Pope Francis gave a very simple reflection on old age which may be worth printing out and displaying on your wall. It may also give us an insight into how Pope Francis, age 76, plans to regard Emeritus Pope Benedict, age 85 — nine years his senior.
He also spoke about creating “harmony” in the College of Cardinals, words which echoed the words of Pope Benedict on February 28, in his last meeting with the College before his renunciation of the Petrine office and his helicopter flight out of the Vatican to Castel Gandolfo.
So Francis today, in his first meeting with the cardinals, echoed the words of Benedict in his last meeting with the cardinals.
There is no need for further explanation.
“Courage, dear brothers!” Pope Francis began. “Probably half of us are in our old age. Old age, they say, is the seat of wisdom.
“The old have the wisdom that they have earned from walking through life, like old Simeon and Anna at the temple whose wisdom allowed them to recognize Jesus.
“Let us give wisdom to the youth: like good wine that improves with age, let us give youth the wisdom of our lives.”
Francis was addressing the entire College of Cardinals, both electors and non-electors, in the Clementine Hall.
He improvised several times during his talk — including when he informed them that Cardinal Mejia had suffered a heart attack two days before and was now recovering at the Pius XI Private Clinic.
Before beginning his address, the Pope listened to the greeting that Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, read to him on behalf of the entire College.
“We give thanks to the Lord our God,” Sodano began. “This is the liturgical invitation that we, the Cardinal Fathers, address to one another, between the ‘seniors’ and the ‘juniors,’ to thank the Lord for the gift that He has made to His Holy Church, giving us a new Shepherd… Know, Holy Father, that all of us, your cardinals, are at your full disposal, seeking to build with you the apostolic cenacle of the nascent Church, the Upper Room of Pentecost. We will try to keep ‘an open mind and a believing heart,’ as you wrote in your book of meditations.”
“Because we are brothers…”
During his own address in reply, Francis said that today’s meeting sought “to be almost an extension of the intense ecclesial communion experienced in this period. Enlivened by a profound sense of responsibility and supported by a great love for Christ and the Church, we have prayed together, sharing our fraternal feelings, our experiences and reflections. A mutual understanding and openness has grown in this climate of great cordiality. This is good because we are brothers.”
He continued: “Someone said to me: ‘The cardinals are the Holy Father’s priests.’ But we are that community, that friendship, that closeness, that will do us all well. And this knowledge, this mutual openness, have facilitated our docility to the Holy Spirit. He, the Paraclete, is the supreme protagonist of every initiative and expression of faith.”
He then added: “It’s curious: It makes me think that the Paraclete makes all the differences in the Churches and seems to be an apostle of Babel. But, on the other hand, [the Holy Spirit] is the one who makes unity of these differences, not in equality, but in harmony.”
“The Holy Spirit is harmony itself”
“I remember the Church Father who defined the Holy Spirit thus: ‘Ipse harmonia est’ [“The Holy Spirit is harmony itself”].
“This Paraclete who gives different gifts to each of us, unites us in this Church community that worships the Father, the Son, and Him, the Holy Spirit.”
These words were very reminiscent of the words of Benedict on February 28.
On that occasion — Benedict’s last meeting with his cardinals — Benedict urged them all to pray so that the College of Cardinals be “like an orchestra” where diversity, as an expression of the Universal Church, always contributes to a higher sense of harmony.
The Church, Pope Benedict stressed then, is a living body, “as was so clearly seen through the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the last Wednesday general audience.”
Through the Church, Benedict said on February 28, the mystery of the Incarnation “remains forever present” so that “Christ continues to walk through all times and in all places.”
For this reason, Francis’ first discourse to the College of Cardinals today must be seen as a clear, direct echo of Benedict’s last discourse to the College.
It is like the handing on of a baton.
And this became even clearer in the remarks Francis then made, with an actual citation of Pope Benedict, after having cited… Cardinals Sodano, Bertone, and Re.
“The Conclave was full of meaning”
Francis noted that “the period of the Conclave was full of meaning, not only for the College of Cardinals, but also for all the faithful. In these days we felt, almost tangibly, the affection and solidarity of the universal Church, as well as the attention of many people who, although they do not share our faith, look to the Church and the Holy See with respect and admiration.”
At the same time, he expressed his gratitude to all the cardinals for their cooperation in the Church’s functions during the sede vacante.
He especially thanked Cardinal Angelo Sodano for “his words of devotion and for the good wishes that he extended to me [on behalf of the cardinals].”
He also thanked Cardinal Camerlengo Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., “for his thoughtful work in this delicate phase of transition.”
He also thanked Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the Conclave “who was our boss in the Conclave: thank you very much!”
Benedict’s teaching will remain “a spiritual heritage”
Francis then continued: “I think with great affection and deep gratitude of my venerable predecessor, Benedict XVI, who during these years of his pontificate has enriched and strengthened the Church with his teaching, his goodness, his guidance, his faith, his humility, and his gentleness, which will remain a spiritual heritage for all.”
Francis noted that, “as Pope Benedict XVI reminded us so often in his teachings and most recently with his brave and humble gesture, Christ is the one who guides the Church through His Spirit.
“The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, with his life-giving force that unifies one body from many: the Mystical Body of Christ.”
Francis continued: “Let us never give in to pessimism, to that bitterness that the devil offers us every day.
“Do not give in to pessimism and discouragement.
“We have the firm certainty that the Holy Spirit, with His mighty breath, gives the Church the courage to persevere and also to seek new methods of evangelization, to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”
Then, using words reminiscent of the teaching of Fr. Luigi Giussani, founder of the Communion and Liberation Movement, Francis said:
“The Christian truth is attractive and persuasive because it responds to the deep needs of human existence, convincingly announcing that Christ is the only Savior of the whole person and of all persons.
“This announcement is as valid today as it was at the beginning of Christianity when there was a great missionary expansion of the Gospel.”
And Francis ended his talk by using an expression quite common in Benedict’s teaching, that the “face of Christ” is what we desire to look upon, that the “beautiful face” of that person, Christ, the splendor of that face, will be, in fact, the blessing of ultimate communion in eternity.
“Now,” Francis finished, “return to your Sees to continue your ministry enriched by the experience of these days that have been so full of faith and ecclesial communion. This unique and incomparable experience has allowed us to understand in depth the beauty of ecclesial reality, which is a reflection of the splendor of the Risen Christ. One day we’ll look upon that beautiful face of the Risen Christ.”
Upon finishing his address, the Pope personally greeted, one by one, all the cardinals present in the Clementine Hall.
So in essence, Francis, in his first talk to the cardinals today, gave a “Ratzingerian,” a “Pope Benedict-like” talk. This was an evident sign of a desire for continuity with the Emeritus Pope who stepped down on February 28.