What’s in an empty chair?

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There is quite a diversity of opinion being expressed about this photograph:

empty chair

Taken on Sunday, June 22 just prior to a concert—a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony—to celebrate the Year of Faith, the Pope’s chair is empty “due to other commitments,” specifically, “commitments that could not be postponed.”

According to the Associated Press, health wasn’t the cause, as Pope Francis appeared fit and relaxed earlier in the day.  That said, Associated Press also reported:

Unlike his predecessor Benedict, who was well-known as a music lover, Francis has shown scant interest in music, liturgical or otherwise.

Then, too, Sandro Magister has reported “papists” in the Curia attributing the following words to the Pope: “I am not a Renaissance prince who listens to music instead of working.”

That’s the stuff of papal palace intrigue that’s intended to communicate what Pope Francis really is thinking…or to impugn his character.

What if Pope Francis doesn’t want to live the lifestyle of a Renaissance prince?  What if he personally abhors concerts of classical music?  In the big scheme of things, none of that really matters, except perhaps for “Curiaistas” who have something to gain or lose if and when Pope Francis does reform the Curia.

Yet, let us not forget what the Pope’s absence communicated to the conductor as well as to all of those musicians and vocalists who practiced for hours precisely because he is the Pope and they admire him.  After all, this is the Successor of St. Peter and Bishop of Rome, not Bishop Joe Schlub of some diocese located somewhere in Lower Slobovia.  A lot of people watch and interpret a pope’s conduct for what it may signal about his and the Church’s intentions.

If there isn’t a better reason than the two already provided, The Motley Monk counts himself among those whom the Pope’s conduct “bewildered…even some of his most convinced admirers.”

The Pope has sent a message.  Whether it has the grandeur of “a solemn, severe peal,” as Sandro Magister quotes Church historian Alberto Melloni observing, it is clear this pope believes some things are more important—and very well may be more important—than a concert of classical music where he is scheduled to be the guest of honor.

“Mind your manners,” The Motley Monk’s Mom used to tell him, especially when he didn’t want to do something he was required to do and for reasons he didn’t very much appreciate.

Hopefully, Pope Francis has written personal notes expressing his regret to all of those who were to perform for him.  That’s what The Motley Monk’s Mom would make him do…“or else, Mister!”



To read the AP report, click on the following link:

To read Sandro Magister’s report, click on the following link:

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  1. Boy, this article rubs me the wrong way. Everyone is entitled to his individual style. If Francis wants to skip a concert, it’s his right. If he had more pressing business, well, the guy runs a 1.2 billion member organization which is, every day since its founding, dealing with crises.

    But more than his style, or his other commitments, there’s the duty we have to be respectful of the man in the office. Even if he were a devil, we would be obligated to hold him close, as he is our sweet Christ on earth (according to St. Catherine of Sienna, who probably dealt with some lousy clerics over the years).

  2. Well, I live in Slobovia, I’ll have you all know, But I’m not overly offended by the jab. We Slobos have gotten used to ill treatment, even our Bishop, and we’re used to the constant dissing of “Slob-over Country” by the media elites.

  3. Either this Pope feels that his station is so exalted that he needn’t trifle with
    public opinion and basic courtesy, or his handlers are so incompetent that they
    don’t realize how bad this looks. Or, his handlers are sabotaging his public
    image by deliberately making him look like an ass. None of these scenarios is
    very good.

    I don’t buy the “it’s his individual style” line. The concert had been planned, like
    almost all papal events, months in advance. It called for the time and effort on
    the part of hundreds of people– some of whom refused other engagements
    to be there. This was one of those occasions where a considerate person
    would at least put in an appearance and withdraw early with profuse apologies
    to all involved. To do otherwise is an insult to the other guests, to the musicians
    who had practiced long hours and travelled far, and to the staff that had wasted
    so much of their time putting the event together as ordered. Mind you, Italy
    is the land of ‘la bella figura’, and deliberate, public disrespect is noticed and
    deeply resented The Pope made no friends that night, and alienated many
    who otherwise want to wish him well.

    The people that the Holy Father must work with in order to implement his
    reforms of the Curia were present at that concert. Getting them on board with
    his program, whatever it will be, just got so much more difficult.

  4. Philip – Once I get investigated by the Dominican leadership, submit myself to the spiritual care of a holy theologian, receive visions, and bear the stigmata, then I may well feel comfortable to critique a pope’s etiquette, although I note that Catherine was still very careful about such things.

  5. “Once I get investigated by the Dominican leadership, submit myself to the spiritual care of a holy theologian, receive visions, and bear the stigmata, then I may well feel comfortable to critique a pope’s etiquette…”

    Go for it Pinky. But I’ll do so now. All men deserve correction. When it comes to clergy, gently and politely. But they need it. Boy, do they need it.

