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Pope Francis actually means what he says.

One balmy summer, way back in the dim and distant past when I was a teenager, the novel to read was Morris West’s, The Shoes of the Fisherman (1963). It told the story of Kiril Lakota, a Slav who, against all the odds, was elected pope.  Kiril, once he got his feet under the table in Rome, decided that he was going to sell the papal tiara and respond to ‘the call of the poor’, embedded in the gospels.
At the time Pope John XXIII had just been elected pope and a rumour of change was swirling around Rome. But the papacy of Pius XII and his predecessors seemed to have frozen in time a perception that change was impossible. As things were, so things would be.
The notion that any significant thaw would occur in an unchanging, super-confident Catholic Church was confined to the realms of fiction and fantasy. So though Kiril and John XXIII were a breath of fresh air, an astute punter wouldn’t have put his house on either of them.
Fifty years on, Pope Francis is another old man in a hurry, charged with reforming a Vatican Curia, frozen in time and resistant to change. Yet he seems determined to drag a recalcitrant church into the modern world.
Anyone in any doubt about what Francis intends has only to read his scathing demolition of the assembled Vatican cardinals and archbishops in his pre-Christmas address. His targets were careerism, lack of empathy for others, lust for power and control, an exaggerated sense of self-importance, opposition to the movement of the Spirit in the Church.
It’s obvious now that anyone in any doubt but that there’s a huge tussle going on for the heart and soul of Catholicism is living in Alice in Wonderland country. The word is out. Even though the faint-hearted don’t want to dub the present tussle a ‘civil war’ in the church, there’s no pretending anymore. Even the prestigious French Le Figaro recently published a cover article headed, ‘The Secret War inside the Vatican: how Pope Francis is shaking up the Church’.
Francis, of course, has been equally scathing about ‘airport’ bishops, bishops who spend more time touring the world than in their dioceses; and priests who haven’t ‘the smell of the sheep’ (distant from their people); and the clerical pomp and self-flattery that’s a far cry from the simplicity of the gospel.
Part of the difficulty is that, with Pope Francis, so many just simply don’t get it. So many remain convinced that ultimately nothing will change, that after a short interlude with the well-meaning Francis, and with the age-old traditions of the Vatican re-asserting themselves that in a few years, when Francis has gone to God, everything will return to normal. Status and position seem impervious to gospel values like mercy and compassion.
An example of ‘not getting it’ was the recent effort to talk up a possible visit of Pope Francis to Ireland. Even the papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, joined a developing chorus of those who seem to imagine that another elaborate, expensive jamboree would camouflage the fault-lines and the fissures in Irish Catholicism. In a recent interview he’s reported as saying that he was sure that Irish Catholics, Irish bishops and Irish priests ‘would be absolutely over-joyed if Pope Francis would come’.
Apart from the archbishop’s confidence in reading the mind of the Irish clergy, whose only representative body he has refused to meet, the fact is that a papal visit is exactly what the Irish Church doesn’t need at present.
It would merely serve to distract from the issues we have to face as a Church, though it would (as some might hope) camouflage the deep-seated problems in the usual fluff and nonsense that attends such religious jamborees.
The nuncio himself throws in the ball in the public relations fluff stakes when he says that Francis has a great love for Ireland. Of course he has. And if there was a possibility of a papal visit to Timbuctoo and Timbuctoo had a papal nuncio he too would be reassuring the people of Timbuctoo that Francis had a soft spot for the people of Timbuctoo as well. It goes with the territory.
The other important perspective is that Francis isn’t into hype and jamborees. He doesn’t like them. He avoids them if possible. And he believes that too much money is spent on them, money that should be spent on the poor. He’d probably tell us that whatever money we would spend on a papal visit to give it to Fr. Peter McVerry or Sr. Stan for the homeless.
My own view is that what the Irish Church needs to do is to listen to what Francis is saying to us and encouraging us to do: implement reforms, debate the real issues, be brave and say what you think, look after the poor. We know what we need to do as a Church. We just need to get on with it. A papal visit would be a distraction from all of that.
There are, more than a year after his election as pope, a few obvious keys to understanding Francis. One is that he’s a man on a mission and he won’t be deflected from it. Another is that he’s not into hype. He actually means what he says. And if people like the Vatican aristocracy don’t get it the first time he says it (like last Christmas) he’ll repeat it a second Christmas, as he did.
Yet another key to Francis is that he’s a pastoral man. He’s spent his life close to people in parish settings and he refuses to be pulled into the infantile clerical world of titles, honours, status, differentiations, like all the blather about Reverend and Very Reverend and Right Reverend and Most Reverend.
The other important thing to remember is that behind the engaging smile and his ease with people, there’s a man of steel, as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin recently said. This pope is not a man for turning. The old order is changing, whether we like it or not. And we just have to get used to it. As Fr. Bertie Brady, an old PP of mine, used to tell me once, ‘You won’t go far wrong if you listen to the pope!’

