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Amidst the joy that I and so many people have felt at the election of Pope Francis, I have also encountered worry, alarm, even anger from some Catholics who are afraid that the Holy Father has been hostile toward the extraordinary form of the Mass and will reverse all of the liturgical decisions of Pope-emeritus Benedict.  You can read more at any number of other blogs.

I am a bit baffled by the whole thing.  I admit that it’s not entirely clear to me what the Holy Father’s stance is on the EF.  I’ve read that the attempt to implement it in Buenos Aires crashed and burned.  I don’t know if that can be blamed on the Holy Father.  Here are some things that do seem clear to me and give me reason not to be too concerned:

1.  He loves and respects Pope Emeritus Benedict.  At the very least, I can’t imagine him tossing Summorum Pontificum into the garbage.  I can’t imagine him disparaging or discouraging its implementation.  Its implementation may not be a priority for him.  He may not say Mass ad orientem or repeat everything that Benedict did.  That’s a far cry from destroying the liturgy.

2.  Something I have not seen yet in the discussions about liturgy is the fact that he served as bishop to Eastern Rite Catholics in Buenos Aires, as well as Latin Rite Catholics.  And apparently he is well-liked and respected by the Ukrainian Catholic Patriarch, who says, among other things:

I would first like to say that the newly elected Pope Francis was mentored by one of our priests, Stepan Chmil who is now buried in the basilica of St. Sophia in Rome. Today’s Pope, during his time as a student of the Salesian school, awoke many hours before his classmates to concelebrate at our Divine Liturgy with Fr. Stepan. He knows our Tradition very well, as well as our Liturgy.

If Pope Francis has a love and understanding of Eastern Divine Liturgy, surely he can’t be all that antagonistic toward the traditional Latin Rite liturgy.  It seems to me that anybody who hated the EF would not touch the Divine Liturgy with a ten-foot pole (nor would anybody want them to!).  Am I wrong?  Has anybody read or heard anything else about his relationship with the Eastern Catholics?

3.  The Holy Father seems pretty traditional to me overall.  He preaches about the devil, for crying out loud.  And that’s a good thing!  That’s something that the modern Church needs more than anything.

Mostly, I just think that we need to give him a chance to show us who he is… to not make any hasty judgments… and to not compare him with Pope Emeritus Benedict at every turn.  We have to know and respect him on his own terms.  To know him based on what we see him do and hear him say.

The name Francis likely reveals what will be the main themes of this papacy.  I’ve heard confirmations that the Holy Father chose the name Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, as opposed to St. Francis Xavier or St. Francis de Sales.  However, all three of these great saints have important things in common: all three of them were great evangelizers, and all three pursued a mission of building, or re-building, the Church in very difficult times.

The image of St. Francis of Assisi has often been softened in modern times into some kind of medieval hippie.  But the truth is that he–like my father, St. Dominic–lived in a time when the Church was on crusade abroad, while falling to heresy and internal weakness and corruption at home. It is said that Christ Himself charged St. Francis to re-build His Church, which was falling into ruin, while Pope Innocent III had a dream in which he saw Francis physically holding up the Basilica of St. John Lateran. St. Francis also ventured into the camp of the Sultan of Egypt near Damietta with the intent of either converting him or dying in the attempt. He kissed a leper and bore the wounds of crucifixion in his own body.  He had a boldness and toughness that he often doesn’t get credit for today.

St. Francis Xavier, one of the first Jesuits who studied with St. Ignatius of Loyola, was a fervent and fearless missionary to distant lands such as India and Japan–lands in which Christianity was pretty much unknown.  He is said to have converted more people to the faith than anybody since St. Paul.  He died just within reach of mainland China, which had been his ultimate goal.

St. Francis de Sales had close ties and working relationships with both the Jesuits and the Franciscans.  As the bishop of Geneva, he strove to re-convert and re-evangelize those around him who had left the Church for Calvinism.  His gentleness and intellect won many of them back.  He also served as a spiritual director to many, many Catholics from all walks of life to strengthen, reassure, and instruct them.  We are blessed that many of his letters and writings have survived; they are just as relevant as ever.  (In fact, I give St. Francis de Sales credit for helping me to come back to the Church.)

We are again living in very difficult times.  Traditionally Catholic and Christian nations are falling to radical secularism and so-called liberalism which is anything but liberal-minded.  The Church is imploding due to internal weakness, divisions, corruption, and scandal.  Generations of Catholics have been poorly formed and catechized and have all too easily drifted into the secular world or into other Christian communities or other religions.  Meanwhile, new generations of Catholics in places like Africa and Asia, as well as very ancient communities in the Middle East, are striving amid enormous adversities, often striving for their very lives and yet nonetheless thirsting for the Gospel and the Church, and longing for the love, support, guidance, and reassurance of their brethren and the Holy Father.

In short, traditionally Catholic and Christian lands are in dire need of re-evangelization and re-conversion, the Church is in need of re-building and re-forming from within, and Catholic communities both old and new in other parts of the world are in need of building up and support.  These processes have been begun by previous popes.  They have laid the framework and the kindling.  I believe our current pope, true to his namesake(s), is going to light it all on fire!

For myself, I can say that Pope Francis has already inspired me to greater humility, greater prayer and spirituality, and above all, greater simplicity and poverty of spirit.  All the good intentions I had for this Lent, all the disciplines, all the penances, have just been kicked up to the next level.  And believe it or not, this Jesuit with the name and heart of the great Saint Francises, has inspired me to live out more fully my Dominican spirituality.  Of course, Dominicans always have, and always will, play an important part in any form of evangelization and building up of the Church.  Dominicans, like Franciscans, are a mendicant order.  I think we may get back to those roots under the influence of Pope Francis.  And when the Dominicans get back to their roots–not only the spirit of poverty, but the very important roots of prayer, study, and preaching–great things are bound to happen!

As my sister St. Catherine of Siena said, “When you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire!”  I think Pope Francis is going to help all Catholics everywhere to be what we should be–disciples of Christ!  May it be so–amen.

White smoke drifting into the night sky:

white smoke

The world watches…

St Peter's Square

…21st-century style:

Crowd 2

The crowd goes wild:

Crowd

A moment of prayer:

pope francis bowing

The cardinals take in the crowd’s jubilation, and no doubt look forward to resting more easily:

cardinals

Pope FrancisHabemus Papam!  Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires is now Pope Francis!

What a wonderful gift God and our cardinals have given to the Church today! Our new Holy Father seems like such a humble and gracious man.  I will never forget when he bowed and asked the people to pray for God’s blessing upon him, and the entire crowd fell silent and prayed, joined by the millions around the world who were watching via the media.  A beautiful, edifying, unifying moment.

I so look forward to getting to know our new Papa better and seeing and hearing more from him.  I feel we are in very good hands, and that he is going to move the Barque of St. Peter forward and reach out to the world.  A good leader for this age of the New Evangelization and the Year of Faith.

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St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us!
(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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