We have a pope! Habemus Papam! Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

We have a pope! Habemus Papam! Last week, even as the Catholic Herald was finding its way to your homes, the Holy Spirit, working through the College of Cardinals, gave to us a new Holy Father, Pope Francis.

He is, as you have surely noticed on your own and through even the secular media reports, a “Pope of firsts” — he is the first Pope from the “new world” — an Argentinian, the first Pope who was trained as a Jesuit priest, the first Pope to take the name Francis — taking that name especially in honor of the much beloved (though often misunderstood) St. Francis of Assisi.

We are just getting to know our Holy Father, but already there is a great deal that sets him apart and helps us to know who he is.

Faith, hope, and love

I have heard it said that our last three Pontiffs may, each in their own way, embody one of the cardinal virtues of faith, hope, and love by the emphases of their Pontificates.

Blessed Pope John Paul the Great was famously called the “Witness to Hope,” and his pontificate (albeit using tremendous generalizations) was marked especially by the oft repeated phrase, “Do not be afraid!”

Pope Benedict XVI already is being recognized generally for his teaching and his tremendous orthodoxy of faith, not only through his words but by emphasizing the way in which the Church’s prayer speaks the Church’s belief. He reminded us of the continuity with which we understand our faith, and even left us here in the midst of a “Year of Faith.”

And now it seems that one key emphasis of Pope Francis will be upon charity, upon love.

Early signs and signals

Clearly our last two great popes focused on all of the cardinal virtues, and clearly we are just getting to know Pope Francis, but I appreciate the above categorization as a means of beginning to understand who our current Holy Father is.

Last week, in this column, I reflected with you upon the ministry of St. Peter and his successors, and now already we see something both the same and different, in the way this loving ministry is being continued by Pope Francis.

This man, in a very particular way, has offered the witness of an Apostle at one with the poor. This grabs the eye both of the media and of our own hearts.

Pope Francis is signaling, in a very significant way, that he wants to wake us once again from our slumber. As I said last week, it is the same way that Jesus had to come repeatedly to Peter in the Garden of Gethsemene to shake him from the sleepiness that kept creeping over him.

In the same way, I said, Christ has given to Peter and His successors, the same ministry to come to all of us, the disciples of the Lord, and to say, “Wake up . . . pray . . . the hour is at hand!” (see Mt 26:36-46, et al.)”

The ministry of the popes

And so Pope Francis is doing this, just as Pope Benedict did, and just as Blessed John Paul did.

With Blessed John Paul, we were awakened so often to remember the hope which our Catholic faith provides to us and to the world; he reminded us to be a beacon in a world that was searching for the Truth.

Pope Benedict in like manner startled us by reminding us to move forward, not in a break with all that came before us, but always in continuity with it.

With Pope Francis, we continue to watch, to listen, and to read, but it seems that he is very clearly saying, already, that it is a return to prayer and to consideration for the poor.

Church is not pure philanthropy

Clearly this is experienced by way of our love for the materially poor, who can be found everywhere we look. However, as the Holy Father has said in his very first homily, we must be on our way, our journey, which is “to walk, to build, to witness.”

Our care for the poor is not simply in providing food, clothing, shelter, etc. — though it is all of that — but it is to provide Jesus to them. We are called not just to social activism, but to authentic charity, authentic love.

“We can walk when we want to, we can build many things, but if we do not witness to Jesus Christ then it doesn’t matter,” Pope Francis said. “We might become a philanthropic NGO but we wouldn’t be the Church, the Bride of the Lord.”

Pope Francis spoke in that first homily of the limited witness that Peter, his predecessor, was tempted to give to the Lord, when Peter said, I’ll witness to you and follow you, but I don’t want to talk about the cross.

But, Peter learned eventually, and his successor Pope Francis reminded us, “when we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess a Christ without the Cross … we aren’t disciples of the Lord. We are worldly; we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.”

Authentically caring for the poor

In all of this, we must remember who we are, we must care for all of the poor, not just building a world where people are fed the food that does not last, but a world centered on Christ, the food which does last.

And especially in our country, which does not experience poverty quite as profoundly as so much of the rest of the world, we must recall that we cannot simply rest at care for the materially poor.

It calls to mind the shocking words of Blessed Mother Teresa (who no one can claim did not love the materially poor), “You, in the West, have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness. They feel unloved and unwanted. These people are not hungry in the physical sense, but they are in another way. They know they need something more than money, yet they don't know what it is.

“What they are missing, really, is a living relationship with God.”

Living as witnesses in the Year of Faith

We are in the midst of our Year of Faith and in the midst of Lent, both of which can be a means of, and opportunity for, encountering again a living relationship with God in our own lives and inviting others to do the same.

In a particular way, I have asked us to focus on beauty as a means of evangelization, and I said from the start that one way that so many in this diocese know how to witness to beauty is through the beauty of charity.

We continue to witness to beauty in so many ways (including the beauty of our worship and the beauty of caring for the world around us), but through the example of our Holy Father and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, let us reexamine once again, the way in which we witness to the fullness of beauty by way of our charity, lived out authentically.

Called to Truth, Beauty, and Goodness

“The Church,” Pope Francis said in his address to journalists on Saturday, “exists to communicate Truth, Goodness, and Beauty ‘in person’.” We are called, not to communicate ourselves, but rather the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Glory which shines on the face of the risen Christ.

When I arrived here in the Diocese of Madison, I set forward a mission statement and vision for us; it says, “We serve to ensure that all individuals throughout the 11-county diocese are graciously invited every day to meet the person of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, face to face, and be changed by Him.”

That is our mission and our plan even today. Let us listen to St. Peter’s Successor as he calls to us once again, “Wake up . . . pray . . . the hour is at hand!”

Let us wake up and return to prayer with Pope Francis and for him, and let us take up our crosses and move forward on the journey, so that all those around us might be able to meet the person of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, face to face, and be changed by Him.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and for sharing it! Continued blessings as we move through our Lenten journey!

We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee; because by Thy Holy Cross, Thou hast redeemed the world!