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"You are not a royal court"

Picking up on a theme from Saturday's address to the College of Cardinals, Pope Francis at Sunday's Mass in St. Peter's Basilica had some even stronger words for what many call the "princes of the church." Here is my story on the Mass, and some choice bits from the homily:

We do not aim to assert ourselves; we oppose arrogance with meekness; we forget the humiliations that we have endured. May we always allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit of Christ, who sacrificed himself on the Cross so that we could be "channels" through which his charity might flow. This is the attitude of a Cardinal, this must be how he acts. A Cardinal – I say this especially to you – enters the Church of Rome, my brothers, not a royal court. May all of us avoid, and help others to avoid, habits and ways of acting typical of a court: intrigue, gossip, cliques, favouritism and partiality.


The Holy Spirit also speaks to us today through the words of Saint Paul: "You are God’s temple … God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are" (1 Cor 3:16-17). In this temple, which we are, an existential liturgy is being celebrated: that of goodness, forgiveness, service; in a word, the liturgy of love. This temple of ours is defiled if we neglect our duties towards our neighbour. Whenever the least of our brothers and sisters finds a place in our hearts, it is God himself who finds a place there. When that brother or sister is shut out, it is God himself who is not being welcomed. A heart without love is like a deconsecrated church, a building withdrawn from God’s service and given over to another use.


My brother Cardinals, Jesus did not come to teach us good manners, how to behave well at the table! To do that, he would not have had to come down from heaven and die on the Cross. Christ came to save us, to show us the way, the only way out of the quicksand of sin, and this way of holiness is mercy, that mercy which he has shown, and daily continues to show, to us. To be a saint is not a luxury. It is necessary for the salvation of the world.


About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Very good excerpts and I agree entirely with the segments you have put in boldface. These are, for sure, the "hard sayings". From the address to the evangelicals posted by Rita, to this address today, I must confess to being "stun by degrees" (to borrow a phrase from Emily Dickinson) by this man.

Your breath has time to straighten,
Your brain to bubble cool, --
Deals one imperial thunderbolt
That scalps your naked soul


Thanks for the fine article, David.  I went searching yesterday to find something on the consistory and your article came up first as, of course, it should have.


"Quicksand of sin"....what a terrifying image... don't know if it has a previous usage, but it's so evocative


"Jesus did not come to terach us food manners..." -- but maybe on how to bea better host or guest...


"To be a saint is not a luxury..." -- reframes sanctity for those of us who don't feel too luxurious...

"You are not a royal court."

Brave words from Papa Francesco, for sure.  I guess he wasn't impressed with all those yards and yards of crimson and magenta.  The politics within the hierarchy and along the Tiber are getting really interesting these days.  

What political game is Francesco playing?  Is all this public posturing about hierarchs having the "smell of the sheep" on them just a political gambit to ultimately further isolate the most reactionary elements of the hierarchy?

[I do think that having these Synods rather than calling Councils is the preferred, better way to deal with these hierarchy issues.  As it stands now, this pathetic hierarchy is in no shape for a Council - definitely not ready for prime time!]  

Or, is Francesco an inveterate conservative after all, intent on just putting lipstick on the pig of the clerical culture of the church?  

How long can Francesco go on avoiding dealing with the elephants under the carpet: the hierarchs' and priests' complicity in the rape and sodomy of children worldwide; AND, the malignant cancer of celibate clericalism and misogyny on the Body of Christ?  How long, O Lord?!? 

Is Francesco desperately trying to maneuver his calcified brother hierarchs into making choices that otherwise they would most naturally avoid?  Many of these choices remain for many of their number what the hierarchs have always consider subversive?

I have the distinct feeling that Francesco has exhausted most, if not all, the degrees of political freedom that have so far been afforded to him during this his first year of the papacy by the very cardinals who elected him pope with the promise of keeping the conceit of their hegemony of power going.  We're talking massive public relations Roman-style.

Is Francesco really taking the hierarchs to the edge leading the lemming hierarchs off the cliff?  The celibate hierarchy and priesthood in general is on life-support around the world.  Those pesky sheeple in the pews just refuse to encourage and consign their sons to lives of sorrow and pain as celibate priests in a dying church - funny how those marrieds want their children to be happy and loving!  

Maybe Francesco has decided to preside over the funeral mass and burial of the Catholic hierarchy?  Leaving to his successor(s) the task of picking-up the pieces at a later time?  It is said that popes and hierarchs think in terms of centuries, not months and years.

Or maybe I'm just engaging in wishful thinking?  Time will tell.  Very interesting times for the Catholic hierarchy ... This is getting exciting:  we may be witnesses to a real turning of the wheel of history for the church?

Jim Jenkins, those of us who are old enough to remember Vatican II (I was in high school) thought then that we were witnessing a "real turning of the wheel of history for the church".   I watch with interest - but I will not hold my breath that any of the truly needed reforms (to clericalism, a centuries overdue end to patriarchy and misogny, etc) will take place. There are too many who are too vested in maintaining the status quo.

