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Care for others, care for creation... St. Francis redivivus!

The words kept recycling. Care for others ... care for creation ... care for others ... care for creation...The homily of Pope Francis at his installation Mass this morning stunned me first into disbelief, then into self-reflection, then into joy and hope. Even if he had not already told us which namesake he chose, today there would be no doubt. This opening homily was St. Francis redivivus!

Building off the image of St. Joseph as a "protector," through "unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand," Pope Francis elaborated the vocation of the protector:

The vocation of being a protector, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of Gods creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of Gods gifts!

It's not as if this message, which connects care for others, care for families, and the preferential option for the poor to the necessity of our care for the environment, has been absent from Catholic ethics. In fact, it was signaled already by Bl. John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae and Centesimus Annus, and then Pope Benedict XVI treated this theme frequently in his writings, especially Caritas in Veritate and his Messages for the World Day of Peace.

Over the weekend on MSNBC, I myself expressed hope for a focus on this connection after hearing the comments at Pope Francis's first press conference.

But never has the theme taken center stage as it did today. Care for creation or the environment was mentioned at least ten times (by my count) in a relatively short homily. It even spurred the primary exhortation of the homily:

Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be protectors of creation, protectors of Gods plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world!

In the spirit of Jesus and St. Paul, the Pope then resounded perhaps the most foundational paradox of Christian ethics: "authentic power is service." Only this stance will "open up a horizon of hope." 

(N.B. quotes come from the Vatican Radio transcript, and have not been checked against the audio/video feed)

About the Author

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University, author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard.



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Ann:Thank you for the reply, but he didn't say,Let us not allow destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! He said omens of death and...It is the "omens" part of what he said that seems odd...

"Those who have positions of responsibility in economic, social, and political life." Who is the patron saint of bankers? (there must be one; the Medici must have seen to that when they helped put the profession on the map, at least in the West -- the Chinese, of course, did it centuries earlier). If you have access to the American Scholar, read William Quirk's article "Good Fences Make Good Bankers." And if you don't, here it is:

The development of an "official" stance of the Church towards the environment is stiil something that is important. Personally, I would be happy if Pope Francis was a latter day Pope Leo XIII an produced the environmental equivalent of Rerum Novarum.Just as labour laws and an emphasis on the rights of the worker had been percolating for some time. so environmental issues have been percolating for quite awhile. Once again, emphasis on environment is a postive, added emphasis. I totally agree it was signalled by his predecessors and maybe now is the time for it to blossom.I know that there is a lot more that I could do beginning with seriously moving in the direction of the slow food movement. I have a friend who is involved and it seems to me to be a credible movement.

The National Survivor Advocates Coalition (NSAC) appreciates Pope Francis emphasis today on protection. But the word must become kinetic to solve and eradicate the crisis of sexual abuse in the Church by priests and nuns. It must have the energy of action behind it to truly protect children and give the survivors the protection of justice. Given the gravity of this crisis to speak of protection and directly link the word to children in the inaugural homily holds out hope and not to act on these words would border on cruelty not on tenderness. That means removals and resignations not only of predator priests and nuns but Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Curia and Chancery personnel who aided and abetted criminals and obstructed justice favoring the predator over the child. Criminally convicted Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph must be replaced. Cardinals spoke frequently publicly before the conclave about how the Church realized it and a new pope must act regarding sexual abuse. Two popes before Francis offered words.Words alone, pretty or plain, will be no substitute for action. We wait now for action from this new pope. But not with patience for the wait so far in this crisis for the Church to act decisively to cleanse itself and set up a new path has taken far too long. The National Survivor Advocates Coalition (NSAC) is an all volunteer organization of in the pew Catholics and men and women of goodwill supporting survivors of sexual abuse and working to educate society about sexual abuse and to bring about effective legislative reforms.

