Monday, March 18, 2013

Jorge, Patrick, Justin

Scripture for the 5th Sunday in Lent includes Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth…”

Hasn’t it been exciting, watching possible fulfillment of that promise emerging in the Roman Catholic Church? Theirs is a system that affirms tradition far more wholeheartedly than change, and yet there’s no doubt the cardinals have chosen a promising pope, a man known less for his sharp opinions than for his countercultural simplicity and humility. His choice to be known as Francis appears to convey the agenda and attitude he brings to the office.

Padre Jorge has been his preferred name for decades, even as archbishop and cardinal. Fr. Thomas Mansella, a native Argentinian and interim Rector of St. John’s Anglican Cathedral in Buenos Aires, offers his appreciation of this new pope:

“The Roman Catholic cathedral in Buenos Aires is just a few blocks from the Anglican cathedral and ‘Padre Jorge’…used to walk the few blocks from his residence to attend ecumenical events at St. John’s… On many occasions he just rode the subway to wherever he had to go. He is very low key. He says what he has to say, and then sits down.”

Mansella said Bergoglio is well respected in Argentina. “He is very ecumenical—especially with us Anglicans—and a man of prayer and great spirituality… He has spoken frequently for social justice. But because he has condemned the current Argentinian official corruption, he is not liked by the powers that be. So, perhaps by strong influence he will be a force to clean up the Roman Curia. But do not expect big proclamations.”

I believe it is Padre Jorge’s commitment to simplicity that attracts our attention. As one of our oldest and wisest parishioners said to me prior to all that white smoke, “Isn’t it the glam and glitter of that bejeweled miter that gets to you, taking us far from where we expect to see Jesus?” (And yes, Anglican archbishops go in for a certain degree of bling, too…)

Pope Francis may keep the papal tailors at Gammarelli’s somewhat less busy than his predecessors… but he will find his own way to look the part. I’ll be keeping my eye on his feet, to see if those red pumps reappear (though I doubt any Jesuit would be caught dead in them).

But for sure, we won’t forget that this is a man known for taking the bus to work, rubbing shoulders with working people, chatting about what he’d be cooking for his supper that night. We’ll likely not forget that his parting words from that balcony, after asking that we pray for him, were “Good night. Get some rest.”

What rescues any Christian leader from being co-opted by institutional distraction and distorted values is expressed by the apostle Paul today. “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ… because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”

That apostolic spirit, which we rejoice to catch like a fresh breeze from Rome, comes to us down the ages also through a fellow named Patrick, patron saint of Ireland. Would that all the Irish remember that he was English, from the region at the western end of Hadrian’s Wall. His family owned a landed estate, his father was a deacon, his grandfather a priest. He wasn’t yet sixteen when Irish raiders kidnapped him to Armagh. As a slave, for six years he tended animals on a Northern Irish hillside, praying night and day for escape.

Those prayers answered, he found his way back to England, where his family implored him to settle; but he could not forget his years in Ireland, and in his “Confession” writes that in a vision God called him to return as a missionary priest.

In her book, “The Saints of the Anglican Calendar”, Kathleen Jones says that “Many legends are told about Patrick. Some of these, like the legend that he banished the snakes from Ireland, suggest the kind of magical pretensions which he condemned in the pagan priests of Armagh… but when all the accretions are stripped away, there remains the figure of this man of blazing faith, with the Spirit seething within him, resolutely facing spiritual and physical dangers to bring Christianity to the people who once enslaved him.”

That spirit is felt in the hymn text he’s credited with, St. Patrick’s Breastplate. Hear three of its seven verses:

“I bind unto myself today the virtues of the star-lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray, the whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free, the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea, around the old familiar rocks.

I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, his might to stay, his ear to hearken to my need;
The wisdom of my God to teach, his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech, his heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

No stranger to the challenges of life as a Christian is Justin Welby, a third apostle to have in mind today, since on Thursday he will be enthroned as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. Security is expected to be tight at Canterbury Cathedral as two thousand invitees, including Prince Charles and Prime Minister Cameron, gather to hear the thumping sound of the new Archbishop striking the cathedral doors with his crook to be allowed to enter, and later to hear him swear an oath on the Canterbury Gospels, brought to Kent by St. Augustine in the 6th century.

BBC correspondent Robert Pigott comments that the new Archbishop will be garlanded with new titles—“Most Reverend”, “Metropolitan”, “Primate”, even “By Divine Providence”—but he will be no pope, with autocratic power to command obedience. Instead, his will be a post where responsibility far exceeds the power to fulfill it.

Well, that’s according to the BBC. Believers expect that Archbishop Welby will be tapping into deep wells of spiritual power not his own.

Who is this man? A relatively inexperienced prelate, ordained a priest twenty years and a bishop just 18 months, a truly short stay as Bishop of Durham. He reports that when a Downing Street official told him he was about to be appointed, Bishop Welby replied, “Oh, no!”

He is married to Caroline, and they have five children between the ages of 16 and 27. A sixth, a daughter, died in childhood. It wasn’t too long after this that Welby left his post as Treasurer of Enterprise Oil, a high post to have reached by his mid-thirties, and became a priest.

He very much supports women’s ordination to the episcopate. His opposition to gay marriage is clearly stated, but some say he has opened the door for future talks with gay marriage advocates, has called for the creation of safe spaces where issues of sexuality can be discussed honestly, and has insisted that homophobia in the pews of the UK can have deadly impact on gay people in Africa, whose clerics are sometimes at fault for using rhetoric that endangers gay people.

Some say that the Archbishop’s short tenure as a bishop could help him stay free from slavery to outmoded systems needing change within the Church of England . He comes with extensive experience in conflict resolution, and believes in “diversity without enmity” as a model for Anglicans. He sits on the UK’s Commission on Banking Standards currently investigating deal-rigging. He says about money that it is “theology in numbers”, adding that “our sense of who God is… our concern and love for one another are demonstrated in part by our use of money.”

When the day came that he could no longer resist the call to leave the oil industry and become a priest, he approached the CEO’s office with what his boss called “a resignation face.” “I was thinking,” said his old boss, “What can we do to keep him?” Which top company had made him such a good offer that he couldn’t refuse?

“But as soon as I heard what he was going to do, and the way he was talking about it, I knew we didn’t have a chance.”

In such ways as this, apostolic succession goes on. Patrick, Francis, Justin all come to mind today. To adequately tell the story of apostolic succession, we Episcopalians are certain that women’s stories must also be heard. But today, by the luck of the draw (and of the Irish, the Argentinians, and the Brits), we have the stories of three men.

Two women in our Gospel—and their brother, freshly rescued from his grave—open their house to welcome Jesus. Doesn’t that house make you think of the Church? Martha is the activist. Mary the contemplative. Judas is corrupt. Lazarus has been through the rigors of hell and lives to bear witness to grace. Jesus is at table, he is the source of the grace that holds us together, holds us in life, holds us eternally. At his table, all are fed, divisions are overcome, tradition is handed on, new things spring forth, saints are made, apostles called and sent.