Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What Holds Up the Church

OK, so yesterday we went there:

And that's about it for my own photography of this place (great heaving sighs of relief are heard among my readership. Tales of the Blurred has been cancelled. Sorry my blogging has been so unfocussed lately.)

Besides my lack of skills with a camera, it is also the case that virtually all the interesting bits of Assisi are within the churches, where no photography is allowed. I did get to con-celebrate Mass in the basilica with a number of other priests in Italy for the diaconate ordination, and offered my Mass for a beloved directee of mine who succumbed to cancer just after my arrival here - that was a great blessing, joy, and consolation for me.

The real treasure of Assisi is, of course, the man himself, Francis, and Clare and the mighty band of poor men and women who followed after them. It is hard for me to know what to say about it all - I was intensely happy and peaceful my whole time in Assisi (sadly, just a few hours), and felt utterly at home there. There is so much of Franciscan spirituality in the Madonna House life and spirit that it felt very much like being in another expression of my own vocation.

Meanwhile, I arrived back to hear that Pope Francis (who I saw again today at the General Audience - stay tuned!) gave another media interview that is causing some distress and anxiety among at least some  Catholics. I am not going to address all that right now (I'm on holidays here, folks! Mind you, from my little reading, it sounds like another case of 'Pope says more Catholic stuff, and people are shocked'), but wish to give the following gentle reminders from Giotto, found on the walls of the Basilica there,  as to what it is that upholds the Church, what the constant stream of life and love is that runs through the life of the Church that is the perpetual renewal and restoration of it from century to century.

Dream of Pope Innocent, showing St. Francis holding up the Lateran cathedral in Rome
So, there's that. I am reminded forcibly of the words of Pius XII to Catherine Doherty: "Persevere, Madam, for on groups such as yours rests the fate of the Church and of my own person."In other words, it is holiness, personal and communal, which comes down to the daily choices we make to do God's will or not, love and serve or not, pray and fast, or not. The Pope, the bishops, the clergy all have their proper job to do, and it is an important one. But the lifeblood of the Church is the holiness of God coursing through the souls of its members. Remember that.

Pope Innocent approves the Franciscan rule of life
This fresco shows us the Pope doing his proper job! That is, to respond to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the members of the Church when he sees it, and to give institutional solidity and continuity to it by 'housing' it within the great house of God which is the Catholic Church. The Pope's job is not to be that movement of the Spirit (although he too is one member of the Church, and is called to respond personally to the Holy Spirit), but to bless, to support, to encourage, and to guide the baptized in their personal following of Christ as his disciples. To correct them when they go off course, which means going against the deposit of faith handed on through the living memory of the Church, and to protect and strengthen them as they strive to become the saints of God they are called to be. That striving is your proper job and mine.
Which looks something like this, perhaps:

Francis preaching to the birds
Francis receiving the stigmata
Francis is such a fantastic figure in the life of the Church. We see here two, perhaps of the greatest dimensions of Franciscan holiness: his tender love and concern for all God's creation, and his passionate flaming love of Jesus Christ and identification with Him.

This is holiness - love of God and love of neighbour. Identification with Christ, and the profundity of gentleness and tender mercy that flows from those wounds, those stigmata. It is this--which of course is nothing else than the living presence of Christ flowing through his redeemed flock--that upholds the Church, gives it life and joy and constant renewal. It is this which should be our primary focus, as we strive to serve God in whatever way He has asked us to do.

Which reminds me: tomorrow is the big event that I'm actually here for, the diaconate ordination of Michael Weitl. I will not blog tomorrow, then, but will talk to you all again (God willing!) on Friday.

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