This morning at Blackfen we celebrated Missa Cantata Pro Eligendo Summo Pontifice with Mass IV and Credo VI. Here is the text of my sermon for the Mass:
I will not leave you orphans (Jn 14.18)
Arguing against the Donatists, St Augustine explained that in this world, the Church is composed of saints and sinners and that the Church tries to correct the sinners:
“Therefore it is the same Church also which within the Lord’s net is swimming along with the bad fishes, but is in heart and in life separated from them, and departs from them, that she may be presented to her Lord a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle. But the actual visible separation she looks for only on the sea-shore, that is, at the end of the world—meanwhile correcting as many as she can, and bearing with those whom she cannot correct; but she does not abandon the unity of the good because of the wickedness of those whom she finds incorrigible.” (Epistulae 93.9.34)The Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI alluded to this expression of St Augustine last October in an impromptu address:
“In these years, we have seen that there is discord in the vineyard of the Lord, we have seen that in the net of Peter (St Peter, the first apostle) there are bad fish, that human fragility exists even in the Church.”The Church is both human and divine. It is divine because it is founded by Christ, and because it is the mystical body of Christ who is its Head. The Church is holy because it gives us the sacraments, the great and powerful channels of grace, and because it is preserved by Christ in the truth which, in her universal ordinary magisterium, in the definitions of her General Councils, and in the extraordinary magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, she teaches with the assistance of Christ and without admixture of error.
In her government, the Church is not preserved from error as many historical examples show. Nor does the Lord promise that all ecclesiastical appointments will be chosen by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes there are very bad appointments.
Hence we pray earnestly today and for the forthcoming indefinite period, for the appointment of a good Pope. Specifically we pray in the Collect of the Mass for a Pope who will be always pleasing to God by his zeal for us, and that he will be honoured by us for his salubre regimen. This is often translated as “good government” but the word salubris has a richer meaning. Lewis and Short give the definition as follows:
Salubris: health-giving, promoting health, healthful, wholesome, salubrious; salutary, serviceable, advantageous, beneficialWe plead before God for a Pope who will give us such government. It is not necessary that he be filled with all the necessary qualities now as Cardinal. We also pray that whatever his human shortcomings, God will give the chosen man the grace of state that he needs, and that the Church needs at this time.
We do not pray presumptuously. God permits evil to happen and sometimes (if we are not to dismiss large chunks of the writing of the saints and spiritual masters) we must accept that this is for our punishment. We richly deserve it for our sins, negligence and sloth. Therefore we must pray humbly and in tears, begging God to have mercy on us. If He does see fit, in His inscrutable providence, to send us the great Pope that we long for, our hearts must be filled not simply with joy and triumph but also with humble and sincere thanksgiving that God has favoured us once more.