A Jesuit pope!

A Jesuit pope!

Habemus papam! A Jesuit pope, no less! Despite the Society of Jesus being the largest order of priests for many centuries, Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to be elected pope.

The Jesuits have bequeathed the Church many great saints. Heroic priests who were giants of their generation. Three of my favourites Jesuits — apart from St Ignatius Loyola I mean — are St Francis Xavier, Fr William Doyle, and Bl Miguel Pro. Perhaps Pope Francis will one day number among these great Jesuit saints. In the meantime, they will be praying for him!

By all accounts, our new pope is a holy and prayerful man, steeped in the Ignatian tradition. At the heart of Ignatian spirituality is a tried and tested discernment of spirits, good and evil. That puts our Holy Father in good stead, I think, to navigate the treacherous waters ahead.

Perhaps his first task will be to act on the “secret report” on the Curia which Benedict commissioned and received, and which reportedly exposes a treacherous web within the Vatican. Perhaps.

The pope is not like a president or prime minister, who win office on a specific mandate to which he is held account. Pope Francis is accountable to our Lord, not to the cardinals who elected him. And he will exercise the office according to his own discernment, not according to a preconceived agenda.

A lot of people whom I spoke to in recent weeks had favourite papabile. A cardinal whom they backed and wanted to win. I hope they don’t feel like losers today; I hope they’re not disappointed in our new pope. That’s the danger, I think, in treating the conclave like a political campaign, and getting drawn into the “horserace coverage” which sells newspapers.

St Josemaría spoke to a group of Opus Dei men during the sede vacante of 1968. His words can be expanded to all of us. He reminded his listeners that a Catholic’s filial devotion to the Pope is not a cult of personality. It’s an esteem and affection for the office. That’s why he encouraged people to pray for the pope even before they knew who he was.

Having adopted Cardinal Sepe, I had my hands full until today. But now I will be able to follow Josemaría’s advice, and offer all my prayers and sacrifices for Pope Francis.

I would like to speak to you once more about the upcoming election of the Holy Father. You know, my sons, the love that we have for the Pope. After Jesus and Mary, we love the Pope with all the strength of our soul, whoever he may be. Therefore, we already love the Roman Pontiff who is to come. We are determined to serve him with our whole life.

Pray, and offer to our Lord even your moments of relaxation. We offer even this for the Pope who is to come, just as we have offered the Mass during all these days, just as we have offered even our breathing.

Google Images

During Lent, I’ve really curtailed my Internet time. A lot of that time is spent working on some of the websites I administer, which leaves little time for blogging.

I’m working on one of those sites at present, which has given me cause to embark on a few Google image searches. Two photos jumped out at me, though they aren’t helpful to the task at hand.

One is a photo of my old friend, Fr Joe Martins, who was parish priest of West Melbourne, 2000–2006. He provided a written reference without which the seminary would not have admitted me.

The picture shows him offering Mass in the dining room of the presbytery:


The picture accompanies an article from The Age. Barney Zwartz describes the scene:

He is leading a mid-week Mass in the presbytery sitting room. This is because workmen have occupied St Mary’s Star of the Sea, the West Melbourne church where he is parish priest. It’s a simple service for about a dozen, and the reverence is almost palpable. “God wants your life to be a divine adventure,” he tells them.

It’s easy to imagine. Fr Joe’s masses were always edifying.

Zwartz records a memorable quote from Fr Joe, which I haven’t seen before. But again, I can easily imagine Fr Joe saying it:

Liberal Catholics dislike Opus Dei for its ultra-conservatism, and traditionalists because it breaks down the clerical caste system. Before Vatican II (the 1960s reforming church council) people thought Opus Dei was too avant garde, says Father Martins; they thought laypeople working for holiness degraded the whole idea. “Since then the Church has become neighbourly and folksy, so if people want to pursue their faith they must be religious freaks.”

Fr Joe now works in Sydney, and I don’t think I’ve seen him since bumping into him during Sydney’s World Youth Day. Speaking of which, here is the other photo which jumped out at me:


This photo was taken shortly before the papal mass at Randwick which concluded World Youth Day. Pope Benedict had just got out of his popemobile, and he was mobbed by seminarians as he approached the makeshift sacristy. Or at least, he would have been mobbed but for the barriers and security detail.

