Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Year Later

   Where were you when Pope Francis was elected a year ago today?  This is an easy one for me.  Our parish holds a bread and soup luncheon with a short spiritual ferverino on the Wednesdays of Lent following our noon Mass.  As part of the Year of Faith, I was offering reflections on the constitutions of the Second Vatican Council.  Being a plugged-in sort of priest armed with the Pope Alarm and Conclave apps, I had my iPad on the podium streaming EWTN's live feed of the Sistine Chapel chimney, as we were expecting the next smoke signal around 1 pm.  I had just finished my presentation and we were preparing to leave when the smoke started coming out of the chimney.  It looked black at first, and I said, "Oh, there's the smoke... it's black... no pope today."  Then it started billowing out white.  "No!  Wait.  It's white.  We have a pope!"  Some people stayed in the parish hall to watch, others asked how long it would be before the new Holy Father made his appearance on the balcony.  I told them it would be about forty-five minutes - enough time to drive home and watch in the comfort of their living room if they wished.

   In the months after Pope Francis' election, people often asked me my impressions of our new Holy Father.  I'll repeat here: I like him.  It's as if a parish priest was elected pope, and I think it's what the Church needed at this moment in history.  While there have been awkward moments, misunderstood interviews, and biased interpretations of the things Pope Francis has said and done over the last year, on the whole I see a man with a pastoral heart, a clear mind, and a firm backbone who refuses to be pigeon-holed by anyone's expectations or stereotypes. 

   Pope Emeritus Benedict is also a great and humble man, and I think what he gave the Church in his papacy has been under-appreciated by many.  It was a tremendously sad day for me as I watched every minute of the news coverage of Pope Benedict leaving the Vatican for Castel Gandolfo, and then the moment when the Swiss Guard withdrew as the hour of his resignation took effect.  Yet this too was a gift from Pope Benedict to the Church.  I believe he saw the need for reform, but that this process would require someone with greater strength, vigor, and force of personality to achieve it.  Enter Jorge Mario Bergoglio.  I've been pleased by the evident warm relationship between Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict.  They're making this unique situation work to the good of the Church, and it probably wouldn't be going so well if they were not both such holy, generous, and humble men.

   Pope Francis clearly believes in leading by example.  Reform in the Church must, at heart, come about in the way it always has, by being renewed in the proclamation of the Gospel.  Don't just preach it... live it in a joyful, faith-filled way.  Then all will know whose disciples you are.

   One of the things I have appreciated most about Pope Francis is his message to the clergy.  I can't think of a great reforming period in the Church which did not significantly involve the renewal of her ordained ministers.  I speak from my own perspective as a priest, but I am tremendously encouraged by Pope Francis' words and example for the clergy.  Reform is tough but necessary; we should certainly be able to grasp this during a season such as Lent.

   Over the last few months, I've been pondering in my mind and heart the state of the priesthood, particularly as I've experienced it in my own life over these last twelve years or so.  It's too much for this post, however, so I look forward to sharing some of those thoughts in a few days' time.  Until then, let us continue praying for Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict.  We know and can feel how much they're praying for us!

1 comment:

  1. Almost exactly at this very moment 1:17 pm one year ago Becky & I were just finishing up a meeting of the Serra Club at the Madeline here in Tulsa. I had my phone on the table and the app was open to the Conclave. Suddenly the black smoke became white and I jumped up and announced that we had a Pope! What a joyous occasion as Fr. Brian led us in an impromptu prayer. We all were so happy that we'd been at church when the big new came. The rest, as they say, is history.