Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What's In (Chanting) a Name?

Pope Francis had some gentle words of correction for the crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square for the Pentecost vigil. He took issue with people making the pope the focus of the event:

"Jesus. What is the most important thing? Jesus. If we push ahead with planning and organization, beautiful things indeed, but without Jesus, then we are on the wrong road. Jesus is the most important thing. I would like to take the opportunity now to make a small, but fraternal, reproach, among ourselves, alright? All of you in the square shouted out: 'Francis, Francis, Pope Francis' ... But, where was Jesus? I want to hear you shot out, "Jesus, Jesus is Lord, and He is in our midst.' From now on, no more 'Francis,' only 'Jesus.' Alright?"

(Hat tip to Vatican Radio, Salt + Light Media and others who brought this quote to our attention.)

This isn't the first time Pope Francis has asked this. He made a similar appeal to young people in St. Peter's Square on April 21. And it would seem the pope faces an uphill battle with World Youth Day, an event noted for its wall-to-wall papal name chanting, looming in Rio de Janeiro this July. But that's not Pope Francis' fault.

Jesuit Father Norman Tanner notes that the papacy has faced a growing cult of personality ever since Pius IX (1846-78) became the first pope to be photographed. The phenomenon crested in the made-for-television persona of John Paul II who met cheering crowds every step of the way as he circled the globe. In contrast, the shy and retiring Benedict XVI downplayed this image. John Thavis and other Vatican watchers have noted that the former pope looked visibly uncomfortable when crowds chanted his name. Even his surprise resignation seemed designed to draw a line between the man and the office.

Pope Francis has continued the trajectory, styling himself mostly as "the bishop of Rome," eschewing the luxurious trappings of the office and adopting this "He must increase, I must decrease"/from-the-visible-to-the-invisible approach.

Not long after his election, Pope Francis told the story of a layman who worked in the archdiocesan curia in Buenos Aires who would say "Jesus" before heading out to work. When then-Cardinal Bergoglio asked about this, the man said that saying the name of Jesus made him feel strong and ready to work, knowing Jesus was by his side. And now Pope Francis is urging Catholics to follow this man's lead and fix their gaze on Jesus.

The benefits of focusing on Jesus are almost too obvious and too extensive to mention, but here are a few tangential thoughts:
  • Non-Catholics who see a crowd chanting a pope's name might think this earthly man has somehow displaced Jesus Christ as the one being adored.
  • Ecumenists have long championed a model of dialogue with other Christians in which both parties focus as much as possible on Jesus because, like spokes approaching the hub of a wheel, they're closest to each other when they're closest to Christ.
  • The Church has made the personal encounter with Christ the central thrust of the New Evangelization and the Year of Faith, recognizing that in encountering Christ, people find true faith.
  • Catholics encounter Jesus Christ in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, which the Second Vatican Council calls the "source and summit" of the faith.
  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church says praying the name of Jesus is to invoke him and call him within us (2666). 
So yes, Pope Francis is probably onto something. And now, a whole blog post about the pope later, this writer had better take the message to heart too: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus...

(CNS Photo/Paul Haring)


James the Convert said...

1. If someone has a problem with chanting the pope's name, what an absolutely golden moment for catechesis! DON'T run away from these moments. After all, he IS the VICAR OF CHRIST ON EARTH. He is the VOICE of CHRIST. Properly explained, there is no problem.

2. False ecumenism runs away from properly understanding and then explaining what divides us. Again, another golden opportunity to explain the Catholic faith to those uninformed (men and women of good will, of course)

St. Paul never hesitated, why are you?

Michael said...

I love our new Pope! What an awesome, holy guy!