“And then a thing that is really important for me: community. I was always looking for a community. I did not see myself as a priest on my own. I need a community. And you can tell this by the fact that I am here in Santa Marta. At the time of the conclave I lived in Room 207. (The rooms were assigned by drawing lots.) This room where we are now was a guest room. I chose to live here, in Room 201, because when I took possession of the papal apartment, inside myself I distinctly heard a ‘no.’ The papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace is not luxurious. It is old, tastefully decorated and large, but not luxurious. But in the end it is like an inverted funnel. It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight. People can come only in dribs and drabs, and I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others.”
One of the things that scares the neo-trads most about Pope Francis is not that he hasn’t moved into the palace but the reason he hasn’t moved in—the important role that community plays in his life because this shapes his view of the Church in a way that deemphasizes the hierarchical nature of the Church and consequently shifts the source of authority (and power) from a clerical base to a much wider and more inclusive involvement in which the entire People of God can play a role.
The above statement that Francis made during his interview with La Civilta Cattolica that was reprinted in America magazine shows his Jesuit roots. He is not a “Lone Ranger.” He understands community and derives his personal strength from human relationships. I wish that I could say that this is because he is a religious but in fact I know many religious—like Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap of Philadelphia—who have forgotten (if they ever knew) the importance of community. And I know many great diocesan priests who find—and create—community among the people whom they serve. I mention Archbishop Chaput because the other day some Franciscan Sisters from his Archdiocese told me that when they met him they said: “We share being part of the Franciscan family with you.” And his Grace responded “Don’t think that will get you anywhere!” Saint Francis rolled over in his grave, I am sure, but then—unlike the Capuchin Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal O’Malley—Chaput has never displayed the Franciscan zeal for the poor, for community, or for the Franciscan family that Francis left as his legacy. And this goes right to the heart of the issue. Do you see the Church primarily as an institution or do you see it as the communio of Christ’s Mystical Body.
What do we mean by Mystical Body? I remember years ago I was giving a talk in a parish in Leesburg Virginia when a particularly sour-faced church-lady took objection to my using the term “Body of Christ” for the Church. “The Eucharist,” she objected, “is the Body of Christ. The Church is only his ‘Mystical Body’.” And this is the problem because we consider that idea of “mystical” as somehow less than real when in fact the term means “sacramental.” it comes from the Greek: mysterion, the same word for sacrament. The Church—the People of God—is the sacrament of Christ in the world. Christ is sacramentally present in the world in his Body, the Church. The Church as Body of Christ, according to Saint Augustine, is the flip side of the Eucharist as the Body of Christ. The Eucharistic Presence and the Ecclesial Presence are intimately related to one another and mutually inter-dependent. I am not theologizing here, I am simply passing on what Saint Augustine taught and what the Church continues to teach and to believe.
But this Sacramental Presence of Christ in his Body, the Church, is not complete in the hierarchy alone. It takes the communio of the entire People of God to be fully real. My computer keeps wanting to correct communio to communion, and while communion is the English translation of the Latin communio, “communion” is not quite adequate enough a word to use. Communio comes from the Latin cum (with) and unio (union). It means that we are “in union together” but it is a particular type of union—a union of heart and mind and will. And as Church we must be in this union of heart and mind and will with one another in Christ and with Christ.
We should not see this as doing away with the hierarchical nature of the Church but it certainly shifts the emphasis away from the hierarchical nature. And hierarchs usually don’t like that. The bishop has to move over on his bench to make room for the priest and the priest has to move over and make room for the laity. And so now we have a Pope who says to his brother bishops—“we need to find out where the laity are at with questions about same-sex marriage, birth control, the sacraments for the divorced and remarried and lots of other questions.” It doesn’t mean that the final answers are going to be democratically selected—we are also a Church of prophecy and need to listen to the voices God sends that make us stop and see things differently from the world around us. But we will find that the prophetic voice is even more threatening to those in power than the democratic voice. So hold on to your hats—when the Holy Spirit starts to speak the ride can get really wild. But in the end—if we listen—to one another and to the Holy Spirit—we will be led to the Truth revealed by God in Christ Jesus.