March 27, 2013

Popes and Crosses

Came across the hymn that follows in the Liturgy of the Hours and I thought about how the physical cross was once a tree instead of dead wood, and how that tree was also, in a sense, “resurrected” by Christ in that what was once an anonymous plant became the most famous and sought after wood in all the world. It reminded me again of Christ's saying that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains a grain of wheat.”

There has been speculation over what sort of tree it was, some saying a species of pine common in the Holy Land at the time known as “Aleppo Pine”.
Faithful Cross, above all other,
One and only noble Tree,
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thy peer may be;
Sweet the wood and sweet the iron,
And the load, most sweet is he.
From the Catechism, I found it interesting that creation speaks not just to the closeness of God but his nearness:
Light and darkness, wind and fire, water and earth, the tree and its fruit speak of God and symbolize both his greatness and his nearness.
Nice! I'd sort of intuitively glommed on to that, so it's nice to see the confirmation.


To paraphrase David Letterman's old saying about Madonna and apply it to this pope, “He loves to shock us!” Indeed, he's a live-wire! Eschewing the papal apartments? He's got guts just to be able to tell his handlers no so easily. Be like the President telling the Secret Service he ain't gonna live in the White House. He's his own man in spades! Refreshing, but then I think Benedict was perfectly his own man as was certainly John Paul II. Just in different ways. Benedict got bold on the intellectual front by trying to dialogue with Muslims in the Regensburg speech. And John Paul II of course was one of a kind. I think Pope Francis reminds me so much of John Paul I except that Francis seems to have a lot more confidence. John Paul the First just felt totally overwhelmed by the job while this pope acts with perfect insouciance. You get the feeling he doesn't overthink things: it cracks me up the Russian Orthodox gift him with a beautiful icon and he re-gifts it three days later. Somehow I don't think gold-laden icons much appeal to this thrifty and down-to-earth man. And with what frugalness does he live! He used to get the paper delivered and it came wrapped in a rubber band. He'd save the rubber bands and each month deliver thirty of them back to the kiosk!

Pope Francis has more freedom than John Paul II might've felt since JP II was the first non-Italian in a billion years and there was no reason to be shake things up unnecessarily and make the Italians nervous. But now everyone's used to the non-Italian popes so the sacred cows have been gored, or are being gored. Say what you want about Francis but he's no stickler for tradition and he certainly seems to understand the parlous state the church is in right now. It ain't business as usual. No time to fiddle while Rome burns. No strolls through the lovely Vatican wings admiring the beautiful art for this papa! It seems a situation where the man is perfectly matched to the moment.

Though he is ruining it for future popes as Lino Rulli pointed out.  How's the next one ever going to be able to say “oh, I think I'll go for 3000-sq foot luxury accommodations.” Certainly the low church Protestants love him.

I can't wait to read a biography of him though I'm averse to reading one too soon. I'd rather read wait and read a quality biography rather than just getting the first rushed one that comes out. And of course the big story is the one that hasn't happened yet, i.e. what will be of his pontificate.

It's kind of inspiring looking at the official portrait of Pope Francis since he's not a particularly handsome or striking-looking man. It sort of plays against the worldly stereotype that our leaders have to be young and vigorous and debonair. Francis is certainly the anti-Obama in more ways than one. 

I felt this passage from a recent article really drives home the impact grandparents can have:

In the book-interview “El Jesuita”, Cardinal Bergoglio had said he kept a folded text written by his grandmother in side the breviary, the two volume prayer book he always carries with him even when he travels. The text is a short testament left to her grandchildren, which reads: “May my grandchildren, to whom I have given my whole heart, have a long and happy life but if pain, sickness or loss of a loved one should fill them with sadness, may they remember that one breath taken at the Tabernacle, where the greatest and august martyr is present and one glance at Mary at the foot of the cross, will act like a balm that is able to heal the deepest and most painful wounds.”
What a beautiful saying of his grandmother. She has the words of a pope! I could do worse than copy those lines somewhere where I can see them often.


Oh how I'd like to have been a fly on the wall listening to when Pope met Pope! 45 minute conversation and it can't have all been small talk. Two holy devout men sharing an office that less than three hundred souls have shared in the history of mankind. Despite all the amazing access we have via the Internet and social media to famous people's thoughts and words, there are some things we still do not have access to. Which is as it should be, of course, but it doesn't stop me from being insatiably curious.

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