So, yesterday, I watched the first Papal mass. Twice. I caught it live and then watched it again in the evening with my five-year-old.
For my five-year-old who, to this point, has found Mass rather boring and struggles with what being a Catholic means (faith formation formally begins at Kindergarten at our parish and he’s still in pre-K) for him day to day but loves prayer and God, this has been a somewhat magical time. There was smoke, there was a seagull, there were these men we call Cardinals who are not in fact birds nor do they transform into birds, but they (for the most part, Eastern Rite Patriarchs aside) wear red hats. There was the Swiss Guard returning and there was this new man who came out and Mama was crying and we call him Pope Francis but Joey, well, he prefers St Francis. And would insist upon it if I did not insist we call him Pope Francis. Joey said he reminds him of a Grandpa. And Joey inadvertantly predicted the new name when he saw the Italian flags being waved and said, “Look Mama, Francesco!” And then when he heard the name Francis in Latin, he momentarily became extremely excited he might see an Italian Formula One car, and was only a little confused about a man dressed all in white instead but his excitement returned immediately when I told him, “That’s our new Pope!”
We have been discussing being Catholic a lot in the last few weeks and Joey immediately exclaimed, “I’m so excited to be a Catholic. Like all those happy people!” As he heard cheers go up.
As we watched Mass together last night, Joey asked me if I understood what was being said. Since I don’t speak Latin, the answer is no. BUT, we had commentary and I knew just enough Latin to find the readings and read along and, of course, I know mass well enough to know what is happening.
I was completely blown away by Pope Francis’ first Homily. Particularly the idea of “Camino” or journey/pilgrimage. I wasn’t the only one. Great minds think alike and Melanie has a beautiful post up about her reflections on “camino” as a recurring theme in the homily and perhaps, the future theme of the Papacy? I also loved his use of the metaphor of sand castles children build and the substance of our own personal souls and the Church. And it’s ending struck my soul to its core:
I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage—the courage—to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward.
My hope for all of us is that the Holy Spirit, that the prayer of Our Lady, our Mother, might grant us this grace: to walk, to build, to profess Jesus Christ Crucified. So be it.
Did you get a chance to see the first homily? What struck you? You can read the whole text here.
Other things struck me during this first Mass as well. I was touched to see one of the Cardinals help his brother Cardinal up to the altar both to kiss it and during Communion who has trouble walking and had a cane during the opening procession. They clearly needed each other and were so beautifully showing grace and humility. Among the deacons and priests distributing the Eucharist during communion I noticed that one priest chased down another to ensure one of the Swiss Guards received. The Guard snapped to attention at being presented the Eucharist and it was one of those little things that probably means little to most but really spoke to me.
I also loved the readings chosen to close the Conclave in that Mass, particularly the second reading from the first letter of Peter.
Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God…
1 Peter 2:4
It seemed to echo beautifully Pope Francis’ Episcopal Motto: Miserando Atque Eligendo, Lowly and yet Chosen. On his radio show yesterday, Rush Limbaugh (note: this is not an endorsement of Limbaugh or his show, I am not a listener and only read the transcript of this one show), pointed out that the government in Argentina and some of the more liberal elements of the Jesuits sought to exile Pope Francis for his adamant refusal to bow down to them as it would mean he would turn his back on God and the Church. Limbaugh continues in this way:
But I just found it fascinating that he was willing to stand up to an entire government in Argentina. He’s cast aside. He ends up teaching high school math in small, little towns and was essentially rescued by Pope John Paul II.
Being rejected by man and chosen by the Holy Spirit appears to be something that our beloved Pope Francis is well acquainted with. The Holy Spirit worked through our beloved Blessed John Paul II to elevate Cardinal Bergoglio to a point that positioned him to eventually become our Pope. And as Cardinal Dolan pointed out, the Holy Spirit moving the Conclave toward Bergoglio was becoming very apparent after the first couple of votes.
Today I opened my day by catching the end of the Pope’s meeting with his brother Cardinals. And then watching as he greeted each individually. In his address, Pope Francis imparted this:
“We are in our old age, but it is the time of giving,” Francis said. Comparing age to a wine that develops flavor over time, he said he and the cardinals have wisdom they can share.
“Old age is the seat of life’s wisdom. People who are wise go a long way — like old Simeon in the Temple, who met Jesus,” he said.
“We need to hand on this wisdom to young people. Wisdom is like good wine that matures with age. A German poet said about old age: ‘old age is a time of peace and prayer’. We need to hand on this wisdom to the young,” he said.
For a Church that is widely criticized for being “out of touch” and not reading out to the youth (both accusations are ludicrous, but that aside) Pope Francis is guiding the church and instructing his brother Cardinals that their age is irrelevant but their experience and is invaluable. Particularly to the young among us.
And in greeting the Cardinals individually, he was warm and gracious with all. The Cardinal who had difficulty walking, the Pope insisted on coming to him and greeting him and blessed him, tracing a cross on his forehead and then helping to guide him to the gentlemen waiting to assist him into a wheelchair. He graciously accepted gifts, he was humbled in blessing items several Cardinals brought forth to him. He had obvious affection for all and it was beautiful to see his personality along side the personalities of many of these fellow servants of God. He and Cardinal Dolan shared a hearty handshake and good belly laugh. He embraced Cardinal Turkson and Patriarchs Antonios Naguib of the Coptic Church and Bechara Boutros al-Rahi of the Maronite Church with such beautiful familiarity. And he spent quite sometime with Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran whose humility delivering the name of the Pope while struggling with his Parkinsons was so beautiful. And several times he made a writing gesture to indicate a Cardinal should write something down for him or email him. It was clear he saw these men as his brothers, his fellow servants, and he considers it a great honor to be their servant as well.
And I read an account today that the Pope thanked all the people on staff at the hotel he stayed at and remembered their personal stories they had shared. And there was not a dry eye there.
I have to say, the beauty of what we are witnessing in this newly born Papacy is both unexpected and delightful for me. I am seeing a man whose devotion to Christ and Our Lady is much more than lip-service. He values humanity and understands the moments that have meaning to so many. He sees the face of Christ in others whether they be unwed mothers, drug addicts suffering from AIDS or his brother Cardinals. He has consistently turned the focus from himself and toward Christ. His homily although primarily directed to his brother Cardinals should pierce each of us as he so beautifully but plainly stated that if we walk, build and confess without the power of the Cross we cannot be Christ’s disciples. He has let us know that without Christ, we are simply nothing.
I cannot wait to see where his Papacy leads us and the Church as one of the commentators on Catholic TV said at the conclusion of Mass yesterday, “We waited to see him, now we wait to know him.”