Pope Francis is pictured next to Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, during an exchange of greetings with ambassadors to the Holy See at the Vatican Jan. 13. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
On the morning of Sunday, January 12th
, the day
the list of new cardinals
was officially announced, someone called to
me across the refectory: “Well, Schall, I see you didn’t make it again.”
Since this is not the first thing Schall has missed, it took me a few
moments to realize that the cardinalate was the point of reference.
Fortunately, the list of those who never became cardinals is quite
lengthy. We cannot go through life “missing” the things we were never
cut out for in the first place. St. Ignatius, I believe, has a phrase
that advises us to “agree quod agis
do what you are doing.” It has the implication that we are to try to do it well, even if we are not cardinals.
Holy Father sent a brief letter to the newly announced men chosen from
the four corners of the earth to be cardinals in February. He thought it
well to give them a few words of advice and encouragement. Francis
typically, as we know him now, “sends cordial greetings, together with
the assurance of his nearness and his prayers.” He desires that they
associate themselves with the Church of Rome for which they have put on
the garments of “virtue and the sentiments of the Lord Jesus.” This
latter hope has its origin in Paul’s Letter to the Romans (13:14). With
these words, Francis continues, “you will be able to help me with
fraternal efficaciousness in my service to the universal Church.” These
words indicate how Pope Francis thinks of the duties of cardinals and,
perhaps, his own.
“The Cardinalate does not signify a profession,
or an honor, or a decoration. It is simply a service that demands the
full and complete attention of one’s hearts.” Yet, it seems only fair to
say, from the outside, that to be selected to be a cardinal in the
Church of Rome is an honor. It arises from the perception of a man’s
excellence and place. No pope wants to select someone unworthy,
incompetent, or with no insight into divine or human things.
seems “paradoxical,” the Pope says, that “to see the long-view and to
love more universally with greater intensity” can be found in only one
way. That way is by “following the same path of the Lord.” This is the
way of decreasing oneself, of humility. It takes the form of a
“servant”again a reference to Paul (Philippians 2:5-7).
then asks one favor of these men. They are to receive this designation
“with a heart that is simple and humble.” And though “you ought to
receive it with joy and delight, do so with a feeling that these
sentiments are far from any sort of expression of worldliness.” Reject a
kind of celebration that is foreign to the spirit of the Gospel with
its emphasis on “austerity, sobriety, and poverty.” I presume this does
not mean that the new cardinals cannot have a good Italian pasta and a
glass of vino.
Thus, since the Pope has just written a long
disquisition on precisely “the joy of the Gospel,” we have to notice
that he used the word “paradoxical.” What is paradoxical? What is he
getting at? If someone told us to be “austere, sober, and poor,” we
would think it a little odd if he thought that he was telling us to have
a good time.
And yet, Christianity does not think that those who
are sober, moderate, and poor cannot be happy or even enjoy life.
Indeed, it tells them that, for many, this is the best way to sort
things out. The way of riches, power, and fame won’t deliver to us much
but care and disappointment, especially if we be popes or newly elevated
So the Pope ends his brief letter by saying “arriverdercigood
bye” until they re-gather on February 20. At that time, the Pope
writes, “we will begin two days of reflection on the family.” Finally,
“I remain at your disposition; and, please, I ask you to pray for me and
to ask others to pray for me. May Christ bless you, and the Holy Virgin