The Way of Beauty The papacy in a new key

It is said that Jesuits don’t sing. But recently, Pope Francis broke with the tradition of his Order. He is singing and conducting in a new key, at least metaphorically. The key, it seems, is F Major. To explain:

When composers begin a new work, they choose a key that will suit an overall feeling they wish to convey.  Every key, major or minor, suggests its own ethos, but there is a decided difference in feeling between major and minor keys. A major key typically sounds dynamic and directional, expansive, happy, and buoyant, whereas a minor key, more often than not, conveys brooding darkness and introspection.  There are only a few changes in notes between major and minor keys. Still, even a few changes can make a big difference. F Major is the pastoral key, the graceful key, the key of gentleness, calm, and peace.  Take for example, Vivaldi’s “Autumn” from the “Four Seasons,” and most famously, Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, #6. These works are cast in the key of F Major. The Pope’s vision for the Church suggests F major.

The Pope and the Orchestral Conductor

The Pope is to the Church what the orchestral and/or choral conductor is to a symphony orchestra. Though part of the orchestra, the conductor acts primarily as its public face and official spokesperson. As head of the orchestra, the conductor chooses the compositions for the new concert season. This says a great deal about the conductor’s vision for his orchestra.
 All assembled in the concert hall—instrumentalists, conductor, and audience have come there to enjoy beautiful music, performed beautifully.  Last July, Francis asked the Brazilian bishops:  “Are we still capable of warming hearts?”

Like a conductor, the Pope leads, directs, governs, and coordinates his ‘orchestra.’ Yet, neither conductor nor pope is absolute in his role. Whereas the instrumentalists master their parts, the conductor functions like a director of traffic not only learning the entire map of the musical highway but also dealing with the interrelationships of sections to whole.  Conductors interpret the score according to the composer’s intent; popes pledge fidelity to the Church’s Revelation, Scripture, and the Magisterium. 

Wise and effective conductors consult with their instrumentalists. So too, with Pope Francis. Here, consulting means not soliciting an opinion but a fact, as one consults another for the time of day. In the final analysis, all breathe together as one, with the maestro’s interpretation as the final word. Conflicts must be resolved with due respect for each instrumentalist.  Still, orchestral unity rests not with the individual sections but with the maestro who leaves his imprint on the orchestra’s reputation, thus separating his orchestra from all others. Arturo Toscanini conducted the Beethoven Nine Symphonies like no other. Pope Francis will leave his impress on the Church, as have his predecessors.

In Francis, we have a Renaissance Man with a distinct preference for the downtrodden. Though seemingly opposed to power as power over others, he speaks with a powerful and convincing authority—like Jesus.  The ‘author’ in authority connotes a speaker’s talent and his or her ability to evoke the creativity of others. In Italian, there are two words linked with power, both repugnant: superbia and orgoglio. The former connotes lording it over others, having a superiority attitude of condescension; the latter, connotes oozing with pride.

In the key of F Major, the Pope stresses the pastoral side of church leaders who divest themselves of luxury, of an attitude of power over rather than authority with.  To be a credible witness to what she proclaims, the Church needs leaders who live simply, even abstemiously, without pomp or luxury, leaders who are detached from power, privilege, prestige, and position because all are entrusted to them for a short time. 

In the Lucan gospel (6:12-14), we catch a glimpse of Jesus’ authority. When he came down the mountain from prayer with his Father, power went out from him.  The crowds saw it; they experienced it. It was a matter of ‘come and see’ and ‘come, follow me;’ then he asked his disciples ‘stand with me’ and ‘remain with me.’  This scriptural reference also forms the backbone of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

In six short months, Pope Francis has addressed many groups within the Church: the Ordained, symbolizing order, law, and stability, as well as the Non-Ordained of laity and consecrated religious, symbolizing creativity and dynamism. When the Lord washes the feet of Peter who wants to unite himself with his Master, he Peter must renounce status and all that is associated with status—glory and honorifics.  The Lord chooses a servile but loving act to give the example. What Jesus has done for and to him, all of us are called to repeat to and for others.  Our vocation is to share in the Lord’s redemptive work for the sake of others. Henceforth, the mandate given to Peter will be the loving service that marks Christian discipleship. The mission is so explicit that it cannot be misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Pope Francis has embarked on leading the Church forward with a gentle, calm vision, wide and deep:  To be a Catholic is to be catholic. ‘Take our beauty, our truth, our goodness, and go out,’ he seems to be saying, ‘and change the world that is dealing with so many difficult problems—the inviolable dignity of every man and woman, unemployment, immigration, poverty, violence and war.  ‘Let your voice go out to all the earth, and sing; proclaim the Lord’s message to the ends of the earth (Ps 19). Take the orchestra on the road, and let it play; let it sing.’

The Church as Bride and Mother

In 1 Corinthians (12), St. Paul eloquently writes of the different gifts within the Church using the analogy of the body.

In a recent interview (“A Big Heart Open to God,” America, September 30, 2013), Pope Francis speaks with some concern: “The deep questions women are asking must be addressed.”  If the Church is both Bride and Mother, “the church cannot be herself without the woman and her role; she is essential for the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions.  The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women and also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.”

Mary’s dignity is more important than the bishops, but function and dignity ought not to be confused. So, the distinction is made.  He is determined that “we have to work harder to develop a profound theology of woman.  Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church.” Logically and henceforth, women should be expected to participate in the Church’s process of discernment, deliberation, and decision-making.  Nevertheless, the Pope “is wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of female machismo because a woman has a different make-up than a man.  But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo.”  Nevertheless, the Church needs sopranos and altos and well as tenors and basses in order to proclaim the joy of “Hallelujah” to the whole world.

Can the Church Die?

Can the Church die from within or be destroyed from without? Jesus assured Peter that the powers of death would not prevail against it (Mt 16:18). Still, the human element, of itself, can become deformed and disfigured, lifeless and introverted. Insipid Catholicism provides fertile ground for her critics. This is a Church which promises so much and assures eternal happiness. The Church’s vocation is to proclaim the beautiful Truth and to announce that Truth beautifully … in the key of F major.

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