LESS THAN A POPE, MORE LIKE THE PEOPLE by Quinzo


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How are you going to distinguish true humility from false pretenses?

                    Search the heart, all the intentions are buried there.

But what if we don’t have the capacity to look into someone’s heart?

Look for consistency. A real act done out of real intention should be consistent. To arrive at this, look for precedence. An authentically humble person always has a past warehouse of authentically humble actions.

This thought went on in my head when a friend once commented on Facebook that he didn’t like Pope Francis. It seemed to him that Pope Francis’ actions were just for show. It was too revolutionary to really be true especially for a man lavished with privileges and who is expected to act according to his privileges. To him, a Pope who would stoop so low so as to shake hands with common people appears to be driven more by a desire for publicity than for authentic humility. And not only that, his refusal to don papal regalias not only contradict tradition but discredit his predecessors as well who happily wear them. While many, including me, appreciate Pope Francis’ gestures, some are still full of apprehensions and think along this line.

But is there something we should worry about? I believe there is none if we look at the previous warehouse of the Pope’s humble actions. If he was so extravagant before and suddenly switched lifestyle when elected Pope – that would at least give me some doubts. Yet what he is now is what he was before his election. When he was still Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he refused to live in the archbishop’s palace and lived in a simple apartment instead. He refused the archbishop’s vehicle and used the metro and commuted to his office the way ordinary people do. He was close to the people. He answers letters addressed to Him by ordinary Catholics and even makes personal phone calls to people who are asking for his advice. He shunned extravagant lifestyle and even cooked his own food. These characterized his tenure as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. It is not surprising therefore that he continue the same lifestyle after his election. Besides, humility is not his innovation, it’s his track record. He was just being true to the person that he is. Each Pope is different yet they serve the Church in their own particular way. We who are used to seeing the previous popes in the traditional way and who may be surprised by Pope Francis humble gestures, should not fear a pope who rubs shoulders with the common people. He was just serving the Church in his own way according to his particular gift.

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When he presented himself to the world during his election, the elbow length red mozetta and the gold-embroidered stole was noticeably missing and this, for some Traditionalists, rings an alarm. How could a Pope break tradition? How could he be truly Pope when he is reluctant to be one? Were the new innovations just for show, again for publicity?

To begin with, “breaking” papal traditions didn’t start with Pope Francis. We should also remember that the papacy resides in the Pope not the regalia. A Pope therefore may refuse to wear this specific garb for some reasons and yet he could still be Pope.

The following are some of the traditions discontinued by previous Popes:

1. The papal tiara, the most striking symbol of the papacy was discontinued by Paul VI. Many in the past even consider the tiara to be intrinsic to the papal office that a pope loses a symbol of its authority if this is absent from his head. Yet four popes have passed without being crowned with it.

2. The custom of kissing the papal foot; such a profound gesture of respect for such a profound office. Yet profound as it is, Pope Paul VI discontinued it.

3. The sede gestatoria – a portable throne carried by twelve footmen – was used by popes from ages past. During solemn entries of the Pope to the basilica or to public consistories, this chair portrays the papacy’s royal privileges. Who would have thought that a Pope would walk his way into the altar? Yes, it was discontinued by John Paul II.

4. The flabella – large ceremonial fans made of white ostrich feathers – was discontinued by Paul VI.

5. The camauro – a traditional cap worn by the Pope – fell into disuse after the death of John XXIII.

6. The papal shoes commonly known as the red shoes were discontinued during the time of Pope John Paul II although revived by Benedict XVI. It should be clear that it was not Pope Francis who first declined to use the red shoes.

So while the absence of the mozetta may surprise many, it is not destructive to the papacy. The changes he made were not as drastic and dramatic as the changes introduced by popes in the past although it gathered the most attention due to widespread media coverage which was lacking before. Somehow this would assuage the anxiety of some, for as long as the Pope still cling on to the Magisterium and continue to uphold the faith of the Church, he is still a Pope.

Even though he wears less than a Pope and acts more like the common people…

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