It's a sad end to the year 2019, with the death of Cardinal Prospero Grech OSA that was announced yesterday. Some years ago, this Blog had posted an article about this eminent son of Malta. Today, we post his meditation to the Cardinals delivered before the election of Francis as Pope. As far as we know, this is the first time that this meditation is being published on a Maltese website. We thank the former President of Pro Tridentina (Malta), Godwin Xuereb, who corresponded with the late Cardinal,who found this meditation for this Blog. This meditation remains valid, perhaps even more, than when it was delivered to the Cardinals.
Meditation of Cardinal Prospero Grech OSA to Cardinals Gathered in Conclave
At the venerable age of 87 I am one of the oldest members of the College of Cardinals, but as regards my nomination I am just a newborn; and since my life was always given to study, my knowledge of the affairs of the Curia do not exceed the third grade level. Only thus do I dare present this simple meditation in nomine Domini. What you are about to do in this Sistine Chapel is a kairos, an important moment of grace, in the history of salvation, which continues in the Church until the end of time. You are aware that this moment asks of you the greatest accountability. It does not matter if the Pontiff whom you will elect is of one nationality or another, of one race or another, what is important is only whether, when the Lord asks him the question “Peter, do you love me?” he can respond with utmost sincerity: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you”: (1)
Then the sheep entrusted to him by Jesus will be safe and sound, and Peter will follow Christ, the supreme Pastor, wherever he goes. Here I have no intention of presenting an identikit of the new pope, and much less present a work chart for the future pontiff. This delicate task is up to the Holy Spirit, who in recent decades has given us a number of great saintly popes. My intent is to draw some reflections from Scripture to help us understand what Christ wants of his Church, reflections that may help you in your discussions. During his life, Jesus sent the disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God (2) The Kingdom has many facets, but we can summarize its essence as the moment of grace and reconciliation that the Father gives the world in the person and work of Christ. Kingdom and Church are not the same. The Kingdom is the fatherly sovereignty of God which encompasses all the recipients of his grace. After his resurrection, Jesus sent the apostles into the world to make disciples of all nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. (3) The Church does this by presenting the Gospel without compromise, without diluting the word. In the words of Paul: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, for Jew first and then for Greek “. (4) When we descend to making compromises with the Gospel it is emptied of its dynamis, as if the dynamite contained in a hand grenade were removed from it. We should not give in to the temptation even to think that, since the Second Vatican Council has resolved the question of salvation even for those who are outside the Church, the need for baptism has been relativized. Today we add the neglect of so many indifferent Catholics who forget or refuse to baptize their children. The proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is expressed in the announcement of “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (5) Both the divine sonship of Christ and his crucifixion are the scandalum crucis, “foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are saved, to us, the power of God.” (6) It is precisely this scandal of the cross, which humbles the pride of the human mind and elevates it to accept a wisdom that comes from above. Even in this case, relativizing the person of Christ, placing him next to other “saviours”, means emptying Christianity itself of its substance. It is precisely the preaching of the absurdity of the cross, which in less than three hundred years, reduced to a minimum the religions of the Roman Empire, and opened the minds of men to a new vision of hope and resurrection. Today’s world is thirsty for the very same hope, for it suffers from an existential depression. The crucified Christ, however, is intimately linked to the crucified Church. It is the Church of the martyrs, those of the first centuries up to the many faithful who, in certain countries, expose themselves to death simply by going to Sunday mass. But the crucified Church is not limited to its martyrs. When she reveals the person, teaching and behavior of Christ, she does no more than present the Truth, which is Christ Himself. (7) The Church, therefore, asks men to see themselves in the mirror of Christ and of herself. Everyone wants to know the truth, but when it reveals our faults it is then hated and persecuted: “Oculis aegris odiosa lux, quae sanis amabilis”, (8) Augustine says. And Jesus predicts: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” (9) So then, persecution is a quid constitutivum of the Church, as is the weakness of her members, from which she cannot be separated without losing her individuality, it is a cross that must be embraced. Persecution, however, is not always physical, there is also the persecution of lies: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all manner of evil against You because of me.” (10)
