Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Petrine Ministry - Yesterday and Today

On a recent visit to Lviv a bishop from Italy I met there asked me if I planned to be in Rome for the beatification of Pope Paul VI. He asked knowing my vintage, Paul VI being the Pope of my seminary days in Rome. What he probably could not have fathomed was that in long ago 1972, his was the first voice of a Roman Pontiff that this boy from the Midwest had ever heard in his life, let alone understood. Globalization, media and all have made our world and our access to the Pope something different. A 22 year old of today from the prairie might not understand a word of Italian, but he probably would recognize the sound of the voice of Pope Francis. From what they are telling us, I guess we will hear sometime next year about a new and better communications concept for the Vatican to help get that word out.

That is a difference and in the short span of my adult life, but other world-changers end up being tracked by the centuries. Yesterday, I was reading an online review of a book on the political theory of St. Robert Bellarmine (it's on my wish list in hopes the Kindle price will come down when I've read some of my other impulse purchases). The review made mention of Pope Pius IX being more influential than Pius XI for how we understand the political or diplomatic role of the Successor of St. Peter today. You're supposed to do a double-take on that one, in case you were wondering. I get what the author was driving at, I think, in so far as the loss of his army and temporal power (Papal States) to the unification drive of Garibaldi and Co. for Italy, as we all know and love it today, drove Pius IX to face a learning curve of millennial proportion, which has only been tweaked now and again since then. Fair or not, the novelty of it all might explain why Pope Benedict XV was effectively blocked in his peace efforts during WWI by powers still unaware that the Papacy, minus territory, had retooled for a role of prophecy or spiritual leadership in the world.

It is only as an adult that I have had to deal regularly with the accomplished fact distance from temporal power provides. It is that claiming of a spiritual and not political role which has been coming back to "haunt" the Papacy ever since. We note it dramatically in the charges thrown up against Pius XII, that in WWII he failed in his role of spiritual leadership against Hitler's "final solution" - his prophetic voice, as the accusation goes, having been withheld at the cost of the lives of countless Jews, or so they claim. If it were my call Pacelli would be up for beatification on 19 October as well. The prophet's existence is a suffered one, not his vaunt and rarely heeded.

Since the dynamic Pontificate of Pius XII, we have something else, namely legends of concerted effort between St. John XXIII and temporal powers to fend off armed confrontation in a nuclear age, and between St. John Paul II and Ronald Reagan to bring down the Berlin Wall. There would be a consensus then that the Papacy has indeed found a voice which reverberates on behalf of justice and peace, which is heard and attended to around the world. That, at least, is what some of my friends would claim. I keep wondering if we do not rather still find ourselves in the position of Pope Benedict XV, excluded from making a contribution to conflict resolution a century ago.

Who bears the burden for seeking justice and promoting peace in our world? All men and women of good will, obviously. The specific ministry of the Successor of St. Peter is to confirm the brethren in that common effort. Pope St. Gregory the Great kept up a tireless correspondence with the movers and shakers of his day, both secular and ecclesiastic, coaxing, cajoling, reproving, in hopes of keeping or restoring order within the Church of God and bringing the errant back to the straight path. Letters hand delivered are much more discreet than videos, sound bites and tweets, which perforce have to be out there for all to see and hear. Can such a virtual world touch my heart or call me personally to task? I guess I have more questions than answers today.

A Catholic World Report item I also read yesterday spoke negatively about our media exposure in the Church and of our sorting out issues in the public forum as something detrimental to the heart of the Petrine Ministry, which exists not to referee but to bind the Church together in love. The author cited the contraception issue which reached fever pitch in the 1960's, after St. John XXIII withdrew it from conciliar debate. The article claims that Paul VI's concession to open discussion raised false expectations which he then had to squelch with his prophetic encyclical Humanae vitae in 1968, which remains yet today an incomparable font of wisdom and teaching, sadly still ignored or denied by way too many. The article goes on to predict a similar debacle for Pope Francis as a result of all the hype associated with the upcoming Synod in Rome.

Indeed! "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching." [2 Tim. 4:1-2] And to my friend at Catholic World Report: don't be surprised as St. Paul predicted, when they still wander off with ears itching for something other than the truth.

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