April 15, 2013

Thank you for the excellent coverage of this grace-filled moment of transition in the Church.

Your editorial (“Election of pope is a lightning bolt from heaven,” WCR, March 25) beautifully responded to the Holy Father’s invitation – through the choice of his name – to turn to the “cloud of witnesses” who encourage us from heaven and reflect on Francesco d’Assisi.

Might I offer a couple of observations? First, St. Francis was most emphatically not a “layperson.” When Pope Innocent asked him and his three companions to set out as lay preachers of penance in 1209, Cardinal Colonna realized that this group would be suspected as heretics (there were plenty roaming about) by the clergy and the laity alike so he had them tonsured – marking them as orthodox Christians and clerics.

Bound as a cleric to the recitation of the Divine Office, the only possession Francis had at the end of his life was his breviary and the one worry that he had about himself at the end was that he had not prayed the office properly.

Further, in all likelihood, he was ordained a deacon.

Secondly, he insisted on obedience and respect for “my lord pope,” the bishops and clergy – for even if the members of the hierarchy were sinful it was at the hands of a priest that Jesus enacted what for Francis was the foundation of poverty: God’s impoverishment in the Incarnation, continued in Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist.

In his instructions and rule, the absolute centrality of the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus Christ is constantly encountered.

Pope Francis, like Pope Benedict, like Francesco and Chiara and all the cloud of witnesses, calls us as well to live completely centred on Christ as we “walk, build, and profess” Christ Crucified.

Fr. Stephen Penna
Vice-President for College Development and Advancement (sabbatical)
Newman Theological College