You have experienced that recently from some of the media who do not like the Church. When allegations are false it is not necessary to give them attention, even if they cause immense pain. It is another thing when truth is spoken to us, as happened in many of the accusations regarding pedophilia. Then one must humble himself before God and men and try to eradicate the evil at all costs, as Benedict XVI did with great remorse. It is only thus that one regains credibility before the world and gives an example of sincerity. Today many people do not come to believe in Christ because his face is obscured or hidden behind an institution that lacks transparency. But if we have recently lamented so many unpleasant events that took place among clergy and laity, even in the papal household, we must think that these evils, as serious as they are, when compared with certain evils of the past history of the Church, are no more than a cold. As, with God’s help, these evils of the past have been overcome, so will the present crisis. But even a cold must be treated well so that it does not develop into pneumonia. The evil spirit of the world, the mysterium iniquitatis, (11) is continually striving to infiltrate the Church. Also, let us not forget the admonition of the prophets of ancient Israel to not seek alliances with either Babylon or with Egypt, but to follow a pure policy ex fide trusting only in God (12) and his covenant. Take courage! Christ raises our spirits when he exclaims: “Have confidence, I have overcome the world.” (13)
Let us now take a step forward in our question concerning the will of God in regard to the Church. There is no doubt that the unity of his body is the summum desideratum of Christ, as evidenced by his priestly prayer at the Last Supper. (14) Unfortunately, Christianity is still divided, both in faith and in love. The first attempts at ecumenism immediately after the Second World War are bearing fruit (I remember being present in some meetings with Romano Guardini at Burg Rothenfels), as well as the commitment that came from Unitatis redintegratio. But there is still a long way to go. Prejudices die very slowly and to reach a theological accord is not easy. We are tempted to grow weary along this road that often seems a one-way street. But to stop the dialogue would go explicitly against God’s will. Of greater service than discussions or ecumenical meetings, however, is confident and intense prayer on all sides and a common path towards holiness and the spirit of Jesus. No less easy for the next pontiff will be the responsibility for maintaining unity in the Catholic Church itself. Between ultra-traditionalist and ultra-progressive extremists, between priests rebelling against obedience and those who do not recognize the signs of the times, there is always the danger of minor schisms which not only damage the Church, but which go against the will of God: unity at all costs. Unity, however, does not mean uniformity. It is clear that this does not close the door to intra-ecclesial discussion, present throughout the history of the Church. All are free to express their thoughts about the task of the Church, but they should be put forward in keeping with the deposit of faith, which the Pope, together with all the bishops, have the task of guarding. Peter will fulfill his task more easily the more he shares it with the other apostles. Unfortunately, today, theology suffers from post-modern thought that reigns in the philosophical sphere, and we need a good philosophical foundation to be able to develop teaching with a valid hermeneutic that speaks an intelligible language to the contemporary world.
It often happens, however, that the proposals of so many faithful for progress in the Church are based on the kind of freedom that is found in the sexual realm. Certainly laws and traditions that are purely ecclesiastical can be changed, but not every change indicates progress; we must discern whether these changes serve to increase the holiness of the Church or to obscure it. Let us now turn to an even more serious chapter. In the West, at least in Europe, Christianity itself is in crisis. Europe did not even want to take into consideration its own historical Christian traditions. There is a rampant secularism and agnosticism that has various causes, to mention a few: the relativization of truth, the result of the aforementioned post-modern thought, a theme often emphasized by Benedict XVI, a materialism that measures everything in economic terms, the legacy of governments and parties that had the intention of removing God from society, the explosion of sexual freedom and that rapid advancement of science that knows no moral and humanitarian restraints.
