Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Francis and Justin

Habemus Papam! I, like many people, was glued to my TV to witness the election of the new Pope, Jorge Maria Cardinal Bergoglio, who has taken the regnal name, Francis.  Although a solid Anglican, I have to give the Roman Church credit for putting on an impressive and spell-binding spectacle that even we non-Roman Catholics can enjoy.  And yet the pomp of the election contrasted sharply with the new Pope's humility, simplicity, and quiet accessibility.  The early days of Francis' pontificate seem to indicate that the new Pope has a sincere commitment to the plight of the poor, will be profoundly pastoral in approach, and strip away much of the ceremonial accretions of the papal court. 

The election of Justin Welby as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury certainly pales in comparison in terms of overall hype, but Anglicans worldwide are expressing deep emotions over the appointment of a man who will lead the third largest Christian church in the wake of the stormy era of Rowan Williams.  Welby's brief stint as a bishop, his evangelical orientation, and his opposition to same-sex marriage give many progressive Anglicans pause, while others worry that his support for the ordination of women to the episcopate will alienate traditionalists.  His impressive background in conflict resolution spells hope for a Communion full of shattered relationships, and yet his former career in the oil industry makes him suspect among some who worry about plutocratic connections.  Welby's enthronement in Canterbury Cathedral on March 21st should be an event of especial pomp and magnificence.

Arms of Rome, Constantinople,
and Canterbury. One Holy,
Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

These two men are entering a new stage in their vocations and share similar challenges.  Both Churches are looking to them with hope to repair damaged relationships, keep people of wildly divergent views together, grow the church, and restore credibility to an institution that has not kept pace with the secular world's beliefs about justice and equity.  This is a heavy burden to carry, and the likelihood is that both men will disappoint, anger, and upset many they are called to lead, however brilliantly they might exercise their respective offices.  It is important to remember that we, too, have a share in their new lives as leaders of these two Communions.  When the new Pope asked the people to give him their blessing before he imparted his to the crowds below, he was perfectly serious.

Our job is to pray for these two men as they undertake their new responsibilities, to commend them when they do well, and to challenge them when they go astray.  Anglicans should not only pray for Justin, but also for Francis, and Roman Catholics should do likewise.  It is easy to forget that we are Christians first, and Anglicans or Roman Catholics second, and that we are called to pray for each other as sisters and brothers, whatever our ecclesiastical affiliation:  Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Buddhist, or Muslim.  But not only are we bidden to pray for them, we also are called to share their ministry.

Feeding the 5000.
One of the passages from last Thursday's eucharistic lections stuck with me as I considered the new ministry of these two leaders.  "I can do nothing on my own.  As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me" (John 5:30).  Jesus does not act on his own, but with God's help, and lest we forget, with his disciples' help, too.  Even Francis and Justin Cantuar do nothing on their own, so the responsibility for the work and witness of the Church is ours, as well as theirs.  We are all accountable. "The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works I am doing" Jesus continues, "testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me" (John 5:36).  We judge as we hear; and we try to be faithful to the work that God has given us to do.  So, amid all the pomp of investitures and enthronements, let us try to keep the work of the Church before our eyes, for that is what will legitimize our call to be the Church and to speak in God's name.  "How can you believe," Jesus challenges his detractors, "when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God" (John 5:44)?  The glorious pageantry of new beginnings in the Church must, in the final analysis, point to the glory of God and lead us to the work he has given us to do to feed, heal, lift up, plant, and grow.

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