‘Sitting at the feet of others in order to serve Christ’

New Cardinal Joseph Coutts of Karachi, Pakistan, greets fellow cardinals during a consistory at which Pope Francis created 14 new cardinals in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican June 28.
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — On June 28, I attended the papal consistory in Saint Peter’s Basilica when Pope Francis named 14 new cardinals, among them Mallorcan Jesuit Luis Ladaria Ferrer, S.J., the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and Luis Raphael I Sako, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Iraq.

I have been to a few consistories under Pope Francis and each is a unique affair. It’s undeniable that the Renaissance trappings that saw the College of Cardinals rise in esteem to be viewed as princes of the church, not only still exist, but continue to be a breathtaking spectacle to behold.

This year, I was positioned in the basilica in the shadow of the statue of Saint Lucia Filippini, whose sisters helped instill the faith in me over the course of my nine years at Saint Peter’s Elementary School in Merchantville. To my right were a group of Sardinians in elaborate traditional garb there to support local hero Giovanni Angelo Becciu, the new leader of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. To my left was a large contingent feverishly waving the crescent-mooned Pakistani flag for Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi. Seeing that particular symbol in that setting spoke to me about how far the church has come and where it is headed in terms of inter-religious dialogue and global reach. The universality of Catholicism around the world in such a venue is both awe-inspiring and magnificent to feel a part of: the Sardinians and the American theologian both came away with celebratory selfies to show our families, after singing the Salve Regina in a common tongue together.

Yet, for all the splendor and fanfare, the pope’s homily intentionally warned the cardinals, both existing and newly-minted, that careerism has no place among ministers of the people of God:

“Dear brother cardinals and new cardinals! In our journey toward Jerusalem, the Lord walks ahead of us, to keep reminding us that the only credible form of authority is born of sitting at the feet of others in order to serve Christ. It is the authority that comes from never forgetting that Jesus, before bowing his head on the cross, did not hesitate to bow down and wash the feet of the disciples. This is the highest honour that we can receive, the greatest promotion that can be awarded us: to serve Christ in God’s faithful people. In those who are hungry, neglected, imprisoned, sick, suffering, addicted to drugs, cast aside. In real people, each with his or her own life story and experiences, hopes and disappointments, hurts and wounds.”

He went on to say that Christians in positions of leadership must never feel superior to others, but rather must stoop down so as to help everyone to stand up.

The pope who is so inspired by the reforming efforts of Saint Francis and the discerning spirituality of Saint Ignatius, and is duly formed by the Brazilian Aparecida document’s call for “missionary discipleship” made clear that “Jesus teaches us that conversion, change of heart and church reform is and ever shall be in a missionary key, which demands an end to looking out for and protecting our own interests, in order to look out for and protect those of the Father. Conversion from our sins and from selfishness will never be an end in itself but is always a means of growing in fidelity and willingness to embrace the mission.”

In response to some humbling recent recognition from the Catholic Press Association brought about by these columns, I wanted to close this week by sharing my thoughts from a conversation with a recent interviewer, and to offer my thanks for the forum to serve the Diocese of Camden in this way each week.

“I have written a weekly column for the Catholic Star Herald newspaper for almost a decade now, which included stops in Boston, New York, Connecticut, Durham (UK), Rome and Chicago. It is honestly among one of my favorite professional activities each week. I think needing to prepare a regular column affects the way one views the world, as he or she is always then looking for an interesting angle to describe what could be a very mundane experience. The practice also undoubtedly makes one a better writer; to come to appreciate words as tools designed for particular jobs and to distill sometimes deep or arcane theological realities into more digestible bites. I am thankful for the mutually informing roles my ecclesiological study and journalistic tendencies play upon one another, and I’m humbled to have some modicum of recognition for these efforts in serving the People of God as efficiently as my limited capabilities allow me.”

Michael M. Canaris’ articles on “Catholicism and Science” were honored this year (third place, Best Regular Column, Spiritual Life) by the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada. Originally from Collingswood, he teaches at Loyola University, Chicago.