Besides, there reigns a carelessness and ignorance not only of Catholic doctrine, but of the very ABCs of Christianity. Therefore there is felt to be an urgency for the new evangelization, which begins with the pure and simple kerygma announced to non-believers, followed by a continuous catechesis nourished by prayer. However, the Lord, is never crushed by human carelessness. It seems that, while in Europe, doors are being closed to him, they are opening elsewhere, especially in Asia. And even in the West, God will not fail to preserve a remnant of Israel that does not kneel before Baal, a remnant which we find principally in so many lay movements equipped with different charisms that are making a strong contribution to the new evangelization. These movements are full of young people, so loved by the last two popes. They are the seed that, well cared for, will grow into a new tree full of fruit. We must watch carefully, however, lest specific movements believe that the Church is contained only in them. In short, God cannot be defeated by our carelessness. The Church is his, the gates of hell can wound the heel, but they can never undo her. So far we have spoken of popes, cardinals, bishops and priests, but there is another factor of hope in the Church that we must not neglect, the sensus fidelium. Augustine calls it “the interior Master” in every believer, and St. John “the anointing” that teaches us all things. (15) It creates in the depths of the heart that criterion of discernment between truth and falsehood, it lets us distinguish instinctively that which is secundum Deum from that which comes from the world and from the evil one. (16)
According to Dei Verbum 8, the sensus fidelium is also a locus theologicus that must be taken into account by the pastors of the Church. The embers of devout faith are kept alive by millions of simple believers who are far from being theologians, but who, from the intimacy of their prayers, reflections and devotions, can give profound advice to their pastors. They are those who “will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will make void the understanding of the clever.” (17) This means that when the world, with all its knowledge and intelligence De conclavi ad eligendum Summum Catholicae Ecclesiae Pontificem 357, abandons the logos of human reason, the Logos of God will shine in simple hearts, which form the substance from which the backbone of the Church is nourished. But why am I telling you all this? It is because, while professing the common belief that the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, we do not always take it into consideration in our designs on the Church. He transcends all sociological analysis and historical prediction. He surpasses the scandals, internal politics, careerism and social problems, which, in their complexity obscure the face of Christ which must shine through thick clouds. Let us listen to Augustine: “The apostles saw Christ and believed in the Church they did not see; we see the Church and must believe in Christ whom we do not see. Adhering firmly to what we see, we will come to see him whom we do not now see. ” (18)
And you, why are you here? In 1961, John XXIII received in audience the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See in this Sistine Chapel. He pointed out the dominant figure of Christ the Judge in the fresco of Michelangelo, and told them that Christ will judge even the work of individual nations in history. You find yourself in this same chapel, under the figure of that Christ, with his hand raised, not to crush, but to illuminate your vote, which is to be secundum Spiritum, not secundum carnem, that is, “Non in sinistrum nos ignorantia trahat, non favor inflectat, non acceptio muneris vel personae corrumpat.” In this way the one elected will not only be yours, but essentially His. I would like to close on a lighter note. This is not the first conclave in which I have been present. I was also in the conclave of Paul VI, as a simple sacristan who prepared the altars. One day Cardinal Montini came to me and asked me to hear his confession, two hours later he was pope. When he died, the conclave was readied, and there were with us at the College of Saint Monica three cardinals, among them Cardinal Luciani. Being the oldest present, it fell to me to give them a farewell greeting before their departure for the Sistine Chapel. I remember saying: “To wish you good luck is not tasteful, to say goodbye is even worse. I say only: God bless you. ” I am a bird of good omen! The same greeting I offer to you: The Lord be with you and bless you.
1 Cfr Gv 21, 17-19.
2 Lc 9, 2. De Conclavi ad eligendum Summum Catholicae Ecclesiae Pontificem 353
3 Mt 29, 19.
4 Rm 1, 16.
5 1 Cor 2, 2.
6 1 Cor 1, 18.
7 Gv 14, 6.
8 Conf. VII, 22. 354 Acta Apostolicae Sedis – Commentarium Officiale
9 Gv 15, 20.
10 Mt 5, 11.
11 2 Ts 2, 7.
12 Cfr Is 30, 1; 31, 1-3; Os 12, 2.
13 Gv 16, 33.
14 Gv 17.
15 Cfr Ger 31, 34.
16 1 G v2, 20. 27; 4, 1-6.
17 1 Cor 1, 19.
18 Sermo 328, 3.
Source: Acta Apostolicae Sedis – 5 Aprilis – 3 Maii 2013.