Friday, March 15, 2013

Pope of Surprises: The Rosary and His First Homily

The Pope who prays the 15 decades of the Rosary
(properly called the Psalter) said in his first papal homily to the
 College of Cardinalsand others attending the Mass:
 "When we walk without the Cross, when we build
without the Cross, and when we confess Christ
without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord:
we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes,
but not disciples of the Lord."


Pope Francis once said that he prays “the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary every day” and began the practice around 1985, following the late Pope John Paul II's lead. As Cardinal Bergoglio, he prayed with John Paul II, later stating: “That testimony did not get forgotten in an instant. From that time on I recite the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary every day.

That is a very pleasant and edifying surprise. A few more surprises were in store when, during his first Mass celebrated with the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel on March 14, 2013 at 5 p.m., Pope Francis gave a spontaneous seven-minute homily.  Although he had no prepared text, the theme of his homily (which follows the Gospel) was three-fold: camminare, edificare, confessare (to walk, to build, to confess  - as in “confess the glory of Jesus Christ and His Cross”).

How remarkable are the ways of God when one considers the two following readings and the Gospel of “Missa pro Ecclesia” (“Mass for the Church”) are excerpts from the Book of Isaiah (2:2-5), from the First Letter of Peter (2:4-9), and from the Gospel according to Matthew (16:13-19). These three selections speak of the last days, “the mountain of the house of the Lord” and the “top of mountains” (in Scriptural symbolism, a mountain is a kingdom; either earthly or spiritual, and Jerusalem – like Israel – are figure types for the Catholic Church), the judgment of God, the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and Christ’s establishment of the papacy. They are included below and come from the Douay-Rheims translation of the Holy Bible.

Isaiah 2:2-5: And in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be prepared on the top of mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go, and say: Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall come forth from Sion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge the Gentiles, and rebuke many people: and they shall turn their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into sickles: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they be exercised any more to war. O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Peter 2: 4-9: For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but delivered them, drawn down by infernal ropes to the lower hell, unto torments, to be reserved unto judgment: And spared not the original world, but preserved Noe, the eighth person, the preacher of justice, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly. And reducing the cities of the Sodomites, and of the Gomorrhites, into ashes, condemned them to be overthrown, making them an example to those that should after act wickedly. And delivered just Lot, oppressed by the injustice and lewd conversation of the wicked. For in sight and hearing he was just: dwelling among them, who from day to day vexed the just soul with unjust works. The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly from temptation, but to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be tormented.

Matthew 16:13-19: And Jesus came into the quarters of Caesarea Philippi: and he asked his disciples, saying: Whom do men say that the Son of man is? But they said: Some John the Baptist, and other some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets. Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

Francis’ First Papal Homily: Spontaneous

In these three readings, I see that there is something in common: it is movement.

In the first reading, movement in walking; in the second reading, movement in the building up of the Church; in the third, in the Gospel, movement in confession.

To walk, to build up, to confess.

To walk. “House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

This is the first thing that God said to Abraham: Walk in my presence and be without reproach. To walk: our life is a journey and when we stop it is no good. To walk always, in the presence of the Lord, in the light of the Lord, seeking to live with that irreproachability which God asked of Abraham, in his promise.

To build up. To build up the Church. Stones are spoken of: the stones have substance; but living stones, stones anointed by the Holy Spirit. To build up the Church, the bride of Christ, on that cornerstone which is the Lord himself. This is another movement of our lives: to build up.

Third, to confess. We can walk as much as we wish, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, it is no good. We will become a humanitarian NGO, but not the Church, bride of the Lord.

When one does not walk, one halts. When one does not build on stone what happens? That happens which happens to children on the beach when they make sand castles, it all comes down, it is without substance. When one does not confess Jesus Christ, I am reminded of the expression of Léon Bloy: "He who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil.” When one does not confess Jesus Christ, one confesses the worldliness of the devil, the worldliness of the demon.

To walk, to build/construct, to confess. But the matter is not so easy, because in walking, in building, in confessing, at times there are shocks, there are movements that are not properly movements of the journey: they are movements that set us back.

This Gospel continues with a special situation. The same Peter who has confessed Jesus Christ says to him: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. This has nothing to do with it. I will follow you with other possibilities, without the Cross."

When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we confess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

I would like that everyone, after these days of grace, should have the courage, truly the courage, to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord; to build up the Church upon the Blood of the Lord that was shed upon the Cross; and to confess the only glory: Christ crucified. And in this way the Church will move forward.

I hope for all of us that the Holy Spirit, through the prayer of the Virgin Mary, our Mother, may grant us this grace: to walk, to build up, to confess Jesus Christ crucified. So may it be.

Although the Pope's homily was brief, a great part of it serves as a reminder of these words by St. Peter: “Be you also as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” (First Epistle of Peter 2:5) and the inspiring Apostolic Exhortation to the Clergy in Pope St. Pius X’s Haerent Animo (1908).

Pope Francis did, however, make one reference to the extremely controversial Leon Bloy, who was a French poet, essayist, convert, a man who refused to work, and an eccentric with a passion for prostitutes (co-habiting with two prostitutes in succession - after his supposed conversion to the Faith, Bloy planned to marry both - not simultaneously, of course - but never did. Yes, Leon Bloy was capable of writing a few truthful things -  but even a broken clock is right twice a day.)

Surprising? Yes. Perplexing? Definitely. This is only conjecture on my part, but perhaps that is why Pope Francis made a brief yet direct reference to Bloy, a man who could at times write eloquently of the Faith but during his lifetime refused to accept the Cross. Be that as it may, there is no doubt whatsoever that the new Pope gently yet firmly admonished the entire hierarchy when he said:

“When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we confess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.”

May we pray much for the Holy Father.


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