Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Back in Bayern, Pope's Cathedral Smoked Out

Last week's commemoration of the transfer of the relics of St Corbinian -- the 8th century Bavarian bishop -- led some observers to believe that the Pope would mark the feast by revealing his long-awaited appointment of a new archbishop of Munich and Freising, the post Joseph Ratzinger himself held from 1977 to 1981.

Vacant since B16 retired Cardinal Frederich Wetter in early February, no new archbishop materialized. But the fire marshals did.

Excess incense at a weekend liturgy recalling the enshrinement of Corbinian's remains at Freising on 20 November 769 triggered fire alarms in the city's cathedral -- the place where, on his 2006 homecoming trip, B16 recalled being ordained a priest in 1951. A fire brigade rushed to the recently-restored structure, German media reported, leaving without incident as Wetter emerged from the cathedral to lead a procession of the saint's relics.

Keeping with the tradition of his predecessors, Papa Ratzi included the customary emblem of Corbinian -- the pack bear -- on his coat of arms after being tapped to head his hometown church in 1977.

On his return there as Pope, the native son explained the tradition behind the beast:
I hope you will allow me to recall on this occasion a few thoughts which I set down in my brief memoirs with regard to my appointment as Archbishop of Munich and Freising. I was to become, and did become, the successor of Saint Corbinian. From my childhood I was very much taken with the story that a bear had attacked and killed the horse on the saint was riding across the Alps. Corbinian severely scolded the bear and he punished him by loading him down with all his baggage and making him carry it all the way to Rome. So the bear, carrying the baggage of the saint, had to go to Rome, and only there was he allowed by the saint to go free.

In 1977, when I had to face the difficult choice of whether or not to accept my appointment as Archbishop of Munich and Freising, knowing that it would take me away from my usual work at the university and mean new work and new responsibilities, I had to do a lot of reflecting. And precisely then I remembered this bear and the interpretation of verses 22 and 23 of Psalm 73 that Saint Augustine, in a situation much like my own and in the context of his own priestly and episcopal ordination, had come up with and later set down in his sermons on the Psalms. In Psalm 73, the Psalmist asks why in this world good things often happen to bad people, while bad things happen to many good people. And he goes on to say: “I was foolish in my thinking, I stood in your presence like a dumb beast. But then I entered the sanctuary and I understood how even amid my troubles I was close to you and that you were always with me”. Augustine loved this Psalm and often made reference to it, seeing in the words “I stood in your presence like a dumb beast” (in Latin, iumentum) a reference to the beasts of burden used in North Africa to work the land. In this iumentum he saw an image of himself as a beast of burden for God, someone burdened by his responsibility, the sarcina episcopalis. He had chosen the life of a scholar and God had called him to become a “beast of burden”, a sturdy ox drawing the plough in God’s field, doing the heavy labour assigned to him. But he came to realize: just as the beast of burden is very close to the farmer, working under his direction, so I am very close to God, because thus I serve him directly for the building up of his Kingdom, the the building up of his Church.

With these words of the Bishop of Hippo in mind, I have found in Saint Corbinian’s bear a constant encouragement to carry out my ministry with confidence and joy – thirty years ago, and again now in my new task – and to say my daily “yes” to God: I have become for you a beast of burden, but as such “I am always with you” (Ps 73:23).

Saint Corbinian’s bear was set free in Rome. In my case, the Lord decided otherwise.
Despite his election to Peter's chair, Fluffy's arms still bear the bear.