Below is a reflection of Fr. Thomas Rosica, entitled ‘Reflection on the Role of Cardinals in the Church.’ It was published on November 14th.
A love that bears, believes, hopes and endures”
Cardinals are chosen by the Holy Father to serve as his principal assistants and advisers in the central administration of church affairs. Collectively, they form the College of Cardinals. Some believe that the College of Cardinals is nothing more than an intention of a papacy of the Middle Ages, simply in need of a consultative body in a more turbulent period of the Church’s history. Others believe it to be the embodiment of the self-aggrandizing Papacy of the High Renaissance.
Although the theological origins of the Cardinalate might be traced loosely to Moses, the historic bonds are surely deeply rooted in the early Christian Church of Jerusalem. The role of a Cardinal, as well as his title, is ancient. For two centuries prior to the Christian era, Roman society had been organized hierarchically, with senators and patriarchs holding the highest office, each having assistants to carry through on their edicts or decrees. Simultaneously, the Church continued to flourish, and its structure clearly mimicked that of the Roman Empire. The original seven assistants chosen by the apostles in Jerusalem passed on, many martyred for their own faith. They were replaced, in turn, by others who were consecrated as the need for these special assistants continued to grow alongside the growing infant Church. This is in keeping with the original function of the College.
The word cardinal is derived from two early Latin terms, cardo and cardinis. The English translation has rendered these two words as “hinge,” to signify that important device that serves as a juncture for two opposing forces and that affords harmony as a result. As a hinge permits a door to hang easily upon a framed portal, it was believed that the cardinals facilitated an easy relationship between the theological and governmental roles of the hierarchy of the Church. The role of the College of Cardinals remains a pivotal one in the Church of our time.
Cardinals have been called “the Princes of the Church,” “the Sacred College” and “the Senate of the Church.” Each of these terms tells us something about who they are. If the cardinals are “princes,” they are not kings. They have a secondary role to that of the one who is above them: the Pope.
If they are a “sacred college,” they are not a secular one. Their functions are in the religious sphere, not in the sphere of politics or economics or any other secular endeavor. Their decisions are rooted in and spring from their faith; they have an essentially ecclesial, not societal horizon. At times their deliberations and decisions do affect politics and society.
“Charity – Saint Paul adds – “does not rejoice at the wrong, but rejoices in the right”. Those called to the service of governance in the Church need to have a strong sense of justice, so that any form of injustice becomes unacceptable, even those which might bring gain to himself or to the Church. At the same time, he must “rejoice in the right”. What a beautiful phrase! The man of God is someone captivated by truth, one who encounters it fully in the word and flesh of Jesus Christ, the inexhaustible source of our joy. May the people of God always see in us a firm condemnation of injustice and joyful service to the truth.
Finally, “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”. Here, in four words, is a spiritual and pastoral programme of life. The love of Christ, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, enables us to live like this, to be like this: as persons always ready to forgive; always ready to trust, because we are full of faith in God; always ready to inspire hope, because we ourselves are full of hope in God; persons ready to bear patiently every situation and each of our brothers and sisters, in union with Christ, who bore with love the burden of our sins.
Dear brothers, this comes to us not from ourselves, but from God. God is love and he accomplishes all this in us if only we prove docile to the working of his Holy Spirit. This, then, is how we are to be: “incardinated” and docile. The more we are “incardinated” in the Church of Rome, the more we should become docile to the Spirit, so that charity can give form and meaning to all that we are and all that we do. Incardinated in the Church which presides in charity, docile to the Holy Spirit who pours into our hearts the love of God (cf. Rom 5:5).
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