When I was growing up and someone asked a question with an obvious positive answer, the sarcastic response that was often given was “Is the Pope Catholic?” I found myself asking that “rhetorical question” once again yesterday after Pope Francis’s appearance before a large crowd of youth in Sicily.
At the end of his meeting with the youth of Sicily, Pope Francis prayed a simple prayer rather than give the Pontifical Blessing, so as not to offend the “many non-Catholic Christians, those of other religions, and the agnostics” present. In itself, there is nothing wrong with the prayer, although weak on actual message (I’m trusting someone else’s translation from Italian to English to provide the content):
Now I would like to give you a blessing. I know that among you there are young Catholics, Christians, other religious traditions, and even some agnostics. For this I will bless everyone, and I will ask God to bless that seed of restlessness that is in your heart.
Lord, Lord God, look at these young people. You know each of them. You know what they think. You know that they want to move on, to make a better world. Lord, make them seekers of good and of happiness, make them active in their journey and in their encounter with others; make them bold in serving; make them humble in seeking their roots and carrying them forward to bear fruit, to have identity, to have belonging. May the Lord, the Lord God, accompany all these young people on the journey and bless everyone. Amen.
It seems that “seeker sensitivity,” long popular in evangelical circles, has moved into the Vatican circle and is being practiced by Pope Francis. Understand that I’m not saying we should never try to contextualize the message of the gospel. But there are certain factors here that make this seem bizarre. I’m fully aware that not every Sicilian, especially among the youth, are practicing Catholics, but the vast majority of them are. For many of those young Sicilian Catholics it was probably the first time to see the pope in person and have the opportunity to receive a pontifical blessing from him.
A Pontifical Blessing
V. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
R. Now and forever.
V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth.
V. May Almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Another issue is that the person who gave the simple blessing rather than the pontifical blessing was not just any cleric, but Pope Francis, the Holy Father, the Successor to St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ on earth. Who better to give a beautiful, significant and enduring Trinitarian blessing, than him. Pray the simple prayer, but then give the people the blessing that befits the holy office.
In this time of crisis in the worldwide Church we need more than simple, bland, generic, fluffy, fuzzy, theologically indistinct blessings.
St. Peter pray for Pope Francis! St. Peter pray for Christ’s Church! St. Peter pray for us!