By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK
Benedict XVI set the bar for papal humility very high. His resignation made very obvious the fact that he held the needs of the Church above his own. His willingness to step aside and give way for a Successor in order to allow for better meeting the physical and health challenges posed by shepherding the worldwide Church remains a wonderful and unusual example of selflessness for Christ and others. His historic choice will remain a light for others in the Church to follow for many years.
Because comparisons are odious, we should certainly refrain from holding his example up against the current occupant of the Petrine chair. Every Vicar of Christ has his own personal charisms with which God works for the good of the Church. Grace always builds on nature and this is no less true in the case of every Successor of St. Peter. Benedict’s gifts as scholar, theology professor, and writer continue to inspire, as they have for generations. The gift in Summorum Pontificum of the Extraordinary Form Mass returned to its proper status as equal in importance and access with the Ordinary Form is Benedict’s great legacy. The Church continues to benefit increasingly from this inheritance, while resistance continues on the part of some.
Pope Francis as a preacher and as an advocate for mercy and for the poor has brought new inspiration to the Body of Christ. His direct and candid preaching style has reached others in a new way and caused conversation anew about the Church and the faith in sectors of society one would have thought closed perhaps forever to evangelization.
I know a priest whose preaching style has taken on a new, more direct, and compelling tone as a result of Pope Francis’ influence. Francis’ simple and memorable phrasing and imagery which confront issues head-on have equipped and encouraged priests to do the same, giving “permission” to be forthright and honest about the problems and sins which Christians encounter as they seek to live the faith with integrity today.
“I am a Catholic and a son of the Church: I believe what the Catechism teaches about our Pope. And I love him in Christ,” I recently tweeted. It is a healthy reminder that we all owe Pope Francis respect and docile attention so that we might benefit from the ways in which the Holy Spirit will use him to bring the Lord to us and us to the Lord. My inspiration is his own words, wherein he described himself as a son of the Church who believes and teaches our Catholic faith as embodied by the Catechism, the premier teaching instrument of the Church along with the Scriptures.
Francis, as we all know, has also caused some controversy. The vituperative attacks upon him, however, have come even from within the Church. He has given all of us the words to say as we avoid joining in the gossip which he often preaches about. Pope Francis recently raised some ire with comments about the Traditional Latin Mass, when he reportedly described those who prefer the Extraordinary Form liturgy as following a “fashion.” A number of Traditional Latin Mass advocates reacted almost angrily, and some in fun, referring to those who prefer the TLM as “fashionable.”
If one reads through the Holy Father’s remarks about the Latin Mass, however, one sees that he concluded by saying: “If it is a fashion then we must go deep. Only by going deep can it save us.” This phrase is key to understanding the gist of his thought. He challenges others to use and worship in tradition with the purpose of goal of exploring it more deeply, which, I suggest, is what many are doing.
Pope Francis is challenging everyone in the Church to live Catholic Christian faith with integrity. The expectation that traditionalists should be excepted from this pastoral concern is unreasonable. Traditional Mass advocates need to show the Pope that those who choose the Traditional liturgy indeed are going deeply into the faith and thus bearing great gifts for the rest of the Church.
The Pope, who humbly confessed that he was “reprimanded” by a bishop for a lack of papal preaching on pro-life matters, has subsequently spoken out quite firmly and unambiguously on abortion more than a few times. Unusually, for example, the Pope sent a pointed and specific tweet of support to demonstrators at this year’s annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.
That same Pope who most humbly and without precedent described himself as having been “reprimanded” by a brother bishop shows by his own example that he is as teachable and docile to the “vox populi, vox Dei,” as he calls everyone else in the Church to be.