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  1. Mary Vallely says:

    I agree with all Brendan Hoban writes here but was wondering when Fr Bertie Brady gave him that advice to which pope he was referring. Like most here I have a very soft spot for Pope Francis but would have had reservations about following the previous two to the letter of the law. My conscience was often troubled by the conflict.
    An elderly woman approached me this morning and asked me what she should do as she’d run out of both Lourdes and Knock holy water. Would the holy water in the Cathedral do just as well? She then said she was tormented by the fact that she sometimes went to two daily masses and received the Eucharist at each but that a young priest had told her firmly that she could only receive the Eucharist once each day. I suggested to her that if Pope Francis was here that he’d put his arms around her and tell her she was a great woman and not to worry about it. Wasn’t she trying to do what her heart told her to do? He’d reassure her that God loved her and would always, always love her and he’d chuck her under the chin, smile and suggest, “Say a prayer for me.”
    The woman replied that it was the last Pope she was referring to. She is still heavily influenced by that regime of rules and regulations and narrow thinking.
    God grant many more years to Papa Bergoglio because we need to allow ourselves to learn from his pastoral, Christ-like attitude. It is the heart that teaches and where we find the true Spirit of Christianity. Heart speaking to heart. Fr Brendan Hoban,keep writing from the heart, honest and thought provoking pieces. Every blessing on the work and continued good health in 2015.
    P.S. It might seem a silly story but you would be shocked by the number of people who genuinely worry about the little rules and who never allowed themselves to believe that they could think for themselves. ‘Father’ always knew best and Father’s Father knew best of all. There is also the danger of putting poor Papa Bergoglio on a pedestal, making a superstar out of him, which is the last thing he wants, of course. He isn’t perfect and he has a lot to learn. e.g. about women but… that’s for another day!

  2. It is clear that Fr.Brendan has once again squarely hit the nail on the head.
    Looking back, it is clear that history goes round in circles. Just look at the Reformation, the Augustinian Friar, Martin Luther, highlighted abuses in the Roman Church. The Pope excommunicated him and the Emperor outlawed him. So,the great break up of Christianity happened.
    Today, in many ways the Roman Church is not fit for purpose, this is clear to all, the clerical sex and financial scandles being prime examples. Thus, the Roman Church is in need of another Reformation.
    Thank God that with Fope Francis this Reformation will happen and will be driven from within the Church. So, let us pray for Pope Francis and his work and for his safety. Also, thanks to Pope Emeritus Benedict who in his wisdom made it possible by retiring from office.
    The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation is to be marked with a joint act of repentance by Lutherans and Roman Catholics. This is being supported by Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

  3. Rosalie Moloney says:

    Mary Vallely’s account (#1) of her encounter with the elderly woman resonated strongly with me. My mother also used worry about whether she was permitted to receive Holy Communion twice in the one day.
    While I completely endorse Mary’s response and her suggestion as to how Pope Francis would react, to avoid any confusion it may be worth recalling the official Church teaching on the matter. The young priest’s declaration that the woman could only receive the Eucharist once each day was correct – between 1917 and 1983. The 1917 Code of Canon Law stipulated:
    “Can 857. No one is allowed to receive the Most Holy Eucharist, who will have already received it on the same day, except in the cases mentioned in Can. 858, §1.
    Can. 857 Nemini liceat sanctissimem Eucharistiam recipere, qui eam eadem die iam receperit, nisi in casibus de quibus in Can. 858, §1.”
    However this rule was changed in the 1983 Code of Canon Law: “Can. 917 A person who has already received the Most Holy Eucharist can receive it a second time on the same day only within the eucharistic celebration in which the person participates, without prejudice to the prescript of Can. 921 §2.
    Can. 917 Qui sanctissimam Eucharistiam iam recepit, potest eam iterum eadem die suscipere solummodo intra eucharisticam celebrationem cui participat, salvo praescripto can. 921, § 2.”
    The key word in the Latin text of Can. 917 was the word “iterum” which has the specific meaning of “again, for the second time.” The following year the Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law issued an official clarification, which confirmed that a person could receive twice on the same day:
    “Doubt: Whether, according to canon 917, one who has already received the Most Holy Eucharist may receive it again on the same day only a second time, or as often as one participates in the celebration of the Eucharist. Response: Affirmative to the first; negative to the second.” [AAS 76 (1984) p. 746]
    Thankfully, in response to my mother’s query, a priest-friend consulted the 1983 Code. During the rest of her life for as long as she was able she faithfully participated in two Masses each day and happily received the Eucharist at both.

  4. Mary Vallely says:

    Thank you, Rosalie (#3) for that clarification. Canon Law is a complicated, mysterious, scary and untravelled world to me. I’m afraid that I have to fight to keep Dickens’ Mr Bumble the Beadle’s words out of my head at times but I do very much appreciate your very comprehensive response and your mum sounds just the sort of faithful Christian who would have had an extra special hug from the Argentinian in Rome. Dia leat 🙂

  5. Brian Eyre says:

    Receiving Holy Communion twice a day.
    In my pastoral experience of 47 years as a priest I have met some people who have asked me if they could receive Holy Communion twice a day.
    This is what I say to them.
    When our Good Lord Jesus walked the streets of Nazareth no doubt he must have met on some occasions the same people that he had previously met that same day. What do you think he did on meeting them for a second time?
    Did he turn away from them, did he cross over to the other side of the road so as to avoid eye-contact with them? Of course not.
    Every meeting people had with Jesus in Nazareth was unique. I’m sure he must have stopped and talked to them even if had already met them before that day.
    Likewise every celebration of the Eucharist is a unique and distinct celebration and Our Good Lord is only too happy to meet us again.

  6. Father Brendan, while I understand your concerns regarding Pope Francis visiting Ireland at this time, I also caution, that Pope Francis may be following a higher call, from the Lord himself, to go to Ireland. It is the Lord’s prerogative!

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