I really like what is emerging with Pope Francis. A pope who is determined - if various actions these past weeks are anything to go by - to transform his role as 'Vicar of Christ' into one in which the emphasis is on genuine, gospel Christ-likeness rather than conformity to rules, regulations and rubrics.
Notably, Papa Francis, traditionally washing the feet of twelve people on Holy Thursday, washed the feet of two women (one of whom is a Muslim). WAIT the rules say the action is intended to be Christ-like in the sense that Christ washed the feet of twelve apostles so the Pope must wash the feet of twelve men (I think I may even have read somewhere that they are twelve ordained men). NO the pope has said. The Christ-likeness is exemplified in foot-washing as a service to humanity; and women are human. CUE coughing and spluttering into liturgical and canonical "traddies" teacups. As Stuff reports here, the fact that it is the Pope breaking the rules has drawn somewhat casuistical responses. So we read of " canon lawyer Edward Peters, an adviser to the Vatican's high court,
"If someone is washing the feet of any females ... he is in violation of the Holy Thursday rubrics," Peters wrote in a 2006 article that he reposted earlier this month on his blog.
In the face of the pope doing that very thing, Peters - like many conservative and traditionalist commentators - have found themselves trying to put the best face on a situation they don't like lest they be openly voicing dissent with the pope.By Thursday evening, Peters was saying that Francis had merely "disregarded" the law - not violated it."
But is this not the response one expects of (modern equivalents) of Pharisees? Damian Thompson seems to think so!
Papa Francis is challenging his church, and by extension all Christians watching and listening to him, to find the true heart of the gospel in order to live faithfully to Christ. Sometimes church rules, regulations and rubrics assist that faithful living. Sometimes they do not. At risk of being accused of soppy subjectivism I cannot conceive that Christ living in our world today (that is, a multi-cultural, inclusive, anti-hierarchical, non-racist world) would restrict foot-washing in 2013 to male "types" of the apostles. Francis has spoken, infallibly I suggest: the rules are out of date, this is how Christ would act.
Good on him!
Damian Thompson is right (for those who do not know of his writings, a very traditional and conservative Catholic, strongly in favour of Benedict's high church reformist agenda).
Here's the thing: no one needs to be a Pharisee. Those of us who fall into the modern version of the role need challenging as to what is Christ-like and what is not!
For the record: the following observations are made with no attempt to speculate further about (say) the Pope's attitude to the ordination of women; they are also made with the thought in mind that if we understand John's Gospel carefully, then there is no great reason to think that the foot-washing of John 13 was actually restricted to the Twelve, since the Beloved Disciple was in the group and he has strong arguments in favour of his not being part of the Twelve.