  6. I don’t care who you are, or how important your job is, or what your other priorities may be, or how holy you may otherwise be, there’s just no excuse for being rude.

    This whole affair rubs me the wrong way. Far be it from me to “correct” Christ’s Vicar on earth, but being deferential and respectful doesn’t mean I can’t be rubbed the wrong way by something and say so.

  7. I completely agree. A Pope has the charisms of his office and should be treated with respect. However, even a cursory review of history will reveal that Popes outside of their infallible statements on faith and morals are human just like the rest of us. Which means they can be guilty of boorish behavior on occasion, and not showing up at this concert, unless something very important was afoot, does strike me as a breach of good manners.

  8. The Pope has a lot of responsibility to set the tone and all that. What I think would have been sort of awesome is if he sort of just appeared in the middle of the last movement in one of those boring quiet passages wearing on of those beer bong hats and then said “Sorry I’m late, everybody. But I’m here now. What did I miss? Looks like the fat lady hasn’t even warmed up yet.” Because let’s face it, year of faith notwithstanding, the best part of the 9th is at the end and you can clap just as loud as everyone else then listen to the rest on the old Papal iPod later. Just my opinion.

  9. I’ m for giving him some deference. He knows how to prioritize; He made a judgment call on what commitments he would respond to at that moment. I respect that.

  10. I wonder if anyone checked his calendar first to see if that was a good date for him? Or even asked him if he wanted to attend. The whole thing seems very strange to me, almost like a set up. Why on earth would they put his chair there if they knew he wasn’t coming? I’m not really up on classical music concerts, and maybe comparing it to my daughter’s ballet performances might seem stupid (maybe I’m from Slobovia, too), but if the whole thing isn’t a set up to make the pope seem rude, to a “normal” person with regular responsibilities, the whole thing just sounds like a concert that “popes usually attend, so we’ll just assume Pope Francis will be there.” I can’t imagine that anyone who sent out an invitation & didn’t get an RSVP would set up his chair like that if they didn’t get a positive “Yes, see you then, I can’t wait!”

  11. Perhaps he doesn’t realise that he was being rude.
    I suspect he hasn’t yest grasped that the “trappings” which embarrass him personally (and I don’t blame him) belong to the office. He can say, “I prefer black shoes”, but the _Pope_ wears red shoes.

    I can think of nothing more wonderful than a live performance of the 9th — but who could enjoy it on public display seated on an elevated throne?
    Give the Pope time. His office, and all that goes with it are crosses he will have to bear, unlike the challenge he had to deal with as a Jesuit and an Archbishop.

  12. Perhaps he has a phobia of anything appearing as grand. I mean this as a real mental diagnosis by a novice layman. If you look at his actions and what he says about why he stays in a regular apartment, anything appearing as royal or red carpet treatment to him is like water to a cat. Putting him in that chair would be like forcing someone with a fear of flying onto an international flight unmedicated.

  13. Missy, the concert was sponsored by the Holy See as one of the events marking
    the Year of Faith. In effect, the Pope was the concert’s host, and the other
    attendees were his guests. The concert, like most papal events, had been on
    the calendar for months, and was most likely scheduled even before Francis
    became Pope. He could have cancelled it. He could have given advance notice
    that he would not attend. But instead he chose at the last minute to skip an
    event he was hosting, an event which many people had worked hard to make
    possible and for which I’m sure many guests had put off other engagements
    to attend out of respect for him.

    Would it have killed him to have shown up at the concert he was hosting,
    apologized to his guests, and withdrawn early if he really needed to?

  14. Personally, I think the second movement is underrated.

    I also have a personal ranking of the popes of my lifetime. But I’ve seen what happens to people, even orthodox people, who lose the instinct to kiss the Pope’s ring. I’ve got enough stuff I’m going to spend time in purgatory for (if I’m lucky). And that recent gospel reading about the important man who didn’t wash Jesus’s feet has me terrified.

  15. I would have taken a pass on the “Ode an die Freude.”

    I prefer von Suppe’s “Light Cavalry Overture.”

    But, I am a yahoo.

  16. Pope Francis is not subserviant to the Vatican scheduling. I suspect Pope Francis was with Jesus Christ in the tabernacle, placing all priorities with the Real Presence of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Was Pope Francis consulted about his attendance? If Pope Francis did not comit to the concert he was under no obligation to attend (perhaps he left the chair for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to fill) and he had a right to impress upon his handlers the importance of his authorty to run the Church. Pope Francis had his reasons.
    Pinky: the most terrifying words for me to hear are: “…the faithful, here assembled.”

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