Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Passion Sunday Homily (Belated): Give Pope a Chance!

A homily from Mass in the Extraordinary Form for Passion Sunday:

The scene from today’s Gospel passage takes place in Jerusalem, in the Temple precincts.

Jesus is approaching the end of his three-year ministry, and the dark clouds of persecution have appeared in the sky: His enemies have already tried to kill him at least once.

He and His disciples have departed Jerusalem for Galilee, because things were getting a little too hostile. 
When the feast of Tabernacles approached, Jesus’ disbelieving cousins – James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas – encourage Him to return to Judea (where Jerusalem is located), “so that your disciples may see the works you are doing”, as they put it. “No one works in secret if he wants to be known publicly. If you do these things, manifest yourself to the world.”
Eventually He does go up to Jerusalem, secretly, arriving halfway through the week-long feast. He heads directly for the Temple, and there begins to teach. And immediately His teaching causes consternation: his hearers “were amazed and said, ‘How does he know scripture without having studied?’” So He didn’t graduate from a recognized yeshiva, a seminary! Horrors!
Then Jesus confronts His critics directly on their accusation that He couldn’t be from God because He “broke the Sabbath”: He had healed the paralytic at Jerusalem’s Pool of Bethesda . . . on the Sabbath!

Jesus said to the Jews: “Why are you trying to kill me?” [i.e., capital punishment by stoning]  The crowd answered, “You are possessed! [i.e., insane] Who is trying to kill you?” Jesus answered and said to them, “I performed one work and all of you are amazed because of it. 

“Moses gave you circumcision...and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If a man can receive circumcision on a Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because I made a whole person well on a Sabbath? Stop judging by appearances, but judge justly.”

The problem with the Scribes and the Pharisees – the legal and religious leaders of the Jews – was that they didn’t have a “pigeonhole” in which to fit this upstart from Galilee. He wasn’t of the priestly tribe, he wasn’t known to be a student of any of the recognized rabbinical schools, and yet here He was – in the TEMPLE!!! – presuming to teach the people. Just who did He think He was?!?

No doubt they had heard the tales of his teaching and miracles in Galilee – including the claims that He had cured lepers, expelled demons, gave sight to a man who had blind from his birth, and even raised the dead (!) – and were both skeptical and jealous of His increasing popularity with the people, who regarded Him as a prophet. In the process, they had closed the ears of their hearts to the voice of God, to what the Holy Spirit was doing in their midst.

Jesus said to the Jews: “Whoever belongs to God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not listen, because you do not belong to God.”

And so they realized that He was becoming a threat to the status quo: to their own stature among the people. They had to find some plausible way of accusing Him of sin, of publicly discrediting Him...and, if necessary, of getting rid of Him once and for all.

“Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”

This phenomenon is not something that happened just two thousand years ago. It is not something that happened solely to Our Lord. It has continued to happen over and over again.

Did not Our Lord warn The Twelve at the Last Supper:

John 15:18.   “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”

While it is not difficult to apply these words to ourselves as the victims of persecution, it is perhaps more challenging to consider whether or not we ourselves have taken on the role of the persecutors. Jesus’ enemies repeatedly tried to pigeonhole Him, and when they couldn’t find a convenient category to which to consign Him and thus to dismiss Him, they sought to discredit him...and eventually killed Him.

Are there people whose words and actions defy our own preconceived “pigeonholes”? What is our reaction or response to someone who thinks, speaks, and acts outside our own frame of reference? Are we attentive to the possibility that the Holy Spirit might be challenging us – as It challenged the Scribes and Pharisees – to consider anew that the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-merciful, all-just God of the universe is not bound by the fallible constructions of limited, human thought?

This past week the cardinal electors chose His Eminence, Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, as the 266th Successor to the Prince of the Apostles, Bishop of Rome, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, and Vicar of Christ. Within seconds of the announcement from the balcony of the loggia of St Peter’s Basilica, the five thousand accredited journalists gathered in Rome began sending their stories to their respective news outlets across the globe.

The initial reaction was surprise – the first Jesuit, the first non-curial cardinal, the first from the Americas, etc., etc. The most common adjective used to describe the pontiff-elect was “humility”.

And within hours critics on both sides of the political spectrum began digging for “dirt”: that he was anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-divorce; that as Jesuit provincial he was complicit in the kidnapping and torture of two of his priests, that he failed to fix the “dilapidated state of his clergy”; that he was lukewarm to implement Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 Apostolic Letter, Summorum Pontificum that lifted the restrictions on the offering of Mass in the older form, etc.

Ever since the white smoke was first seen rising from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel and the announcement “Habemus Papam” was made, I have been asked repeatedly, from multiple sources both inside and outside the Diocese, some variation of the same question: “Will Pope Francis suppress the Latin Mass?” And to all, I give the same answer: “I don’t know.”

The only information I have is what I read on the Internet, which I’ve learned long ago to take with a very large grain of salt. What I’ve seen is replete with speculation, innuendo, prognostications, and rumors . . . but very short on facts. In sum, I find insufficient data to make any reasonable assessment or prediction in this regard.

Nevertheless, our obligation as Catholic Faithful is first and foremost to be ever more open to the working of the Holy Spirit, conforming our minds and our hearts to Our Lord.

“Whoever belongs to God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not listen, because you do not belong to God.

Do we “belong to God”? Do we hear the words of God speaking to our hearts at every moment? Or have we – like the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day – already decided in our hearts what God is permitted to say and not say, what His servants are permitted to do and not do?

Of course, God is never ‘yes’ one moment, and ‘no’ the next, as St. Paul tells us. Not even a pope can teach something that contradicts Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. But in the ordering of the life of believers there have always been, from time to time, some aspects of ecclesiastical governance that have been necessarily refined or corrected in order that the purity of the Gospel may shine more brightly in a world that sits in darkness, in the shadow of death.

Every vocation – every authentic calling from God – has its own charism. Every newlywed husband and wife, for example, soon realizes that, although the charism of “husband-ness” and “wife-ness” is conferred in the administration of the sacrament, it takes time and effort for the humanness of the individual to conform itself to the grace of the vocation.

So also is it with the vocation to the Petrine ministry, to the papacy. Cardinal Bergoglio will need the space of time to conform himself to the grace of his new vocation as the Successor to St. Peter, as the Vicar of Christ. Give him that space, give him the support of your prayers and sacrifices. Be not quick to judge him for not conforming to preconceptions of what he ought to do or not do. Rather, show yourselves as “belonging to God”, eager to hear the words of God.


  1. I cannot imagine the new Pope suppressing Summorum. That would be the height of stupidity and/or provocation. I can imagine him doing little or nothing to promote it, but of course time will tell.

  2. I agree, Dan. However - and I do not mean to imply anything about the Holy Father in saying this - I have found that when a bishop fails to actively encourage the EF Mass, the effect is almost as deadly as active suppression of it. Many priests I know of are afraid to attempt the EF Mass without the permission or at least encouragement of their bishop. Sad but true.


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