“At the ripe old age of 87 I am one of the elders of the College of Cardinals, but in terms of appointment I am just a baby, and because my life was always dedicated to study, my knowledge of Curia events does not go past the third grade.”
Thus began the meditation that Cardinal Grech held for the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel on March 12 before the election of Pope Francis. The Pope has decided to make it known, and indeed some points are particularly interesting to understand a little better how the men who elected the Pope reasoned.
Of course, it is also true that for the election of Bergoglio, the division of the Italian and European bishops, who had not found a cardinal on whom they could agree, played a role.
“I have no intention of making a sketch of the new Pope, and much less of submitting a work plan to the future Pope,” Grech said, but in fact, after the most spiritual part he also gave some indications: The Church is sent to present “the Gospel without discounts, without diluting the word” because “when you come down to a compromise of the Gospel with the world, the Gospel is emptied of its dynamis, as if you remove the dynamite from a hand grenade. Nor should you give in to the temptation to think that since the Second Vatican Council has smoothed out salvation even to those who are outside the Church, this relativizes the necessity of baptism. Today we see an abuse: so many indifferent Catholics who neglect or refuse to baptize their children.” Secularization begins with indifference and ends in real abuse, threatening the “person of Christ by placing Him alongside other saviors.”
But the world today “which suffers from existential depression” is yearning for hope. A hope that is the cross, to embrace even in persecution. “The persecution, however, is not always physical; there is also the persecution of lies: ‘Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you, and falsely say all manner of evil against you because of me’( Mt 5:11).You have experienced this recently by some of the media who do not like the Church. When the allegations are false you must not bother even if they cause immense pain. Another thing is when they say the truth against us, as has happened in many of the accusations of pedophilia. Then you have to humble yourself before God and men and try to eradicate evil at all costs, as Benedict XVI did with great regret. It is only so that you regain credibility before the world and give an example of sincerity. Today many people do not even believe in Christ because his face is obscured or hidden behind an institution that lacks transparency. But if we have recently wept over many unpleasant events that took place among the clergy and laity, even in the pontifical household, we must think that these evils are serious, but when compared with certain evils of the past in the history of the Church, they are not even a cold. And just as those have been overcome with God’s help, we will overcome the present crisis, too. But even a cold has to be treated well so that it will not develop into pneumonia.”
In this passage, Grech summarizes both the fatigue and the strength of the Church in the face of evil.
But what is the will of God for the Church? Certainly unity. “Unfortunately,” Grech said to the cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel, “Christianity is still divided, both in faith and in love.” And “prejudices die very slowly, and to reach a theological agreement is not easy.” And it will not be “easy for the future pontiff to maintain unity in the Catholic Church itself. Between ultra-traditionalist extremists and ultra-progressive extremists, between priests who rebel against obedience and those who do not recognize the signs of the times, there is always the danger of minor schisms which not only damage the Church, but go against the will of God: unity at any cost.” Unity, not uniformism. “It is clear that this does not close the door to intra-ecclesial discussions, which were always present throughout the history of the Church.”
And so, “Peter will make his task much easier sharing it with the other apostles. Unfortunately, today theology suffers from the superficial thought that reigns in philosophy, and we need a good philosophical foundation to develop dogma with a valid hermeneutic that speaks a language which the contemporary world can understand. But often the proposals from many faithful for the advancement of the Church are based on the degree of freedom that is allowed in the sexual realm. Certainly laws and traditions that are purely ecclesiastical can be changed, but not every change means progress, and we must discern whether these changes act to increase the holiness of the Church or to obscure it.”
Then this Augustinian theologian reflected on the European crisis of Christianity. “Europe did not even want take into account its historical traditions of Christianity. There is a rampant secularism and agnosticism that has various causes. Just to mention a few: the relativization of truth, the result of the aforementioned superficial thought, a theme often emphasized by Benedict XVI; a materialism that measures everything in economic terms; the legacy of governments and parties that had the intent to remove God from society; the explosion of sexual freedom and the rapid advancement of science that knows no moral and humanitarian restraints.”
Also, there is great ignorance, not so much of Catholic doctrine, but of the ABC’s of Christianity. “This is why a new evangelization is needed.” But “the Lord is never defeated by human carelessness, and it seems that while in Europe the doors are closed, they open for him elsewhere, especially in Asia.”
Perhaps the cardinal thought of the young Philippine Cardinal Tagle, favored by the press?
He talked of movements “filled with young people, and beloved by the last two Popes. They are the seed that, well cared for, will grow into a new tree full of fruit. But the specific movements should remember that the Church is bigger than their movement. In short, God cannot be defeated by our carelessness.”
This, then, is the “sensus fidelium,” a “locus theologicus” that must be taken into account by the pastors of the Church. In short, “the embers of devout faith are kept alive by millions of simple believers who are far from being theologians, but who, from the intimacy of their prayers, reflections and devotions, can give profound advice to their pastors.”
The logos shines in the hearts of the simple. And the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, but “we do not always take him into consideration in our designs for the Church. He transcends all historical sociological analysis and forecasts. He exceeds the scandals, internal policies, social climbing and social problems, which, in their complexity, obscure the face of Christ, which has to shine through dense clouds. The Church belongs to God; it is he who knows how to write straight on our crooked lines.”
And Cardinal Prosper Grech decided to close with a personal anecdote. “This is not the first conclave in which I was present. I was also in the conclave of Paul VI, as a simple clerk who prepared the altars. One day Cardinal Montini came to me and asked me to hear his confession, and two hours later he was Pope. When he died, the conclave was prepared, and there were three cardinals with us at the College of St. Monica, among them Cardinal Luciani. Being the eldest, it was my task to give them the greeting before their departure for the Sistine Chapel. I remember saying: ‘To wish you good luck is not in good taste, to say goodbye is even worse. I only say: God bless you.’ I am a bird of good omen! The same greeting I offer to you: The Lord be with you and bless you.”
It seems that at the end of the meditation Bergoglio told Grech: “Well, you offered us a good meditation, but let’s see what will come of it!”