The Papal Transition – Random Thoughts

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

**Wow . . . for those of us deeply involved in the life and ministry of the Church, the last few weeks have been truly memorable, unprecedented really.

From last month’s surprise announcement that Pope Benedict was renouncing the Petrine Office, to the beginning of the Cardinals’ Conclave and all the speculation that surrounded it, to the breathtaking election and presentation of Pope Francis to the world, there’s been nothing like it.

**In the midst of all the excitement, we’ve also tried to keep the normal day-to-day work of the Church going, with Lenten devotions, Confirmations, parish visits, meetings, appointments, and reading and writing, all the while keeping one eye fixed on the chimney.

**As I’ve mentioned to the local media a couple of times, I find it interesting, even amusing, that in the midst of our constantly plugged-in, high-tech world – saturated with the Internet, iPhones, Facebook and Twitter – the whole world was notified about the election of the new pope with a simple puff of white smoke. It’s charming, comforting, reassuring. I hope the tradition never changes.

**No one maintains and uses traditions and protocol more effectively for ceremonial and historic occasions than the Vatican. Of course they’ve had two-thousand years of practice.

**The secular media, international, national and local, have done a really good job covering the papal transition. They’ve been, almost without exception, well-prepared, professional, respectful, and even excited themselves about the historic events taking place. Special kudos to the media here in Rhode Island – congratulations and appreciation to all!

**Lots of comparisons and contrasts about Pope John Paul, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis are now emerging. Certainly we were richly blessed with John Paul’s dramatic, world-changing, globe-trotting, larger-than-life pontificate. Benedict’s personality was of course, more reserved, but he brought to the Church and the world a soaring intellect, a profound theological vision of faith, a classy style, and an attempt to restore beautiful and important Catholic traditions. And now Francis has charmed the world with his humility, simplicity and tangible love of the poor. The fact is that we need all three styles and we are enriched by each. As St. Paulreminds us, “There are different forms of service, but the same Lord . . . The body is not a single part, but many . . . The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you.’” (I Cor 12)

**Although Pope Francis presents a very simple, humble, gentle persona, it would be a huge mistake to underestimate him. In times past he has acted and spoken very forcefully on important issues. In Argentina he challenged his own priests to leave the safety of their churches and go out to evangelize and take care of the poor. And he was fearless in challenging the civil government on issues like abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage. I suspect we’ll see some very dramatic words and gestures from this pope.

**In a casual conversation someone asked me whether Pope Francis’ personal and liturgical style would lower the Vatican’s, or if the Vatican would raise the Pope’s. My guess is that they’ll meet somewhere in the middle.

**Speaking of different styles, it seems that with the election of this new pope Gammarelli is out and Barbiconi is in.

**Now approaching my 65th birthday, I was personally consoled by one of the first homilies of Pope Francis. He said to the gathered Cardinals: “Maybe half of us are in old age, which I consider to be the seat of wisdom. We’ve walked the path of life. Let us give this wisdom to the young. We are like good wine that improves with age.” On behalf of senior citizens everywhere, thank you, Holy Father.

**It’s nice that Vice-President Joe Biden, Congressman Langevin and other members of Congress attended Pope Francis’ Installation Mass. I hope that the Catholic members of the U.S. delegation used the visit as an opportunity to reflect upon and embrace the teachings of the Church, especially on important issues like the sanctity of human life and the God-given definition of marriage.

**During the papal transition, in preparation for another project, I was reading Henri de Lubac’s classic theological treatise on the Church, “The Splendor of the Church.” It provided a perfect context in which to witness the events unfolding in Rome. De Lubac writes: “The mystery of the Church has one aspect which is all light . . . The Church is the permanent witness of Christ and the messenger of the Living God . . . In this world the Church is the sacrament of Christ.”

**But he also points out that the Church is a “ship full of unruly passengers who always seem to be on the point of wrecking it.” He laments the “damnable faithlessness of those who glory in the name of Christian!” And he reminds us that “we are all men, and there is none of us but is aware of his own wretchedness and incapacity; for after all, we keep on having our noses rubbed in our own limitations.”

**During the last month, the “splendor of the Church” has certainly been on full display for the whole world to see and evaluate. But we know that through it all God is working in and through the Church to bring about the salvation of the world. The Church is the sacrament of Christ. It’s good to be a Catholic!

**A blessed Holy Week and a joyous Easter Season to all!