Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Watching Pope Francis from afar: some considerations

1. It was a long, multi-faceted preparation, from spiritual to physical to choreographic to fashion-oriented to artistic to security-meticulous. Sometimes one would wish that those who did the artistic or physical or security preparations also did the spiritual preparations as well. It would have helped avoid egregious things, such as the alleged ‘detention’ of street children to remove, as it were, potential ‘eyesores’ to the papal vision. Trouble is, if true, the utter lack of spirituality in a one-dimensional preparation more often than not results in authorities doing an Imelda instead of a Fr. Flanagan to street children and other eyesores of the republic.
2. Pope Francis is a living proof that there is a Holy Spirit and that he is still very active in the Roman Catholic Church. His election to the Chair (not throne please, popes are not kings but pastors) of St. Peter in a world filled with the massive shadows of terrorism, hatred, injustice, racism, economic-social-political inequities (as ever) truly brings the smile of God on people tired of the dark horizons. Obviously his papal election belongs in the realm of light and light comes from the Spirit of the Living God.
3. It is truly amazing how people among even those unable to personally ‘encounter’ the Holy Father but who watch him on television confess to feeling “truly happy” and “joyful” by the mere sight of him. I know. The social media broadcast that fact. Reactions to him are more often than not ‘trending’. I believe it is because the papacy is truly a testimony to the sacramentality of the Church. Catholics often take it for granted that they encounter Jesus Christ through Word and Sacrament defined fundamentally as “a visible material sign that convey and effect an invisible immaterial grace”. In a sense the Holy Father, being the visible head of the Roman Catholic Church, by the sacramentality of that same Church, brings to us the invisible presence of our invisible Head, Jesus Christ. No wonder he elicits joy in a way reminiscent of how Jesus’ presence in Mama Mary’s womb elicits joy in John the Baptist still in his own mother’s womb. This is what a Catholic loses when he leaves the Church. This is what non-Catholics miss by the fact that they simply center on the Word.
4. Pope Francis is often mistakenly characterized as a “cool celebrity” with  humble, easy and non-judgmental ways oozing ‘mercy and compassion’ to the suffering and the marginalized, however unpleasant sometimes to the naked eye  some of those he hugs or kisses. But he is also a tough prophet even with his gentle manners. This is, for example, shown in his Malacaang visit when in the face of a president who prides himself in being the epitome of anti-corruption politics he called on all Filipinos to stamp out corruption in all levels of their society. It was like telling the janitor to have his house swept thoroughly before he would even think of saying what he does for a living.
5. I was struck when he urged the clergy to shun compromises with the materialistic mindsets of the world by kicking the ‘complacency’ that makes them accepting of the “scandalous inequalities/inequities” of society. I was wondering if the Holy Father was also indirectly referring to the “scandalous inequities” among the Filipino clergy themselves. The fundamental illness of Philippine society can be traced, in clerical theological lingo, to the lack of real working ‘communion’ within the Philippine Church. We preach with enthusiasm and righteous gusto on ‘communion’ through faith that does justice, the very foundation of charity or Christian love. But as to whether we walk the talk we see concretely in priests in urban centers having multi-million worth SUVs, condos and other properties plus regular trips outside the country while their counter parts in the provinces barely make ends meet. Diocesan priests from the provinces migrating to urban centers or outside the country then is hardly a surprising reality but its scandalous character is almost on par with wealthy clergymen who stay blind to their brethren’s conditions. Real working ‘communion’ must start with the clergy. Bishops and decision-makers in the Church must truly allow the full implications of the gospel to shake our very institutions to the tune of love founded on justice done by faith. But we must walk before we talk and talk only because we walked it first. Tall order.  But very much like Pope Francis.

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