Overjoyed to meet Pope Francis Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

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,

Well it’s been seven months, but it was surely worth the wait! I was simply overjoyed in recent days to have my first moments with our Holy Father, Pope Francis. I hope to have some pictures to share with you by next week.

Simply put, I had never met Cardinal Bergoglio previously and, since his election as Bishop of Rome, I’ve had a tremendous desire to have a few moments with the man to whom my mission is so intricately tied.

I’ve spoken of it many times before, but I’ll recall here again that it is one of the key duties of the diocesan bishop to reach out and to act as a sort of glue which holds people fast to the heart of the Church and to be a sign of unity among the Body of Christ in His diocese. It is one of the key duties of the Pope to act as that glue and that sign of unity among all the bishops of the world and their people united with them.

Meeting Pope Francis

And so, given how intensely that responsibility weighs on my mind and my heart each day, you can see why I’ve been so eager to know the current pope, to listen to what he’s written and said, and, certainly, to meet him face to face.

When I did meet him, it was a confirmation of what we believe to be the case about the unity that comes through the Bishop of Rome. In that encounter it came very naturally to me to recognize Peter. Without thinking about it really, I knew that this man had been graced, in a special way, with that responsibility that has only been given to Peter and his Successors. It was Peter there, just in the same way as I had seen in Pope Benedict and in Blessed John Paul II.

And in seeing Peter, we see Christ shining through him. I was overwhelmed by the genuine human warmth that he exuded -- a warmth which was at the same time deeply spiritual. They were brief moments but warm ones, and I told him that I was bringing the prayers, the love, and the fidelity of the people of the Diocese of Madison, and he wanted me to assure you all of his special blessing.

Unity of the Catholic Church

During our audience, the Holy Father spoke precisely of that unity which we find in the Church by way of the Church’s nature of being “catholic.” It is a unity in diversity, he said, because the Church provides the fullness of faith to all. “It is the space, the house, in which the fullness of the faith is announced, in which the salvation that Christ brought us is offered to all.”

Therefore we can each come with our own gifts, and our own roles, and yet find unity in Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

In conjunction with our Year of Faith theme, Pope Francis used the beautiful metaphor of a symphony in which each of the members has his or her own role, but in which those unique members are called to harmony -- harmony with the Holy Spirit, who he called the “master of harmony.” The goal, he said, is not simple uniformity, but harmony in our Catholic faith — all peoples coming, from where they are, into unity.

This focus on the catholic (universal) nature of the Church must go hand-in-hand with the nature of the Church as one. The Church, the pope said, is the space where the fullness of the faith is announced. So let’s recall that the diversity of the instruments and players are, indeed, striving for a united goal, and let’s recall that our diversity should be striving for a common goal — our oneness in the faith.

To say we are catholic does not mean that we all can believe whatever we want; it means that all who want, whoever we are, can believe the truth. While the diversity of instruments and players contributes to the beauty of the musical piece, the players must “tune up,” play in a unified way, and must follow the musical score. If the orchestra is not tuned up in unity, or if some depart from the musical score, that kind of diversity is unacceptable.

Working for harmony in the faith

The Holy Father gave us “homework,” too; he asked us to consider whether, in our parishes, we are working for the common goal of harmony in the faith, or whether we are spending our time quarreling and gossiping. It did not make it into the official transcript, but the Holy Father got very animated for a moment to emphasize the damage that is done by gossip. It’s clear that he’s very upset at the amount of gossip that is infecting the Church in Rome, but he knows very well its power in our own communities and our own homes. So we must work, starting with ourselves, to put a stop to the gossip that tears at our unity.

I certainly have much more to reflect upon, but I wanted simply to share with you these first thoughts and the greetings that Pope Francis sends personally to each of you.

Our seminarians are doing quite well, as are Fr. John Putzer and Fr. Eric Sternberg, and they send you their love and their prayers as well. I also had the privilege of celebrating Mass with Fr. Michael Radowicz and his pilgrim group, and Fr. Larry Bakke and I also crossed paths. It is a special joy to be with brother priests in Rome.

Please continue to pray for our Holy Father, for me, for our priests and seminarians, indeed for our whole Church. May God bless each one of you, and may he continue to build us up and bring us into unity in His Church -- each coming with our own gifts and abilities, but working in harmony to witness to the beautiful life of faith Jesus Christ desires for us. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Praised be Jesus Christ!