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Profound mercy, compassion and understanding

Modelling the Ministry of Saint Peter

10th National eConference
by The Broken Bay Institute and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
Wednesday 11 June 2014

Below is a synopsis of Archbishop Costelloe's lecture. For a FULL COPY of the text, please click here.

In a lecture to Catholics across Australia, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth has spoken about Pope Francis, his “essential dimension” in the life of the Church and his impact on the global scene.

Archbishop Costelloe began by saying that he suspected Pope Francis “never expected to experience” the Petrine Ministry and that “he would never have chosen [it] for himself”. He spoke of Francis’ acceptance of the role being “in a spirit of obedience” not merely to “the wish of the cardinals but an expression, through them, of the will of God for the Church”.

It is important, the Archbishop went on to say, that we “avoid the temptation of playing one pope off against another” and to reject “pope-olatry” but see rather “how the very different popes we have had in our own lifetimes unveil different and necessary aspects of the mystery of Christ and his Church”.

“All of us,” the Archbishop stated, “including the Pope, must be measured against the fundamental criterion of the gospel and against the call… of Paul in the letter to the Philippians where he tells us that we must have in us the same mind that was in Christ Jesus. This,” he said, “is the vocation of every Christian, no matter what place he or she might hold in the community of faith”.

Nevertheless, Archbishop Costelloe believes that Pope Francis is “putting a quite unique stamp on the contemporary exercise of the Petrine ministry” and is taking up the theme of the “Catholic Church's commitment to ecumenism”.

St John Paul II offers a reflection in 1995 that Pope Francis is today “enfleshing” in an “engaging and challenging way”: “"How can we fail to see that the mercy which Peter needs is related to the ministry of that mercy which he is the first to experience? As heir to the mission of Peter in the Church, which has been made fruitful by the blood of the Princes of the Apostles, the Bishop of Rome exercises a ministry originating in the manifold mercy of God" (Ut Unum Sint §92).”

“Profound mercy, compassion and understanding” are evident as Jesus reaches out to St Peter, says the Archbishop. So too, “the ministry of the Bishop of Rome is "a ministry of mercy, born of an act of Christ's own mercy" (ibid. §93). Pope Francis has “the centrality of God's mercy at the heart of his own life and ministry and at the heart of the Church's vocation”.

Archbishop Costelloe notes Pope Francis’ regular references to being “a sinner”, not as a “ritual statement with little conviction” or as “empty words or theatrical gestures” but because “the Pope is also deeply conscious of having received the mercy of God, or as he himself puts it, of having the gaze of the Lord turned on him”. “To be a Christian,” the Archbishop suggests, “is to be someone in whose eyes people experience the loving and merciful gaze of Christ”.

Quoting from a book by Cardinal Kasper favoured by Pope Francis, Archbishop Costelloe notes that "mercy without truth would be consolation lacking honesty" and would be simply "empty chatter". But on the other hand, he wrote, "truth without mercy would be cold, off-putting and ready to wound".

Encapsulating much of Pope Francis’ ministry is all about, the Archbishop raises a challenge: “In all our pastoral and evangelizing activity, in all our outreach to others, we must keep the goal in mind - and the goal must surely be to lead people to God rather than to drive them away. We must, in one of Francis's most striking images, make the Church ever more like a field hospital where the primary aim is to heal the wounds, and warm the hearts, of those who have been so badly hurt by life - and by the ravages of sin. What will help? What will heal? What will open up a pathway to a new encounter with God?”

However, the Archbishop does not see this process as being easy. Quoting Evangelii Gaudium, he reminds us that “it is impossible to persevere in a fervent evangelization unless we are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to” (§266).

It is this conviction, says the Archbishop, “on which Francis is building his pontificate”. The present Pope is “genuinely conscious of his sinfulness”, “aware of his own need for mercy” and “as the recipient of God’s mercy he must be a bearer of God’s mercy to others… experienced in his intimacy with the Lord and in his encounters with him”.

Archbishop Costelloe ended by stating that “a word of welcome, of honour, of acceptance” can bring a person to a “new way of life”. “It is what Francis is asking of the Church today. It is what Francis is showing us as he models the ministry of St Peter in our contemporary Church.”