Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Hidden Virtue

Pablo Ordas:
We would like to know about your working relationship, not just your relationship of friendship but that of collaboration, with Benedict XVI.  There has never been a situation like this before, and whether you are frequently in contact and if he is helping you in this work.  Many thanks.

Pope Francis:
…There is one thing that describes my relationship with Benedict: I have such great affection for him.  I have always loved him.  For me he is a man of God, a humble man, a man of prayer.  I was so happy when he was elected Pope.  Also, when he resigned, for me it was an example of greatness.  A great man.  Only a great man does this!  A man of God and a man of prayer. 

Now he is living in the Vatican, and there are those who tell me:  “How can this be?  Two Popes in the Vatican!  Doesn’t he get in your way?  Isn’t he plotting against you?”  All these sorts of things, no?  I have found a good answer for this: “It’s like having your grandfather in the house”, a wise grandfather.  When families have a grandfather at home, he is venerated, he is loved, he is listened to.  Pope Benedict is a man of great prudence.  He doesn’t interfere!  I have often told him so: “Holiness, receive guests, lead your own life, come along with us”.  He did come for the unveiling and blessing of the statue of Saint Michael. 

So, that phrase says it all.  For me it’s like having a grandfather at home: my own father.  If I have a difficulty, or something I don’t understand, I can call him on the phone: “Tell me, can I do this?”  When I went to talk with him about that big problem, Vatileaks, he told me everything with great simplicity … to be helpful.  There is something I don’t know whether you are aware of – I believe you are, but I’m not certain – when he spoke to us in his farewell address, on 28 February, he said: “In your midst is the next Pope: I promise him obedience”.   He is a great man; this is a great man!
Press Conference on plane returning for WYD Rio

Reflection – ‘Pope and Change’, read the headline in Time magazine a week or so ago. This has certainly been the secular media’s take on Popes Francis and Benedict. Pope Francis is ‘humble’ while Benedict was ‘regal’. Francis is pastoral; Benedict, stern and unyielding. Francis warm and friendly; Benedict stiff and reserved. And so forth – we all know the routine.

So it’s nice to hear Pope Francis’ take on the matter, and his opinion of Pope Benedict. They are friends, long-time coworkers, with great mutual respect and affection. Nice to know. And good to know, since the two of them are charting absolutely new territory in their relationship. There is just no template for how a retired pope and a reigning pope are supposed to interact while both living in Rome. Miss Manners has nothing to say on the matter; Emily Post neither.

I want to reflect on this matter of ‘humility’, though, since Pope Francis here uses the word to describe Benedict, and since it has been one of the words bandied about in this new papacy in the popular press. I will always remember with great merriment the headline in the (I believe) Daily Telegraph in England upon the papal election: “New Pope Famous for his Humility.” I’m quite sure Pope Francis would be equally amused at that headline. There is nothing quite as absurd as the prospect of someone being famous for being humble. Less amusing, of course, is the implication that Pope Francis is so very humble, not like that nasty old icky Pope Benedict who was so prideful and arrogant. That… is not so funny.

Now, I have absolutely no idea who is humble and who is not. Humility is, by definition, a hidden virtue. Pope Francis may indeed be the humblest man God ever put on this earth; in his own words, ‘who am I to judge?’

But… it takes a lot of humility to resign the papacy, doesn’t it? A lot of humility to say, “I can no longer do this job I have been asked to do.” Or maybe it doesn’t – that too could be a prideful act, flouting millennia of tradition.

Humility is a tricky thing. It can be a genuine and true humility to adopt a simpler liturgical style and reduce the pomp and trappings of office… or it may not be. It can be humility to simply accept and go with the traditional signs and symbols, vestures and rituals of an office… or it may not be.

Humility cannot really be measured by such outward realities. Ultimately, only God knows who is humble and who is proud, who is lowly and meek and who is haughty of heart. The ways of the human heart are tortuous and we cannot even judge our own cases.

So it is not humility, that hidden virtue, that we are to look for to evaluate the genuineness of a person. It is love, and compassion, and mercy. And I think any fair observer, looking at both of these men, will find ample evidence of these qualities, which cannot flourish in a soul unless that soul is humble before God and receptive. We have been very blessed in our popes in the past century: much love, much mercy, much humble and generous service to the Church. Let us leave off judging and critiquing these men, and get on with the task of ourselves loving and serving as we are called to do.

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