I commend a short simple poem JOSEPH by U A Fanthorpe. 4 stanzas only, as befits a man of few words like Joseph of Nazareth.Here are the first two stanzas - I daren't quote it all for fear of breaking copyright!I am Joseph, carpenter,Of Davids kingly line,I wanted an heir, discoveredMy wifes son wasnt mine.I am an obstinate lover,Loved Mary for better or worse.Wouldnt stop loving when I foundSomeone Else came first.The other two stanzas are immensely moving - and are we not all foster-children of Joseph?

Leave it to Kris Ward [above] to nail it!The perhaps apocryphal words of Francis of Assisi keep cropping up in the media come at the start of his namesake papacy:"Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary use words!"If Francis I has only "words" for us, he will miss a critical moment to change our future.

What do these words of Pope Francis mean?:Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world!It probably is clear to everyone else, but I'm kind of dense.

Bob S. --He was just talking about environmental destruction, so no doubt he meant the ordinary kind. But atomic warfare also is terribly destructive of the environment, and it is once again a primary issue. Not to mention the threat of new biological organisms taking hold because of so much travel by humans, and the lowering of life expectancy of the poor across the cultures because of unfair distribution of goods.

"But never has the theme taken center stage as it did today."The point exactly. On the website of every dicocese you will find mention of the duty of caring for the poor and downtrodden. But mostly it is lip service. Francis has raised the decibel level and cut to the heart of the the reason Jesus came and of his anointing.

Mr. Jenkins - you say: Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary use words! but there is not historical proof that connects this phrase to Frances - it is part of the mythology of our Francis tradition.

not historical proof that connects this phrase to FrancesHow about "it is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching"?

So much in the homily sounded hopeful. I really want to believe my two favorite saints, Ignatius and Francis, have melded in the pope. Only time will tell if his deeds match his words, but his homily reminded me of this video segment from Brother Sun Sister Moon, where Francis meets and inspires Pope Innocent :) ....

I have no idea about the validity of this story but it claims that St. Bonaventure refers to it in the Legend of the Three Companions. At one time, Francis invited a friar to preach at the nearby town. They arrived at the town and the friar eagerly awaited to stop and preach. As they walked through the town Francis greeted everyone with great love and charm as was his custom. He stopped and embraced some sick people, played with some children and went through greeting others and being his usual kind and polite person.When they reached the gate at the opposite end of the town the friar asked, "Father, where are we going to preach?" To which Francis answered, "We just did."When I saw Cardinal Bergoglio on his way to the Basilica get out of the jeep and tenderly embrace the severely disabled man and then mention tenderness in his homily, I tend to think that we have another St. Francis, who preaches with words and actions.We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness! Astounding!

Bob S. --I would say that the condition of Mother Nature today (which is getting worse) is quite ominous for the future of the human race, as are the North Korean atomic threats. The continual cropping up of extremely deadly viruses and bacteria promises disaster later, and the unequal distribution of wealth (also getting worse) is an omen of social disruption to come.

According to this report, before the ceremony in Rome Francis telephoned to Buenos Aires and spoke to thousands gathered in the square in front of the Cathedral there. "Dear sons and daughters, I know you have gathered in the square. I know that you are saying prayers, I need them very much," he said. "It is beautiful to pray because we look to heaven and know that we have a good father who is God."Pope Francis called the cellphone of one of his aides, Father Alejandro Russo, rector of the cathedral, according to the Argentine newspaper Clarin."I want to ask a favor of you," he said. "I want to ask for us to walk together, to care for one another, for you to care for each other. Do not cause harm. Protect life. Protect the family; protect nature; protect the young; protect the elderly. Let there not be hatred or fighting. Put aside envy."In a saying well-known in Buenos Aires, he added: "No le saquen el cuero a nadie," which means literally, "don't flay or skin anyone alive." Figuratively it means, "don't gossip, don't criticize one another."Watching on four huge screens set up outside the plaza's Metropolitan Cathedral, many spent the entire night holding vigil before the Vatican Mass began. Other churches around the country also stayed open all night and set up television screens in plazas."

