Letter from the Pastor March 17

These are reflections that I wrote for Facebook on Wednesday night after the election and introduction of the new Holy Father:

It has been an amazing day. I began the day celebrating Mass for a small retreat group from the Newman Center Sustaining Board. We celebrated the Votive Mass for the Election of the Pope. Little did we know that at that very minute, the College of Cardinals was in the balloting scrutiny that would end with the election of the new pope. We interrupted the retreat morning to rush up and turn on the television to await the introduction of our new chief pastor.

My day-to-day life is not generally affected by the occupant of the Chair of St. Peter. But the general tone of Church life can certainly shift based on the pope. The last few years have not always felt good to me. Too much unresolved scandal, too much lack of focus, too much infighting and finger-pointing. It sometimes feels like the divisions in the world have invaded the house of God and the Church is just one more political entity rife with division and rancor. I certainly don’t mean to blame the papacy for that. But today FELT different to me.

It felt like not only the whole Church, but the world was on the Church’s side today. This surprising choice of the college of Cardinals shocked all of us into a kind of stupor of unity. Safe to say NOBODY was expecting this – I saw one article that said that literally NOBODY bet on this guy with the English bookmakers – and we are all shocked. It was fun to watch the television news people scramble to say ANYTHING about Cardinal Bergoglio. They had to scramble to find a picture of him to display.

The more we found out, it seemed everybody found something they like – theologically conservative, socially progressive, dedicated to the poor, challenged the Argentine government, lives simply, identifies with the poor, pissed off his Jesuit confreres by calling them back to basics, cooks his own meals, rides the bus to work, defends traditional marriage, 1st Jesuit, 1st non-European in 1200 years, 1st from the American hemisphere, Latino (sort of), Italian (sort of), Vatican outsider, reformer, practical, brilliant, man of the people…

I felt great about him from his first appearance – the simple white cassock (of course, a Dominican contribution to papal couture), the complete break with previous tradition in his choice of name, the off-the-cuff comments (even pushing the book away at one point and calling for the microphone a second time when everyone on the balcony thought they were finished), his “deer in the headlights” look when he first came out that gave way to his beautiful and warm smile. His soft-spokenness and unsureness. It was all quite disarming. Then he lead the whole world in those three familiar prayers for his predecessor – for a moment the whole Catholic world was one: Our Father… Hail Mary… Glory be… But it was the humble request for our prayer of blessing that really got me. And that silence. Oh that SILENCE! For a moment it seemed that the whole world paused to pray for our new Papa. I was in tears by then.

The punditry kept prattling on and we learned more and more about this unexpected, humble man thrust by his own humility on this world stage. The more I heard, the more my heart rejoiced. I suppose it is possible that over the next few days we might all find things to dislike about our new pastor as well. I suppose it is inevitable. But I hope this warm, soft-spoken, humble, grandfatherly Papa from Argentina can keep hope alive and help to heal some of the wounds in the body of Christ. He asked for my prayers today and I promise that he will have them.

Viva il Papa! Vive le Pape! Viva el Papa! Viva o Papa! Lang Lebe der Papst! God bless and Long live Pope Francis!

Fr Bart signature