Friday, 13 December 2013

Pope Francis's Watchword: Festina Lente!

My Latin teacher in First Year at Our Lady’s High School, Motherwell, despaired, but something obviously stuck. Festina lente! Hasten slowly!

Juglio Iglesias, the Spanish tenor, and Shay Brennan, the Manchester-born Irish footballer of happy memory, were on a TV show hosted by Anne Diamond. When Iglesias used the word “mañana”, Diamond asked him what that word actually meant. Iglesias replied: “A job, or whatever, that might be done tomorrow, maybe the next day, or the day after that. Perhaps next week, next month, or even next year. Who cares?”

Turning to Brennan, Diamond asked him if there was an Irish equivalent to “mañana”. “No,” he replied “in Ireland we don’t have a word to describe that degree of urgency.”  

In his La Civiltà Cattolica interview, Fr Antonio Spadaro SJ asked Pope Francis: “What does it mean for a Jesuit to be Bishop of Rome?” Strictly speaking, that should in fact be “ex-Jesuit” as, under canon law, His Holiness ceased to be a Jesuit the moment he accepted election. But to take the time to simply point that out and leave it there is to hasten slowly for a wrong reason: See how clever I am!

However, we have hastened slowly for a right reason if, after having made that observation, I then go on to assure that this notwithstanding this is in essence a conversation between two senior, vastly experienced and greatly respected members of the Society of Jesus known by name to all throughout the Society. Moreover, it is a conversation recorded in interview form specifically for the attention of the readership of 16 Jesuit journals published across the world (the editors of which journals all contributed questions for Fr Spadaro to consider including in his interrogation of their man).

In other words, now before proceeding to consider what the Pope actually said in reply, we are fully aware of the context in which he said it. Pope Francis is speaking to an essentially Jesuit and Jesuit affiliate audience. These weren’t words of wisdom directed as per an encyclical to “the Bishops, Priests and Deacons, Men and Women Religious, the Lay Faithful and All People of Good Will” (to whom Pope Benedict XVI addressed his three encyclicals; Blessed Pope John Paul II had a slightly different formulation). It is not a contribution to the Magisterium. This is a message directed to a specific audience Pope Francis knows well; an audience which speaks the same language, whichever language they happen variously to read it in.

Now back to the question at hand. Although later in the interview he would admit that in his early days in a position of leadership he had been overhasty and too autocratic, the new Bishop of Rome here indicates he has realised the importance and the consequence of the application of the notion of discernment as taught by St Ignatius. Importantly, he notes: “This discernment takes time. For example, many think that changes and reforms can take place in a short time. I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change. And this is the time of discernment.”

There is, of course, the apparently contradicting lesson of experience. For he then adds: “Sometimes discernment instead urges us to do precisely what you had at first thought you would do later.” The garbled grammar is the responsibility of the translators commissioned by the American Jesuit Magazine “America”. It obscures, but does not completely hide, the point being made. Pope Francis is all too well aware that the time taken for discernment might appear to have been wasted — if we end up doing what we immediately thought of doing when the matter first surfaced — but it hasn’t been. For, instinct and intuition have been reinforced with dialogue based on sound reason and hence, with a degree of consensus, we can proceed with confidence.

Festina lente does not mean failing to procrastinate today because we can just as easily put it off until tomorrow.

In anticipation of the conclave in March, I noted: “There are many problems urgently clamouring for the new Pope’s immediate attention. The problem is that no Pope can do everything that is required of him all by himself.” Obviously, both the cardinals and Pope Francis agreed with me. One month to the day after his election, on April 13, VISNews, the official Vatican news agency, reported: “The Holy Father Francis, taking up a suggestion that emerged during the General Congregations preceding the Conclave, has established a group of cardinals to advise him in the government of the universal Church and to study a plan for revising the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, ‘Pastor Bonus’.”

Pope Francis met with this Council of Cardinal Consultors (the Papal G8) for the first time at the beginning of this month, October 1–3. His Holiness took a month to identify who he wanted to advise him and he then asked them to take about six months to rehearse, research and consult on, within their respective geographical areas, the compound problem identified by him as most urgently requiring attention.

In that same anticipation of the conclave alluded to above, it was suggested that the conclavists “must take a long view” and that the feeling was irresistible that “that long view must demand that close attention be given to one long neglected problem before all others: the central governance of the Church, the Roman Curia… if we are finally to see the proper implementation of the rightly interpreted fruits of the Second Vatican Council.”

But the priority had to be the appointment of “an effective Secretary of State” and the announcement of that came about five-and-a-half months after the election of Pope Francis, on August 31. Archbishop Pietro Parolin was due to take up his post on Tuesday, October 15, but on a visit to his family in Veneto he suffered appendicitis and had to undergo surgery. Happily, the good Archbishop was allowed home on Friday, October 25,  and will spend some time recuperating by being fussed over at home by his family before taking up the reins of power in the Secretariat.

Almost immediately after his election, on March 16, Pope Francis had announced, again according to VISNews: “Heads and members of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, as well as their Secretaries, and also the President of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State, continue ‘donec aliter provideatur’, that is, provisionally, in their respective positions.” And it also explained why. The Holy Father wished “to reserve time for reflection, prayer, and dialogue before any final appointment or confirmation is made.”

In Rome, nothing is being rushed. Festina lente reigns supreme. But that doesn’t mean nothing is being done.

Pope Francis, who in reality knew little or nothing about the actual workings, or the workers, of the Roman Curia, was going to take the time and go to the trouble of getting to know enough about both before he made any decisions about who would stay and who would go. Or, who would be transferred, and, to where.

Festina lente: both efficiency and justice demands it. But Pope Francis has not been idle.

And, funnily enough, one of the very first things he did, mere moments after his election and before he had even signed the official document of acceptance, something which, encouraged by one of his fellow Latin American cardinals, he did instinctively, or intuitively, or whatever but most assuredly without having thought the consequences through, that is without discernment, has, in the sober light of day, proved to be crucially important.

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