Francis goes back to basicsFrom the beginning of his papacy a week ago, it has been clear that Pope Francis I is going to be a different sort of pope.But it is not because he is doing new things, or inventing new doctrines.He sees it as his mission to remind Christians of the oldest, and most fundamental, things.In his first Mass as pope, last week, speaking without notes or text, he said we need to get back to gospel values: How did Jesus ask his followers to live?In short, we know how to talk the talk of Christianity. How do we walk the walk?The pope's chosen patron, St. Francis of Assisi, heard the voice of God say to him:"Rebuild my church."How did Francis do this? He went back to the roots. He renounced all earthy goods and stability and traveled Europe as an itinerant, ministering to the poor and living among them, preaching a gospel of forgiveness and compassion. If there was a Francis in our time, it was Mother Teresa, who lived and worked among the poor as one of the poor and asked her order of sisters to do the same. When a wealthy Catholic donated a lovely old house in New York to her order, the first thing she did was take out all the comfortable furniture, rugs, and appliances. She was trying to get back to what Jesus taught, how he lived, and the people he served -- the lame, the lepers, the drunks and addicts, the broken in body, mind, and spirit.That is exactly what this Francis, who began his priesthood working among the poor of Argentina and never lost touch with his flock, is trying to do today: Go back to the roots. Francis used his inauguration Mass as pope to talk, not about about himself and his visions and plans for the Church, but to talk about St. Joseph, whose feast day it is. Francis picked, not his own readings for his installation, but the readings for the feast of St. Joseph. They were modest readings for two modest men. St. Joseph -- the worker, the foster father, the patron of fidelity and steadfastness. St. Joseph is often the forgotten saint. We know little about him. He is not much talked about. It is possible to enter a Catholic church today and not see his image. It is possible to enter a church that bears his name and see no sainted glass window depicting him. And that would probably be OK with Joseph. The modern mentality might see Joseph, if he were considered at all, as Mr. Nice Guy -- the ultimate patsy.But Francis spoke of him as the ultimate protector; as a man able to clear away his own ego and wants so that he could listen to God and let God do the building; as a man who heard God say one simple thing: Serve.The only point of his papacy, indeed, of papal power, said Francis, is to serve.And he urged us to do the same -- serve the poor, protect our families, cherish and protect God's creation.He called Joseph a "realist" who knew that "lowly, concrete, and faithful service," is how to walk the walk. "We must not be afraid of goodness or tenderness," said the pope. Embrace these qualities and you will be a "shaft of light" shinning through the darkness of our age, when "hatred, envy, and pride, defile the human race."Compassion, devotion, and humility are the examples of Joseph, and the mark of a true Christian realism.So, the simpler rituals and dress and the small acts of humility in the first week of the papacy of Francis are actually about something. Francis is going back to basics; back to the roots. Less doctrinal debate; more time in soup kitchens. "All you need is love." But practical acts of love.This pope's election seems a kind or miracle. With a little help from Francis, God just might rebuild a broken church. Keith Burris is associate editor of the Toledo Blade and author of Deep River: The Life and Music of Robert Shaw.

Vatican Insider:"Meanwhile, pending potential future reforms, "self-reform" has started in the Roman Curia and in whoever gravitates around the Vatican. The Pope may not wish to use the flagship vehicle of a fleet of luxury sedans but several of those who were accustomed to using them are beginning to wonder how they can continue to do so. Some men with links to the Vatican financial institutions have been left hanging: "The new Pope is not Italian, he is not European, and he is unfamiliar with the way things work here... Italy could become a country like any other." There is one particular concern meandering in the Tower built by Nicholas V, the headquarters of the IOR, the Institute for Works of Religion. Hundreds of thousands of euros were spent on just one market research study and the finger is pointed at the president of the "Vatican Bank". People who are used to using the large official vehicles of the Vatican fleet to ferry them back and forth are beginning to think that it might be much better to take a taxi. Better not to risk it. The Pope, who is used to taking the minibus with his "Cardinal brethren", standing in line for breakfast at the self-service restaurant in the Domus Sanctae Marthae and settling his hotel bill in person, could look out of the window and see that he is surrounded by people who are not getting the drift and not following suit."Self-reform" might not relate only to the Holy See, the Vatican, and the style of the Curia. It could also extend to the dioceses.

