Pope Francis had a very active week, beginning with Mass at St. Peter’s for the feast of Corpus Christi on Sunday, and including his rejection of the much-publicized resignation letter from German Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising. Along the way, Francis spoke and delivered messages to many groups, including a message to seminarians, a setting in which he almost always makes a few provocative points.
First, In his homily for Corpus Christi, he spoke at length about the image of the upper room, where the first Eucharist took place. Francis talked about how we need to break free from our self-absorption and attachments and allow ourselves to have a large, open heart to recognize and receive Jesus in a small morsel of Bread:
A large room for a tiny piece of Bread. God makes himself tiny, like a morsel of bread. That is precisely why we need a great heart to be able to recognize, adore and receive him. God’s presence is so humble, hidden and often unseen that, in order to recognize his presence, we need a heart that is ready, alert and welcoming. But if our heart, rather than a large room, is more like a closet where we wistfully keep things from the past, or an attic where we long ago stored our dreams and enthusiasm, or a dreary chamber filled only with us, our problems and our disappointments, then it will be impossible to recognize God’s silent and unassuming presence. We need a large room. We need to enlarge our hearts. We need to break out of our tiny self-enclosed space and enter the large room, the vast expanse of wonder and adoration. That is what we really need! It is what is missing in the many movements we create to meet and reflect together on our pastoral outreach. But if wonder and adoration are lacking, there is no road that leads to the Lord. Nor will there be the synod, nothing. Adoration: that is the attitude we need in the presence of the Eucharist. The Church too must be a large room. Not a small and closed circle, but a community with arms wide open, welcoming to all. Let us ask ourselves this question: when someone approaches who is hurting, who has made a mistake, who has gone astray in life, is the Church, this Church, a room large enough to welcome this person and lead him or her to the joy of an encounter with Christ? Let us not forget that the Eucharist is meant to nourish those who are weary and hungry along the way.
Yesterday, Pope Francis issued a public response to the resignation letter from Cardinal Marx. In many ways, the resignation letter was unprecedented. He was not facing any personal scandal, and while he has been the target of outside criticism due to his involvement in the German Church’s Synodal Path, he is known to be close to Pope Francis and someone with whom the pope shares mutual admiration.
As a result, many saw Marx’s resignation as a bit of political theatre or a publicity stunt. Whatever the backstory might be, Pope Francis used his response as a teaching moment about co-responsibility:
“You tell me that you are going through a moment of crisis, and not only you but also the Church in Germany is living it. The whole Church is in crisis because of the issue of abuse; what’s more, the Church cannot take a step forward today without assuming this crisis. The policy of burying one’s head in the sand doesn’t lead to anything, and the crisis must be assumed from our paschal faith. … And this is my answer, dear brother. Continue as you propose, but as Archbishop of Munchen und Freising. And if the temptation comes to you to think that, by confirming your mission and not accepting your resignation, this Bishop of Rome (your bother who loves you) does not understand you, think of what Peter felt before the Lord when he presented his resignation in his manner: ‘depart from me who am a sinner,’ and listen to the answer: ‘feed my sheep.’”
Vatican News reported that Cardinal Marx accepted the Pope’s decision, and will continue in his role:
The Pope’s decision, Cardinal Marx acknowledges, “represents a great challenge for me” and therefore, he concludes, returning “simply to the agenda of ‘yesterday’ cannot be the way forward, neither for me nor for the archdiocese.”
Finally, Pope Francis delivered an address yesterday to the ‘Pius XI’ Pontifical Marche Regional Seminary of Ancona. Exaudi has an English translation of the full address, and there were two sections that jumped out at me. The first might have received more attention earlier in his papacy, back when his critics would pick apart his speeches and homilies, looking for theological errors and ambiguity. In it, Francis alludes to the mystery presented in Luke 2:52 regarding how Jesus’s humanity is to be understood: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.” The Letter to the Hebrews also touches on this question: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning” (Heb 4:15, RSVCE).
This mystery, that Jesus is Truly God, yet was still fully human has been the subject of much tension in the Christian faith. Pope Francis touched on this when advising the seminarians to practice docility during their studies (emphasis mine):
“The Church asks you to follow the example of Jesus, who allows Himself with docility to be educated by Joseph. From His childhood, He had to experience the effort that every path of growth entails; pose the great questions of life; begin to assume His responsibilities, and make His own decisions. But He was God; He had no need, no. He learned, but He really learned; He did not feign that He learned. No, He learned. Yes, He was God, but he was true man: He went through all the stages of a man’s growth. Perhaps we haven’t reflected enough on the young Jesus, committed to discerning His vocation, to listen and to confide in Mary and Joseph, to talk with the Father to understand His mission.”
Additionally, he touched on some of the major temptations he frequently speaks about when discussing seminary and the priesthood: having an open heart and avoiding clericalism and rigidity:
“A priest can be very disciplined; he can be capable of explaining Theology well, also Philosophy, and many things. However, if he isn’t human, it’s no good. Let him go out and be a professor, but if he isn’t human, he can’t be priest; he is lacking something. Is he lacking a tongue? No, he can talk. He is lacking a heart. Be experts in humanity!
Hence, the Seminary must not steer you away from reality, from dangers and, even less so, from others. On the contrary, it must make you closer to God and to brothers. Dilate your heart within the walls of the Seminary — have a dilated heart — extend it to the whole world, be passionate about what brings you ‘close,’ be passionate about what brings you close, what ‘opens,’ what makes you ‘encounter.’ Beware of experiences that lead to sterile intimism, of ‘satisfying spiritualism,’ which seems to give consolation but, instead, leads to closure and rigidity. And I pause here a bit. Rigidity is somewhat fashionable today, but rigidity is one of the manifestations of clericalism. Clericalism is a perversion of the priesthood; it’s a perversion, and rigidity is one of its manifestations. When I meet a rigid seminarian or young priest, I say: ‘something awful is going on within him.’ Behind all rigidity, there is a serious problem, because rigidity lacks humanity.”
You can read it all here.
Have a lovely weekend and a blessed feast of the Sacred Heart.