The logic of the Gospel is a challenge, and remains so, even for cardinals

February 22, 2012
Cardus

VATICAN CITY - Attending a consistory for new cardinals is something of an ambivalent thing. On balance it is a positive experience, a festive occasion to be sure. Yet there is also an uneasiness, for there are touches of worldliness about it which ought to make a Christian disciple wary.

A consistory is truly a celebration of something particularly Catholic, namely the Roman and Petrine dimensions of the Church. Such occasions of pride and joy strengthen the faith, as they reinforce the bonds of affection that unite Catholics with the successor of St. Peter. The link between the local bishop created a cardinal and the Bishop of Rome is evident enough, and it highlights the communion of all local bishops with the See of Rome, and therefore the unity of the Church universal.

The presence in Rome of pilgrims accompanying the new cardinals gives a personal expression to that universality. Hearing Czech and Cantonese spoken in St. Peter’s Square makes concrete the reality that the Church is ever so much bigger than my own country, let alone my own diocese or parish. For countries where having a cardinal is something of a novelty, especially in places where the Church is undergoing hardship, the pride the pilgrims take in this national honour is truly moving.

Even in places where cardinals are expected — like Toronto and New York — the excitement of numerous pilgrims is a welcome sign that the faithful have not grown weary, and that to love the Church is a necessary consequence of loving Christ Jesus.

In a time when leaders in all spheres of life are challenged and even denigrated, a consistory encourages people to identify themselves with their own bishops — to travel with them, to pray with them, to celebrate with them, to see in their honours an honour for the local Church and for the entire country. Erosion of unity between the faithful and their shepherds damages the holiness and witness of the Church, so occasions that enhance that unity are to be welcomed.

Finally, a consistory is a great pilgrimage to see Peter, the foundation of the Church’s unity. It is a pilgrimage for the cardinals themselves, both the new and the old, reminding them of their special and solemn solicitude for all the churches. It is a pilgrimage too for all the faithful who travel to Rome, and pilgrimage is a fundamental aspect of the Christian faith, whether it be to a local shrine or to the tomb of the apostle Peter.

Why then the ambivalence? There is another dimension, highlighted by the comment heard from voices both secular and ecclesial, that the College of Cardinals is the “most exclusive club” in the world, rendering the consistory a fabulous initiation ceremony for the newest members. The aspect of a man achieving worldly success, of having finally climbed to the top rung of a career ladder, is not absent from consistory week. The ancillary aspects of careerism in the clergy — ambition, jealousy, vainglory — sometimes come to the fore, if not in the cardinals themselves, then certainly in the conduct of those who fawn over them. The priest is to be an icon of Jesus Christ, and amidst all the parties and revelry the face of Christ can be obscured rather than highlighted.

Could this be what Pope Benedict had in mind when he commented upon the Gospel passage read at the consistory itself — the account of James and John asking for the prominent places in heaven?

“James and John demonstrate that they do not understand the logic of the life to which Jesus witnesses, that logic which — according to the Master — must characterize the disciple in his spirit and in his actions,” the Holy Father said. “The erroneous logic is not the sole preserve of the two sons of Zebedee because, as the evangelist narrates, it also spreads to ‘the other 10’ apostles who ‘began to be indignant at James and John’ (Mk 10:41). They were indignant because it is not easy to enter into the logic of the Gospel and to let go of power and glory. St. John Chrysostom affirms that all of the apostles were imperfect, whether it was the two who wished to lift themselves above the other 10, or whether it was the 10 who were jealous of them.”

So it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. I was pleased to be in Rome for the consistory. It was a blessed event. And part of the blessing, it seems to me, is to see that the logic of the Gospel remains always a challenge, especially for the clergy, all the more so for cardinals.

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Cardus is a non-partisan, not-for-profit public policy think tank focused on the following areas: education, family, work & economics, social cities, end-of-life care, and religious freedom. It conducts independent and original research, produces several periodicals, and regularly stages events with Senior Fellows and interested constituents across Canada and the U.S.