I confess I pretty much reached the breaking point on headlines about Cardinal Raymond Burke and Pope Francis when the American cardinal was asked if he was being “punished” by the pope by being sent to Guam to oversee a sexual abuse trial involving an archbishop.
As it happened, a Vatican congregation sent him over there, reflecting the seriousness of the allegations. But this was just one of many headlines feeding a consistent, and convenient, storyline of opposition.
People from every political persuasion seemed to be spoiling for “sides” to develop involving the two of them from early on in this pontificate. And, of course — “darling of far-right Catholic circles” canon lawyer vs. “progressive” Argentinian is an exciting story as far as religion news goes, and so the narrative was driven.
When Rolling Stone put Pope Francis on its cover toward the end of his first year, between the lines was a warning to the pope who seems to lead with welcome for those who have felt excluded by the Church: “Don’t be like Burke. Or Pope Benedict. Or any of those faithful to the Magisterium.” (While acknowledging that Pope John Paul II was “beloved,” the author of the story also described him as “also quite reactionary.”)
The basic reason, however, that the “Pope vs. Burke” narrative drives me crazy is that the two men actually have a lot in common.
In countless homilies, I hear Pope Francis caution against lukewarm Christianity. He calls people out of false security, rallying them to be countercultural. In the best of the Jesuit tradition, he leads people in an examination of conscience about indifference and motivations. He focuses people on Christ. And, yes, even conversion.
Burke, meanwhile, is a natural when it comes to talking about the Sacred Heart of Jesus. My first encounters with him included not discourses on canon law and politics but prayer and devotion. A devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is something he not only grew up on, but has helped sustain him throughout his priesthood.
In one interview with the Catholic News Service in 2013, he explained how he’s found meditating on the image of the Sacred Heart good for “renewing the gift of Christ to us in the Holy Eucharist” throughout a given, day… “reminding me … that He is with me always throughout the day and that His love is immeasurable and that it is unceasing and therefore I shouldn’t give way to discouragement and should be energetic and courageous in carrying out his message.”
Here’s a passage from from a homily:
“The Heart of the Good Shepherd is not only the Heart that shows us mercy, but is itself mercy. There the Father’s love shines forth; there I know I am welcomed and understood as I am; there, with all my sins and limitations, I know the certainty that I am chosen and loved. Contemplating that heart, I renew my first love: the memory of that time when the Lord touched my soul and called me to follow him, the memory of the joy of having cast the nets of our life upon the sea of his word (cf. Lk 5:5).”
That wasn’t Burke, but Pope Francis, during a jubilee of mercy Mass for priests last year. And it also included this:
“A shepherd after the heart of God does not protect his own comfort zone; he is not worried about protecting his good name, but rather, without fearing criticism, he is disposed to take risks in seeking to imitate his Lord.”
Talk about common meeting ground between the pope and the cardinal ….
Burke, for his part, wrote an oped in 2014 that I used to hand out to people who saw the Church as almost first and foremost enmeshed in politics and polarities. It said in part:
“The Holy Father, it seems to me, wishes to pare back every conceivable obstacle people may have invented to prevent themselves from responding to Jesus Christ’s universal call to holiness. We all know individuals who say things like: ‘Oh, I stopped going to Church because of the Church’s teaching on divorce’, or ‘I could never be Catholic because of the Church’s teaching on abortion or on homosexuality’.”
“The Holy Father is asking them to put aside these obstacles and to welcome Christ, without any excuse, into their lives. Once they come to understand the immeasurable love of Christ, alive for us in the Church, they will be able to resolve whatever has been troubling them about the Church, His Mystical Body, and her teaching.
Burke went on to write:
“The Pontificate of Pope Francis should be seen as a radical call to redouble our efforts for the new evangelization. Radical in the sense that, in our dialogue with others and with the world, we must start with the beginning, Christ’s call to life in Him. This call of Christ is the good news of God’s love and mercy which our world so badly longs for.”
“At the same time, as Simeon foretold to Our Blessed Mother when Our Lord was presented in the temple, it is also ‘a sign that will be contradicted’ in every age and particularly in our ‘post-Christian’ society. This is because the proclamation of Jesus Christ can never be authentic without the proclamation of his Cross.”
There are important debates about Amoris Laetitia and all kinds of difficult and seemingly impossible-to-solve-or-recover-from issues in the world. But if we miss the heart of Pope Francis and Cardinal Burke, we miss the heart of salvation.
See how both men carry their crosses. See how they cling to the Savior, Jesus Christ, for whom — goodness knows — we seem to be longing. Move forward with them, rather than be paralyzed by seeing who’s left and who’s right, who’s up and whose down. Be united in the Heart of Jesus for total conversion to His love. That’s the message.
We’d be doing our best as members of the Body of Christ if we fervently prayed for our priests and bishops and cardinals and pope — that we may all be nourished by the Sacred Heart Jesus, communicating His love to all.