My sainted sixth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Adelaide, frequently opined: "Apples don't fall far from their trees." Apparently, folk wisdom rings true for Catholic hierarchs.I found this morning's NY Times article [Pope Francis Old Colleagues Recall Pragmatic Streak] about Francis' record in the sex abuse scandal as it evolved in Argentine somewhat disturbing: The same old pattern of first protecting, sheltering and excusing priest abusers instead of a 'preferential option' for the victims that has characterized the Catholic Church's initial response to the sexual exploitation of children around the world seems to have motivated Bergoglio in Argentina. I was encouraged that Bergoglio was pragmatic enough to endorse the idea of civil unions for LBGT folks in the face of certain rejection by the overwhelming majority of the voters. The only problem is that gays and lesbians, and their supporters, have now evolved to the point that they want their freedom to exercise ALL of their human rights.This is a bitter pill for the Catholic hierarchy shepherds to swallow: Their once un-thinking deferential flocks now dismiss their prejudicial political and moral opinions as crass hypocrisy while rumors of a corrupt priesthood that harbors men who lead morally duplicitous lives grows unabated.

I found this mornings NY Times article [Pope Francis Old Colleagues Recall Pragmatic Streak] about Francis record in the sex abuse scandal as it evolved in Argentine somewhat disturbing: The same old pattern of first protecting, sheltering and excusing priest abusers instead of a preferential option for the victims that has characterized the Catholic Churchs initial response to the sexual exploitation of children around the world seems to have motivated Bergoglio in Argentina.I don't see anything about sexual abuse in the article. Has it been revised since you read it? I haven't read anything anywhere accusing Francis of being inolved in moving priests around. I recall reading at least one article in which he was quoted as saying (within the past week or so) that moving priests around wasn't acceptable.

Jim, After looking around I found this is the Washington Post. perhaps his is the article you meant?It discusses the cases of two priests who were convicted about five years ago. It doesn't provide enough details to undertand what Francis' role was or even if they were in his diocese."No one has presented evidence that Bergoglio was directly involved covering up sex abuse. But Moreau told the AP that Bergoglio, as the top authority for the Argentine church, was ultimately responsible for the treatment of the victims, who have yet to get medical treatment or compensation."

Today the Vatican announced a major change in the Pope's schedule for Holy Thursday.For some decades popes have celebrated two Masses on Holy Thursday, the Chrism Mass in the morning at St. John Lateran (the pope's cathedral church) and in the evening, the Mass of the Lord's Supper, including the Washing of the Feet of twelve priests, at St. Peter's.In a significant break with previous custom, the Pope will celebrate the morning Chrism Mass at St. Peter's, not St. John's. (Probably because he has not yet had time to take possession of of his cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of Rome. That will come soon after Easter.)But the major change is here: the Pope will not return to St. Peter's in the evening for the Mass of the Lord's Supper. Instead, he will celebrate the Evening Mass in a much simpler setting, a detention center for juveniles. During the Mass he will wash the meet of twelve of those in the center.The Pope wanted to continue his custom as archbishop of Buenos Aires of celebrating the Evening Mass in a home for the elderly, a hospital, or a prison.So far, the rest of the Holy Week liturgies will be at St. Peter's, with the exception of the now established practice of the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday evening at the Colosseum. The emphasis on service continues.

Correction:Last year, it appears that Pope Benedict celebrated the Chrism Mass in the morning at St. Peter's and the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper at St. John Lateran. This seems backwards to me. At least up to John Paul II, it was indeed the other way round. But that aside, the significant change remains, the Evening Mass will be celebrated by Pope Francis, neither at St. Peter's nor at St. John's but at a Rome juvenile detention center.

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