With a New Pope Installed, It’s Time to Come Home

Well, folks, it’s done, and tomorrow, Friday, I’ll be home, in time for Palm Sunday. As much as I savor Rome, and as much as I have been profoundly inspired by the events of the last three weeks, it’ll be good to be back home with all of you, especially for Holy Week and Easter.
Actually, it’s not “done” at all. In fact, it’s just the beginning: the pontificate of Pope Francis promises to be exciting and uplifting. Once again, Jesus came through, keeping his promise to be with His Church always. On February 11, when we heard the somber news that Benedict XVI was leaving the Chair of St. Peter, we wondered who could ever take the place of this erudite, humble, holy man. Our own Marist College, known for the professionalism of its polling research, reported that nearly 90 percent of Catholics in the United States highly appreciated Benedict’s papacy (none of them, unfortunately, write for the major local newspaper, where only bitter “former Catholics” need apply).
And now we smile and thank God that Habemus Papam, “we have a Pope,” and an extraordinarily appealing one at that.
What I’m about to say might surprise you. Yes, the office of the Successor of St. Peter is essential to the Church. We note that apostolic is one of the marks of the true Church. The Pope assures us that we stay connected to the apostles, especially St. Peter.
Yet—and here’s the surprise—the Church is not equated with the Pope, and, the effectiveness of the Church does not completely depend upon the Holy Father. The Church counts, when all is said and done, only upon Jesus. The life of the Church is not synonymous with that of the activities of the Bishop of Rome, however much we love him, listen to him, and are loyal to him. The Church is bigger than our Holy Father.
And he’d be the first to tell us that.
Yes, Jesus is radiantly alive in the ministry of the Successor of St. Peter, whose teaching, governing, and sanctifying is uniquely effective.
But the explosive light and life of Jesus reaches to the ends of the earth through the Church in her fullness, not just through the ministry of its Supreme Pontiff.
Next week, we’ll re-live the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus in the solemn liturgy of Holy Week…Jesus is there!
On Palm Sunday, thousands of believers will risk harassment, persecution, harm, and even death as they approach Mass in all parts of the world, in hostile cultures, or under oppressive governments… Jesus suffers!
On Monday, Reconciliation Monday, tens of thousands of Catholics in the archdiocese will approach the Sacrament of Penance…Jesus forgives!
On Holy Thursday, I’ll help at the breadline at St. Paul the Apostle Church near Lincoln Center, as hundreds of homeless are fed, only one of hundreds of places where the hungry have food, the sick are healed, the aged and infirmed housed, the lost welcomed, the poor consoled, all in His Holy Name…Jesus serves!
And that same evening thousands will gather to relive His Last Supper, and then walk in procession with the Holy Eucharist…Jesus is really present!
On Holy Saturday, more than 2,000 people in our parishes will enter the Church as new Catholics…Jesus invites!
On Easter, approximately 2.2 million of us, just in the Archdiocese of New York alone, will worship at Mass, and receive Him in Holy Communion…Jesus feeds!
God’s people pray and believe; God’s Word is preached and accepted; God’s poor are loved and served; God’s life is imparted in the sacraments; and Satan is on the run! That’s the Church! Jesus is there!
As I left the conclave last Wednesday, exiting the loggia where our beloved new Pope had just appeared on the balcony, I was eager to get to a phone. I had an urgent call to make, and it had nothing to do with the new Pope Francis. I was expecting very important news.
But the phones were still blocked in the Vatican because of the conclave blackout. I was impatient even during the festive meal with the Holy Father, at the Domus Santa Marta where we Cardinals were staying. I tried the phones again with no luck.
Finally I got to the North American College, to be exuberantly greeted by cheering seminarians and hundreds of journalists. But the only person I wanted to find was my secretary, Father Jim Cruz, who came pushing through the crowd grinning, holding up his iPad, with the news I really wanted: a photo of a healthy Charles Kenneth Grissom, the new baby of my niece Kelly and her husband Mike, who had been born just the day before, when I had already gone into the secrecy of the conclave.
And I’ll baptize Charlie on Easter Monday! Jesus is there, in that marriage of Kelly and Mike, in their new family, and soon in the little soul of Charlie!
That’s the Church…that’s God’s goodness…that’s the light and life of Christ. That was as much good news as the election of Pope Francis. God is good to His people.
Yes, Jesus teaches, serves, governs, and sanctifies in a uniquely effective way through the Successor of St. Peter, our Pope. Yes, Jesus seems especially present in the simplicity, sincerity, and humility of Pope Francis.
But, as Pope Benedict taught us, as Pope Francis tells us, in the end, it’s not about them; it’s not about the Pope; it’s all about Jesus and His Church!