by implication…or whatever…that needs to be addressed.

On the Wednesday Benedict would deliver his historic, final audience, the New York Times ran a front page, above the fold color photo of a dark Roman night sky over St. Peter’s Basilica, with the featured piece under it being a news analysis by Laurie Goodstein that doesn’t deserve attention. Except that so many irresponsible media do such lazy journalism that consists of reporting what the Times reports, and then others report off of that pack journalism until we’re all with Alice in Wonderland.

At the least, this is media misfeasance. And that’s all the attention I’ll give it, because it’s not worthy of snipping and addressing and analyzing. But it should be exposed as the irresponsible, tendentious, undisiplined press that it is. Report what is true, when you can source it and it is reliable and not coincidentally timed to an opportunity to sway opinion before the college of cardinals commences their process to elect a new pope.

I’ve been in big media long enough to know they can selective choose which sources to seek out, and which quotes make it into print.

Which heaps more attention onto the great service some bloggers are providing as new media giving news consumers alternatives to the old gatekeepers.

Like Patheos, where the insightful, cutting edge blogging on the Catholic Church is overseen by The Anchoress.

Tonight, no lightning strikes; mere hours away from the of Benedict’s pontificate, a bright beam shines from the heavens and the absence of gloom almost gives a shiver: a light shines in the darkness, a light ever-ancient, ever-new.

Read the whole post. It’s loaded with links. Worthy of attention.