Saturday, March 16, 2013
See, I am doing something new!
HOMILY FOR THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT, March 17, 2013:
One of my favorite movies is the 1992 film Sister Act starring Whoopie Goldberg. If you remember it, Whoopie plays a Vegas showgirl pretending to be a nun hiding out from the mob inside of a convent. While waiting for her court date, she is assigned to sing in the choir – a choir that is just horrible. They quickly ask her to take over and she has a confrontation with the current choir director, an elderly Sr. Mary Lazarus, who is one tough cookie. Sr. Mary Clarence, as Whoopie is known, says to her, “Sr. Mary Lazarus, as soon as I walked in the door. I knew that you knew how to do this. Now, you're somebody who's into hard work and discipline. Aren't you?” Sr. Mary Lazarus responds with a swagger, “Of course. I'm a nun.” Then holding her hand in Sr. Mary Clarence’s face she adds, “Four Popes now.”
I was thinking of that scene as I realized this week that with the election of Pope Francis, I’m now on my Fifth Pope!! How did I get older than Sr. Mary Lazarus?! I don’t know about you, but this may just have been so far the most exciting week of my life. These are extraordinary times. Beginning with the nearly unprecedented and incredibly humble actions of the resignation or retirement of our Pontiff Emeritus Benedict XVI; followed by all of the speculation that followed, especially the flurry of support for our own beloved Cardinal Séan as a possible Papal contender. And then the incredible excitement on Wednesday as we had the announcement of white smoke from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel.
This was the first truly social media Conclave and among the resources that I took advantage of was the website Adopt-A-Cardinal, which randomly assigned you a Cardinal in the Conclave to pray for. I was praying for Cardinal Kurt Koch from Switzerland. The other was Papal Alarm which sent out a text message the moment white smoke was spotted. So I was sitting at the kitchen counter when my cell phone went off and immediately started running through the house shouting, “We have white smoke, we have white smoke.” And, I don’t know about you, but the hour that it took between that white smoke and the doors to open on the balcony at St. Peter’s was excruciating. And then, finally, the Cardinal Dean announced those famous Latin words, “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum; habemus Papam!” "We have a Pope!" And when he ever announced the name of our new Pope – Franciscum or Francesco – Francis! Needless-to-say, I lost it at this point as did all the members of our Franciscan community. It was a strange mixture of tears and shouts for joy and wonder and amazement – and Fr. Mike says I couldn’t breathe a little bit, but I think he’s exaggerating.
A Pope named Francis. Can you imagine! After our beloved poverello, the poor man of Assisi. As we prayed in our response today, “The Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy!” The rest of this week, I have been glued to the television and the internet; I can’t get enough of our new Holy Father. It is like we heard in our first reading from Isaiah, “See, I am doing something new!” This man is not like the others. This is something new; and we are filled with joy!
So, what’s in a name, as Shakespeare so famously questioned? Well, Pope Francis met with the media on Friday and he explained why he chose the name of the Saint of Assisi. Here is some of what he said, “Some people wanted to know why [I] wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend [and a Franciscan]! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and leaned in and said: ‘Don't forget the poor!’ And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then, I thought of all the wars [in the world], as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and is for the poor!”
So, what’s in a name? I once heard a phrase that said, “A name accrues its heritage.” A phrase that means when you name something, eventually it takes on the characteristics of that name. It is the hope of our new Holy Father to embody the same spirit of renewal and reform that embodied the great Saint of the Poor. You know, we live in a time through which the Church has endured many scandals; scandals brought on by the sinful actions of its own members. But, did you know that these scandals pale in comparison to the scandals in the times of St. Francis? The 13th Century in which he lived was rocked by sin and immorality all around – both within and without. And yet, today, we don’t remember that time for its scandal, we remember it for the great period of holiness that it gave birth to. We remember the luminary saints who were born in response to that sin – St. Francis and St. Clare; St. Bonaventure and St. Anthony; St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas and so many more. And so much of it began with Francis.
How? He heard those words of Christ from the cross, “Rebuild my Church.” And he rebuilt it by following the Gospel – more through his actions than through his words. “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary use words,” he said. He rebuilt it by loving the poor; by joyfully giving all of himself. He rebuilt the Church by loving the Church, loving its members, loving its clergy, loving its sacraments. He rebuilt it by holding back nothing of himself for himself and giving of himself completely in service to Christ and His Church.
What’s in a name? A name accrues its heritage. The evidence in this first week is that we do truly have a new Francis in our midst. He refused the Papal throne on the first day; he refused the lavish trappings of the Papacy and dressed in a simple white cassock. His first action as Pope was not to stand like an emperor before the wolrd, but instead as the whole world looked on to listen to his first words, the Supreme Pontiff and the Vicar of Christ on Earth; this new Pope bowed down before the world and asked us for our prayers; asked us for our blessing. And then he prayed. He rode on the bus and not the limousine, paid his hotel bill and picked up his own bags. He smiles, he laughs, he jokes and his homilies are that of a pastor who loves his flock.
And his hope? That we will do the same. St. Francis changed the Church and changed the world with one simple proposition – that the Gospel is meant to be lived. Eight hundred years later, this new Francis, our Holy Father Pope Francis, wants to propose it to us again – and if we follow where he wants to lead us – not in word, but in action – we will again change the Church and change the world.
See, I am doing something new! And we are filled with joy. God bless Pope Francis!
And may the Lord give you peace.