Friday, April 5, 2013

Regality and Simplicity

by Ryan

Being a (microscopic) part of the Catholic blogosphere, I've read quite a bit about Pope Francis in the last few weeks. While most commentaries have been favorable, some take issue with our new Pope's rejection of the position's traditional regalia: Where are the red shoes? The mozzetta? And more recently, rejecting life in the papal palace for the Vatican's "hotel."

One could be pardoned for thinking that the papacy rested on the papal wardrobe and the papal residence; indeed, it rests on something substantially more solid: Jesus' proclamation to his first apostle, Peter (Matthew 16:15-19) that earthly authority in the Church would rest with him.

Now, don't get me wrong — I am not some anti-tradition, neo-Catholic who thinks that everything not chiseled in the dogmas of our faith is fair game for the ecclesiastical trash bin. I love and appreciate both the Novus Ordo and Tridentine Masses. I see the glorification of Our Lord in the regality of the Pope, his brother bishops, priests and deacons — may these men continue to glorify God through the reverent celebration of the sacred liturgy, no matter who sits upon the Cathedra Petri

Yet there are those who would claim that Pope Francis, and others like him, are more authentically living out the call to poverty that Jesus demands in the Gospel (ex. Matthew 6:19-21; 6:25-34; Luke 6:20-21). Without a doubt, Jesus was himself a servant, and set the ultimate example of servitude in his life and death on the cross.

May we not forget that Jesus is also a King, and accepted the gifts that were lavished upon Him by the humble of heart. The anointing at Bethany, found in Matthew 26, is a particularly striking example — a woman approaches Jesus and anoints his head with a costly perfume. The modern reader would probably react in a similar way as the apostles:
"What is the meaning of this waste ... it would have been possible to sell this at a great price and give alms to the poor!"(Matthew 26:8-9)
We hear this same cry today, when one of the most charitable organizations in the world (hint: The Catholic Church) is asked to give even more, yet we, as individuals, will not so much as give up a meal, a movie ticket or some other meaningless comfort to help those in need. Jesus Christ, our King, responds to His apostles:
"Why do you vex the woman? She did well to treat me so. You have the poor among you always; I am not always among you. When she poured this ointment over my body, she did it to prepare me for my burial."
In another instance, Nicodemus, most likely the Pharisee that appears early in the Gospel of John, comes to bury Jesus with a mixture "of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds" (John 19:39). Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI commented that this amount of balm was "extraordinary ... exceeds all normal proportions: this is a royal burial" (Jesus of Nazareth Part Two; pg. 228).

So, is Jesus a servant or a king? He is both; he is a Servant-King. So is the Papacy an office of simplicity or regality? It is both — not of its own merits, but for the sake of the Servant-King. A parting thought: If the Pope were manifested in beautiful music that ascended heavenward, perhaps Benedict XVI would be favorably compared to the rigorous, determined strains of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in d minor; maybe Pope Francis would call out with the gentle restraint of the Adagio from Albinoni’s Concerto for Oboe No. 2. Would we then be provoked to argue which sounds would be more pleasing to the Lord, or would not both have their humble place at the feet of Divine Beauty and Divine Truth?


  1. I love this reflection...especially your last comparison to the different types of music.

    1. Thanks! As a music educator, I tend to see things through a musical lens. It was the first part of the post I wrote.