The Corner

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A Two Pope Saturday


There were cheers and tears in Rome this morning as Pope Benedict XVI (last year’s other man of the year) made a surprise appearance at Mass for Pope Francis’s first class of cardinals.

In one of those media miracles we keep seeing (I recently called Pope Francis “The Pope of Media Miracles“), the Associated Press even notices the clear message of continuity!

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle; the sight of the two in white was emotional for anyone who remembers the uncertainty many felt as the bishop of Rome left Rome and the Chair was empty.

The feast celebrates the teaching authority of that chair that Pope Benedict humbly walked away from a year ago later this coming week. Back in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI explained about it:

Celebrating the “Chair” of Peter …  means attributing a strong spiritual significance to it and recognizing it as a privileged sign of the love of God, the eternal Good Shepherd, who wanted to gather his whole Church and lead her on the path of salvation.

Among the numerous testimonies of the Fathers, I would like to quote St Jerome’s. It is an extract from one of his letters, addressed to the Bishop of Rome. It is especially interesting precisely because it makes an explicit reference to the “Chair” of Peter, presenting it as a safe harbour of truth and peace.

This is what Jerome wrote:  “I decided to consult the Chair of Peter, where that faith is found exalted by the lips of an Apostle; I now come to ask for nourishment for my soul there, where once I received the garment of Christ. I follow no leader save Christ, so I enter into communion with your beatitude, that is, with the Chair of Peter, for this I know is the rock upon which the Church is built” (cf. Le lettere I, 15, 1-2).

Dear brothers and sisters, in the apse of St Peter’s Basilica, as you know, is the monument to the Chair of the Apostle, a mature work of Bernini. It is in the form of a great bronze throne supported by the statues of four Doctors of the Church:  two from the West, St Augustine and St Ambrose, and two from the East:  St John Chrysostom and St Athanasius.

As a friend adds:

Jesus gave Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” to bind and loose on earth, and that even greater authority over the sacraments points to the authority he has to teach authoritatively in Jesus’ name. We retain the expression of the Pope’s teaching ex cathedra (literally “from the chair”) to highlight his most solemn teachings to us, applying Christ’s words and wisdom to the present age.

Peter helps us hear Christ. 

During that 2006 audience, Pope Benedict also said:

I invite you to pause before this evocative work which today can be admired, decorated with myriads of candles, and to say a special prayer for the ministry that God has entrusted to me. Raise your eyes to the alabaster glass window located directly above the Chair and call upon the Holy Spirit, so that with his enlightenment and power, he will always sustain my daily service to the entire Church. For this, as for your devoted attention, I thank you from my heart.

Today, Pope Francis, with the pope emeritus looking on, spoke in his homily of the brotherhood of Christian discipleship, which is not an ideology or a philosophy, he said. Jesus came to teach “a way”, a journey to be undertaken with him, and we learn the way as we go, by walking.  Yes, dear brothers, this is our joy: to walk with Jesus.

Today Pope Francis said to the cardinals gathered:

we know that Jesus has won, and that we need not fear the Cross; indeed, the Cross is our hope.  And yet, we are all too human, sinners, tempted to think as men do, not as God does.

And once we follow the thinking of the world, what happens?  The Gospel tells us: “When the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John” (Mk 10:41).  They were indignant.  Whenever a worldly mentality predominates, the result is rivalry, jealousy, factions…

And so the word which Jesus speaks to us today is most salutary.  It purifies us inwardly, it enlightens our consciences and helps us to unite ourselves fully with Jesus, and to do so together … 

What does the Church need today?

I will tell you what the Church needs: she needs you, your cooperation, and even more your communion, with me and among yourselves.  The Church needs your courage, to proclaim the Gospel at all times, both in season and out of season, and to bear witness to the truth.  The Church needs your prayer for the progress of Christ’s flock, that prayer – let us not forget this! – which, along with the proclamation of the Word, is the primary task of the Bishop.  The Church needs your compassion, especially at this time of pain and suffering for so many countries throughout the world.  Let us together express our spiritual closeness to the ecclesial communities and to all Christians suffering from discrimination and persecution.  We must fight every form of discrimination!  The Church needs our prayer for them, that they may be firm in faith and capable of responding to evil with good.  And this prayer of ours extends to every man and women suffering injustice on account of their religious convictions.

And while directly addressing the cardinals (who will elect his successor), Pope Francis made clear what the source of all courage and prayer and compassion must be:

“And Jesus called them to himself…” (Mk 10:42).  Here is the other action of Jesus.  Along the way, he is aware that he needs to speak to the Twelve; he stops and calls them to himself.  Brothers, let us allow Jesus to call us to himself!  Let us be “con-voked” by him.  And let us listen to him, with the joy that comes from receiving his word together, from letting ourselves be taught by that word and by the Holy Spirit, and to become ever more of one heart and soul, gathered around him.

Pope Francis in so much of his public pleading with the world to know the mercy of God and for disciples of Christ to extend invitations to His healing love, is bringing believers into a deeper understanding of what it means to be part of the Mystical Body of Christ in the Church.

If you pray, pray for priests. Scandal happens when we are not Christian, when we distort Christianity to fit our ideologies or philosophies, or otherwise follow our own way, not realizing our weakness and remembering that hope about which Pope Francis speaks and these men have dedicated their lives to. As Pope Francis put it in a homily last month: Scandal happens when there is no true relationship with God. As Cardinal Dolan put it recently in a meeting: Stick with God. And do so in real ways that help stretch our hearts in love and mercy, seeking truth, with our consciences working as “truth-seeking radar.” 

When Christians are truly Christian, when they truly seek to know and love Christ, we’re all better off and painful wounds — that so much in our culture and choices can make worse – have real hope of being healed.

Go to Jesus was the message of Pope Benedict’s papacy. And Pope Francis certainly is running with it.