Rome — St Peter’s Basilica this morning was beautifully solemn as the college of cardinals gathered in prayer. I watched each one as he walked in, so many of them praying in front of the altar, above the tomb of St. Peter, the Apostle, and first pope. I noticed that the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Tagle, looks even younger than I heard he did. I watched as a subdued Cardinal Dolan tended to older brothers. I couldn’t help but notice that nothing was going to distract the prayer of Raymond Cardinal Burke, the American in the Vatican court. Quebec’s Cardinal Ouellet gently fixed the miter on the cardinal in front of him. Cardinal George looked pained from his battle with cancer.
The Mass was a prayer that the Holy Spirit might truly guide the hearts and minds of the men now in the Sistine Chapel. The expression of gratitude for Pope Benedict XVI was palpable; the basilica seemed to rock with the applause, as if Bernini and Michelangelo were expressing theirs, too.
I don’t speak Italian, but I could tell Cardinal Sodano, the dean of the college of cardinals, had an important message to send — or, at least, that he was repeatedly saying the word “misericordia.” Yes, as reports have it, he spoke about unity. But on a full reading, now available in English, he also talked about mercy and love and our mandate to both:
This mission of mercy has been entrusted by Christ to the pastors of his Church. It is a mission that must be embraced by every priest and bishop, but is especially entrusted to the Bishop of Rome, Shepherd of the universal Church. It is in fact to Peter that Jesus said: “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?… Feed my lambs (John 21:15). In his commentary on these words, St. Augustine wrote: “May it be therefore the task of love to feed the flock of the Lord” (In Iohannis Evangelium, 123, 5; PL 35, 1967). It is indeed this love that urges the Pastors of the Church to undertake their mission of service of the people of every age, from immediate charitable work even to the highest form of service, that of offering to every person the light of the Gospel and the strength of grace.
This is what Benedict XVI wrote in his Lenten Message for this year (#3). “Sometimes we tend, in fact, to reduce the term “charity” to solidarity or simply humanitarian aid. It is important, however, to remember that the greatest work of charity is evangelization, which is the “ministry of the word”. There is no action more beneficial – and therefore more charitable – towards one’s neighbour than to break the bread of the word of God, to share with him the Good News of the Gospel, to introduce him to a relationship with God: evangelization is the highest and the most integral promotion of the human person. As the Servant of God Pope Paul VI wrote in the Encyclical Populorum Progressio, the proclamation of Christ is the first and principal contributor to development (cf. n. 16).”
The first reading for the Mass had mandates and consolation. First from Isaiah:
He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken; to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison.
I thought of this new generation of bishops like Dolan. I thought of some archbishops back at home like Lori and Chaput. Bishops like Connelly and Sheridan. So many more. With hearts on fire and minds clear, rooted in the Gospel as the words from St. Paul were read:
Then we shall not be children any longer, or tossed one way and another and carried along by every wind of doctrine, at the mercy of all the tricks men play and their cleverness in practicing deceit. If we live by the truth and in love, we shall grow in all ways into Christ, who is the head by whom the whole body is fitted and joined together, every joint adding its own strength, for each separate part to work according to its function. So the body grows until it has built itself in love.
Love and mercy. Knowing our roles. Living the will of God in truth. If the cardinals lead by that, shepherding a people in love with the Gospel, the world will have great gift.