By Reyanna Rice May 15, 2016
I broke my right upper arm on Palm Sunday. The weeks since then have been filled with quite a bit of discomfort and limitation. My arm was in a restraining device that strapped my upper arm at my side and my lower arm bent 90° at the elbow strapped to my stomach for six weeks. I am very right handed so this meant figuring out how to do things with my left hand. And since I live by myself sometimes there were extreme levels of frustration. I tell you all this to garner your sympathy for why I have not completed this monthly column the last two months. I could not get my thoughts around much more than taking care of life and limb on a day by day basis. I have great admiration for those who live with permanent disabilities.
I normally focus my writing on something Francis has said in the last few weeks. This month I want to focus on two of his actions in recent weeks. I will try to unpack what I saw in those actions and what they mean for us.
The first action I want to focus on is his receiving the Charlemagne prize. This was not widely reported in the U.S. press. According to Wikipedia, it “is one of the most prestigious European prizes. It has been awarded annually since 1950 by the German city of Aachen to people who contributed to the ideals upon which it has been founded”. The founder of this prize proposed that it be given to those who have displayed “the most valuable contribution in the services of Western European understanding and work for the community, and in the services of humanity and world peace. This contribution may be in the field of literary, scientific, economic or political endeavor”. (also from Wikipedia). I have heard this prize described as one step below the Nobel. The group who grants the prize chose Pope Francis because of his advocacy for immigrants and refugees. This is the first time that a pope has been granted the prize outright. John Paul II was granted it under a special exemption. Pope Francis agreed to accept this prize….he has said in the past he would refuse the Nobel…provided the granting committee would come to Rome for the ceremony.
This ceremony took place last Friday, May 6. I watched the event posted on YouTube. What I found interesting was to watch Francis’ demeanor. As he walked into the room, he seemed so very shy as he greeted a bevy of European leaders including Angela Merkel from Germany and the king of Spain. I thought to myself: “He has no idea that he too is a world leader!” I knew beforehand that his speech was going to be a bit controversial. He sat through several speeches by various members of the granting committee. I later read that these leaders were defending themselves a bit in reaction to a speech that Francis gave before the World Parliament and the European Union in 2014 when he gently chastised Europe for losing her “edge”, so to speak, in the world arena. I could see that as the speeches progressed he became quite introspective. He delivered his own speech firmly and directly, even though he knew his words were somewhat like “the dog biting the hand that feeds it” in that he again called out to Europe to renew herself and become once again her best self, especially as regards human rights. When he sat down, after he received a standing ovation, he bent forward slightly in the chair resting his elbows on the arm of the chair. His famous pectoral cross of the Good Shepherd was positioned with the top half still touching his body but the lower half free. As a boys’ choir sang a beautiful version of Ubi Caritas, the camera panned over him. He must’ve been quite nervous as he gave his speech because his heart was pounding hard enough that his cross was pulsating with his heartbeat.
Pope Francis never hides behind the historically over-weighted figure of the pope. He always remains his most human self on full display for those who take the time to observe him. He has done this since the moment he stepped out onto the loggia of St Peter’s Basilica to be introduced to the world after his election. When I watched that event I saw a man who, in my opinion, looked frightened down to his shoe tops. As we say here in Montana where I live, he looked “like a deer in the headlights”. My first impressions of him was that he was very different from any pope I had ever seen. He continues to reinforce my first impression. Even though he may have been having a moment of anxiety and doubt on that loggia, even though he may have been nervous giving his speech before the Charlemagne prize granting committee, he still moves fiercely ahead. All reports that I have read recently from those who have good inside contacts say that his opponents are growing increasingly more vocal, some of them even saying they want him dead. This is a man, a very human man, who moves through his life responding to what he has deeply discerned God wants him to do and does so fearlessly.
The second action was just this past week. I am sure many have you have read various reports and comments about this. He met with about 900 women superior generals of the worldwide orders of consecrated women. In their question and answer session with him, they asked him why the Church did not consider women for the permanent diaconate. He briefly discussed this with them, saying he wasn’t sure about all the various aspects. The tenor of his conversation struck me as true dialogue, even though, it was reported, he had the questions before hand. His eventual reply was that he felt that it was time for the Church to study the issue a bit more deeply, and said: “Then, on the diaconate, yes, I accept and it seems useful to have a commission that will better clarify this, above all with regard to the first days of the Church. Regarding a better involvement, I repeat what I said before. If there’s something to make concrete, I ask you now: over what I’ve said, is there something more you’d like to ask that’d help me think? Let’s keep going.”
I thought to myself here is a man who is not afraid to show he does not have all the answers, here is a man who is evolving right in front of our eyes. Again, he is not afraid to be just a human being, not hiding behind the image of what we think the pope should be, even to expressing his unsureness over issues. When have we seen a pope not presenting himself as the “infallible one”?? Never, until now, is the answer.
So, what does this mean for all of us? It means we have a unique moment in history in the person of Pope Francis. He represents in big capital letters, glowing in neon, what is called a KAIROS moment, a unique moment in time that only comes once in a great while. He is a man who is willing to listen to us and obviously he listens to the Holy Spirit and lets that move him. He is fearless in what he believes the Holy Spirit is calling him to do, to renew the Church and to fully implement Vatican II. If we do not take advantage of this to help this man move this Church forward, we are all fools! He cannot do this herculean task alone. He needs our help and he needs it NOW!
Already, those in the hierarchy and curia are making a rumbling noises as to whom they want to see as the next pope. The names that I am reading that they have in mind are all, all very, very conservative, with Cardinal Burke as one of the prominent names. So much for the Holy Spirit selecting a pope. These power hungry men are positioning themselves to put someone in the papacy who will maintain the status quo for them. Should this come about before Francis has had a chance to put in place good, strong processes, as he has been doing all along, we will have forced upon us of Church that will once again be top heavy, clerical and repressive. We laity will be once again ignored and relegated to “pray, pay, and obey”. It is my opinion that should this occur the rush out the doors of those of us leaving such a model of church will be massive. I have asked my contacts in Rome, whom I cannot share with you but I can tell you they’re very good, two questions: Are the processes that Francis is putting into place having an effect on the institutional structure and will these effects survive once he is gone? The answer came back to me in a very strong, resounding affirmative, no doubts. But we must still all do what we can. We must learn how to speak up, speak the language, and be fearless that what we are about is indeed what Jesus had in mind for the community of believers that he left behind but within which he still moves. We must do what we can in our communities to make them stronger according to the kind of Church Pope Francis is envisioning. We have a leader in Pope Francis showing us the way, in a way that no pope in my lifetime has done. Personally, I would be a fool to not follow his example. We would all be fools to not follow his example. It is Pentecost. It is a good time to let the fire of the Holy Spirit move you to act and to act now, fearlessly, in helping Pope Francis in all that he is trying to do. And, by the way, one of the things to do, but by no means the only thing to do, is what he always says: “Don’t forget to pray for me”. And he sometimes adds “I need it”.