Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Baptist's Cry! Those Early Chapters

"When reform is dissociated from the hard work of repentance, and seeks salvation merely by changing others, by creating ever fresh forms, and by accommodation to the times, then despite many useful innovations it will be a caricature of itself. Such reform can touch only things of secondary importance in the Church." (Josef Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), Presentation to the Catholic Academy in Bavaria on the question of Church Renewal, 1971).

I lifted the above quote from a friend who had used it some years back in a very different context. It articulates well a piece of common sense or folk wisdom which I have carried with me for certainly 30 if not more years. A now aged prelate, back in my days in the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, shared this wisdom in his account to us younger ones of "Benelli and the Photocopy Machine". 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the name "Benelli", he died relatively young and happy as the Cardinal Archbishop of Florence, Italy. He hadn't always been such. For numerous years as sostituto he was the point man for Pope Paul VI and for his efforts to do many things including reform the Roman Curia. Archbishop Benelli was for all but a small circle of younger men close to him in the Secretariat of State (including my prelate friend), a holy terror. As the story goes, on taking up his duties Benelli observed that any and all had access to the one photocopy machine in the Secretariat of State; time and money were being lost to socializing and copies for personal use. By dictate from the office of the sostituto, no one but the brother responsible was to use that machine which was reserved strictly for office copying. As my friend recounts, so things remained until the day Benelli left for Florence; the very next day things were as they had been years prior. The Ratzinger quote above explains it best and I would add: "it seeks to change things of secondary importance and cannot do so in any lasting way".

The world press, starting with Italy's vaticanisti, is blowing hot and cold these days. Yesterday the Holy Father reaped unbounded praise for having appointed Archbishop Parolin (for many of them seemingly a latter-day Pacelli) as Secretary of State. No doubt tomorrow they will have found reason to criticize or to be disappointed in this choice or in some other Pope Francis will make. I doubt very much if anyone, whether the Pope or his right hand man, will be able to please this crowd. This is the case very simply because they want to register reform/innovation, nothing more. 

My wish and prayer for Pope Francis and for Secretary of State Parolin would be for "success" in the not measurable hard work of repentance (thank you, Benedict!), which has to do with hearts, which has to do with shepherding after the Heart of the Good Shepherd. That is not to say that I don't have a long grocer's list of changes and reforms I'd like to see, because I have one. What I am saying is that whether we mark austerity by limiting access to the copy machine, the coffee machine or the water fountain, regardless of cutbacks on inflated numbers of cardinals, archbishops and monsignori in the Curia, if hearts are not changed, well, maybe another "Benelli" will leave for Florence, or a "Pius" will pass the torch to another "John", who will promote all his contemporaries to archbishop the very next day and "right the wrong" if you can say it that way.

Let's get back to the Year of Faith and to fostering Christian Family Life!

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