@ Anne Chapman:  Agreed.  

My sainted sixth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Adelaide, had somehow purloined draft copies of the documents of Vatican2 that had started to circulate out from Rome.  We had daily readings from them just after our noon recess.  Many times after the reading she would turn to the class and pronounce:  "Never confuse the Church for the Christ!" 

The problem became that the "real turning of the wheel of history for the church" continued turning, but for especially for those forces who had a vested interest in restoration, not reform and renewal.  There are real political reasons why both Wojtyla and Ratzinger were elected pope in tandem.

Some years ago I had a conversation with a "Pope John bishop" who had just returned from a big papal event in Rome.  I asked him what was his general reaction and take-away.  He said without hesitation:  "Our best hope is that someday they'll all be dead."

Maybe the Holy Spirit is working overtime these days of a Franciscan papacy to make that sentiment a reality?

At the risk of being, as the British say, cheeky, one wonders how Cardinal Burke reacted to this talk by Pope Francis...

Or is this just one more case of ….

Words, glorious words!
What wouldn't we give for
That extra bit more --
That's all that we live for
Why should we be fated to
Do nothing but brood
On words,
Magical words,
Wonderful words,
Marvelous words,
Fabulous words.

Yes, I’m getting impatient.  Symbolism that is not manifested in ACTIONS starts to get very old, very quickly.

Perhaps we should keep in mind that change usually takes forty to fifty years to take a solid hold. We might also be aware that many of the Vatican II changes have taken effect. The drastic change in the liturgy to the vernacular, the three year cycle, the reestablishment of the Liturgy of the Word., the offering of the Cup to all. etc.So Papa Francesco as the right person also has timing on his side. 

How refreshing these words of Francis. It is the gospel and a true prophet is among us. For so many years some in the church mistakenly thought that perfection was conforming to meticulous rules. Perfection is in the Beatitudes. As Francis said it is not an option. 

I appreciate your impatience, Jim McCrea.  On the other hand, as a true outsider, I'd argue that Pope Francis needed to get his arms around the process and to some extent at least, establish his credibility outside the Vatican before he could make too many changes. It is difficult to change the Vatican finance system as he just did, unless you know how the current one works.   That's just one example.  And if you don't think there were, and are some "princes of the Church" just spending every waking moment trying  to figure out a way to undercut this Pope, I think you're dreaming.  Other changes, like an archbishop telling the CDF that "it isn't always black and white" never  happened, never would happen, under John Paul II and Benedict.  I'm not sure it is symbolism.  I think it is a real debate, among members of the hierarchy...who ever would have thought?

I think it is unfortunate inasense that onthe day of his installation, every Bishop,archbishop and Cardinal doesn't submit his resignation to the Pope.  Those he wants to replace he replaces, those he wants to keep in their sees he keeps.  But I doubt that's a practcal solution.  But I remain confident that change will continue to come.  

Iniitial appointments of bishops in the US seem ambiguous at best. Perhaps they were already in some pipeline, but I think he stil must show some action with the Bishop Finns to continue-or truly establish -the credibility that most of us hope for.

Is Pope Francis the person he seems? My long years have taught me that you don't REALLY know a person until you see him or her act in a crisis situation in which they have to make a decision that could cost them a lot personally. Yes, that means we don't really know very many people well. So we'll have to wait and see about Francis.

But if he's really a fake, then he is also an extremely great actor. (I mean that seriously.). His body language and voice match his words in public.

Public admonishment of cardinals is, in a sense, mere words, but still strikes me as significant.  We've observed  many times here the code of conduct that prescribes Thou Shalt Not Publicly Criticize Thy Brother Bishop.  Apparently the code is abolished under this papacy.  That's significant, yes?


Jim P.  I do think that's significant.  I also think that often change is not an immediate about face, but a much more gradual thing, that results from the accumulation of many small changes.  Wedon'tparticularly like that kind of change.  We want ti to bebig and dramatic.We want the Popeto come out and annouce thousands of doctrinal changes an Tuesday that go into effect on Wednesday.   But it often doesn't work like that.  For every Vatican II which was relatively swift and relatively dranatic change, although it actually took several years from planning to completion, the more normal process is the counter-Vatican II "revolution" of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, with constant chipping away that occurred over 35 years.  My hope is that we are entering a new era of returning to a Vatican II mindset.  It won't be done by Thursday, though. 

Ann O - Is Pope Francis the person he seems? ...if he's really a fake, then he is also an extremely great actor. (I mean that seriously.).

I worry about that also - I didn't pay very close attention to John Paul II for many years while I was very busy with career and three kids. Eventually I realized that he was not what I had thought - but he was a great actor. Burned once - it's good to reserve judgment.

Anne C. --

There are such things as psychotics who are world-class charmers.  I knew a world-class charmer who, according to many who knew him best, could also be a bare-faced liar.  But I hope that the Holy spirit would protect us from such.  

"really a fake"?  Hmm.

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