Our meeting this afternoon with the "Cardinal Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life" was one of those impressive events. First of all, the imposing title: doesn't it conjure up an image of a dour, scarlet-clad prince of advanced age shaking his finger at all those wacky nuns who want to be priests? Instead,João Braz de Aviz came to the Chapter Hall wearing a white clerical shirt and black jacket. "Wooden cross," one of the Italian sisters observed of his pectoral cross. "Good sign." The jovial Brazilian (who still carries 130 bits of shrapnel in his flesh after surviving a violent robbery), was transferred from the Archdiocese of Brasilia to his post in Rome by Pope Benedict (on the recommendation of Cardinal Bergoglio).
|Brazilians are big huggers. Even the Cardinals.|
He proceeded to give us the most inspiring talk we've had all month. He both encouraged and challenged us at the same time--and in the same sentence (actually in the same words of the same sentence). "A half-Christian culture has in some way taken the place of the Word of God as if to suffocate it...but the Word has to take its central place again so it can release all its power": at least, that's what I managed to scribble in my notes, translating as I wrote--so the words are definitely not exact, but you get the drift. "We were not made for the works [of our congregations]; we were made for God." You'd be surprised, but nuns do not hear this kind of thing often enough!
He spoke of community life and the spirituality of communion as inculcated by Pope John Paul. "Who is the other for me? One who can bring God to me so I can love him." He told us how St. Basil had commented that the eremetical life (hermits living alone) could not be the perfection of Christian charity because there was no one with them whose feet needed to be washed. He spoke of the "gratuitousness" of charity in community, as rich as it is challenging. He even dared to speak of authority (in a room filled with superiors!), gently assuring all that domination, even in the name of "God's will," makes fraternal living vanish. The Trinity, where diversity and unity are in perfect communion, has to be more clearly the source and model of our life in community: even in God it is only love that is the binding force!
But I didn't promise you a sermon. I promised you some little scoops.
Cardinal Braz de Aviz told us that he only learned the back story of his appointment a month or two ago--from Pope Francis! About the Pope, he said "He is really governing the Church. He calls me every week asking what I think about something, or he sends me a little note.... This makes a person feel really responsible!" The Cardinal hinted at the changes to come as the Pope continues to set his own tone to the services the Vatican offers him in his governing role.
He also gave a fun, first-person perspective on the papal motorcade in Rio for World Youth Day. The Pope insisted on riding in a mid-sized Fiat, while the rest of the entourage (including Cardinal Braz de Aviz) followed in cars provided by the Brazilian State Department. As they continued through the city, once the Pope's little car passed by, people turned away from the imposing government vehicles. "Next time I have to be in a papal motorcade," the Cardinal resolved, "I'm going on a motorcycle!"
Another little insight into Pope Francis comes from a priest who has spent many years in Latin America, and so was quite familiar with the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires. "I never saw him laugh," the priest remarked. "He was sociable, but just a serious person." He had occasion to meet Pope Francis recently, and took the opportunity to ask a personal question. "What's going on? We never saw this side of you before." The Pope admitted that when the crucial 77th vote was announced, "I felt something come over me, and it hasn't left."
We were disappointed that our request for a private audience with Pope Francis did not receive the answer we had all hoped for (such audiences used to be fairly typical for General Chapter groups, but Pope Benedict had put a halt to them); maybe Cardinal Braz de Aviz can ... pull whatever strings are left (next time Pope Francis calls his office!). My own conclusion today is that the Church in Latin America is giving the universal Church some wonderful gifts in these bishops, and God deserves some thanks and praise!