I think I’m in this picture. By which I mean, my hand is in this picture. I was near that person in the top left hand corner. Do you see her? She’s the middle-aged woman, dressed in soutane and surplice, who snuck in with the seminarians.

I’ve often wondered about her. What motivated her to dress like a seminarian and join us? Did she know that we’d get close to the pope? (None of the seminarians knew it.) Was she a sacristan and server, who wears choir dress in her parish? Or did she organise the outfit specifically for Randwick?

Maybe these questions will only be answered in eternity.

It’s funny to think that we’re now at the stage that the results of a random Google Image search can document our history!

St Josemaría Escrivá and me

St Josemaría Escrivá and me

Today was the feast day of a saint who is very dear to me. In St Josemaría Escrivá I see an inspiring model for current-day priests, engaging with a secular and in some respects ‘post-Christian’ culture.

Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I?, since I am a member of Opus Dei. But that’s confusing the cart and the horse. I was attracted to Opus Dei only after reading and coming to love St Josemaría.

When I left home at 18 to study in Melbourne, I was both idealistic and sceptical. At 18, who isn’t? I was attracted to Christ and his Gospel, but I was disillusioned with a Church which was bereft of authority. The scandal of clerical abuse and its cover-up was in the headlines and on my mind, and lacklustre liturgy and preaching didn’t help either.

My Catholic identity was tenuous. I may have been easy prey for the evangelical Christians on campus, except that my childhood love of the saints — St Thérèse especially — had not left me. The distant figure of Archbishop Pell also commanded respect, if only because he spoke boldly and against the tide, and he had been chaplain in my first years at primary school. Still, I did not know personally any priests, nor did I want to. I doubt I’d ever have changed denominations, but I was probably on track to become a “mere Christian,” cultivating a personal spirituality and private prayer life, independent of “organised religion.”

Nonetheless, one’s first year at university is a time to explore everything. I attended the meetings and functions of all sorts of clubs and societies, from the fickle (the Chocolate Appreciation Society; the Free Beer Society) to the radical (the Socialist Alliance; the Citizen’s Electoral Council). I watched the Students for Christ debate the Humanists, and I joined an evangelical Christian book club. An invitation to dinner at an Opus Dei study centre was just one more function to add to the list. I was supposed to attend a preached meditation (whatever that was), but I was running late, and arrived just in time for Simple Benediction. The presence of a fully fledged chapel in a suburban house — not to mention the unfamiliar sight of a priest in cassock and the alien sound of Latin (the ritual concluded with the Salve Regina) — quickly convinced me that I had encountered a cult which was far removed from mainstream Catholicism. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the conversation and debate at dinner, which covered such diverse topics as the best imported beer, the Australian wheat price, and the cultural influence of Peter Sellers. Much to my surprise, religion wasn’t mentioned at all.

Subsequent invitations to meditation and dinner were gladly accepted, and I was impressed by the spiritual content of the preaching, and the easygoing warmth of the rest of the evening. This stood in stark contrast to my encounters at the evangelical book club, which were terminated after my Catholic background was discovered, and I was forcefully and repeatedly subjected to anti-papist rants.

Still, I sustained a polite disinterest in Opus Dei until I was given a copy of The Way, a small book of spiritual maxims which made “Father Joseph Mary Escriva” famous decades before anyone had heard of Opus Dei. Several weeks passed before I picked it up, but when I did I couldn’t put it down. Its insights startled me. It was as though Josemaría had read my heart and mind, and spoke directly to me. Moreover, there was a warmth and attractiveness to his style which had me looking for more.

It all happened quite gradually of course, but looking back, I think it’s fair to say that St Josemaría taught me to love the Church just as I already loved Jesus Christ. Thus this video — which I had not seen before today — is a very apt illustration of that style:

I think it’s also fair to credit St Josemaría with my priestly vocation. Years before I thought of becoming a priest, I thought of becoming a saint. That has its roots in my discovery of St Thérèse’s “Little Way” at eight or nine, and Mum’s assurance that God calls us all to be saints. This is St Josemaría’s message too, and I was able to discern a priestly calling only after adopting the sort of prayer life he recommended for lay apostles.

There Be Dragons is an average movie of uneven quality, but it does a very good job depicting St Josemaría’s vision. I’m proud and humbled to call myself one of his spiritual children.

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