Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ah, for a Popely Pope

Pope Pius XII: the last of the popely popes.
St. Benedict, in his famous Rule, required each monk to practice the same devotions as all the other monks. It is not because only one devotion is any good. It is because by conforming your will to the Rule and not trying to be the Special Monk, the monastery lives harmoniously, and the roots of pride are dug out.

I am thinking along these lines because it is that time again, time to seek our Abbot's permission for our chosen spiritual reading and mortification For Lent -- our bona opera. (In case you have forgotten, the Bear and his mate are Benedictine oblates: sort of monk wannabes out here enjoying the big wide world, but attached to a particular archabbey.)

The Great Vatican Garage Sale

It must be asked: should any pope cast off the regalia of office, to prefer to call himself "The Bishop of Rome," instead of our "papa" (Pope), and go in for one novelty after another? How about ostentatious displays of humility, and an accessibility that practically guarantees poorly-thought-out answers on important issues?

Have you noticed how once a part of the ceremonial kit is ditched, it never comes back? Can you imagine the press's reaction if Pope Francis' successor was crowned with the papal tiara? Or sat in the sedia gestatorium? Or even wore a mozzetta and red shoes! The horror! Regessing to Benedict XVI! Pius XII! Both of them Hitler's popes! 

Yet everything has its symbolism. All together they set apart the man and the unique and ancient -- Catholics would say divinely ordained -- institution of the papacy. What will be left to us in fifty years if every pope feels obligated to cast something aside as his contribution to a modernized and humble papacy?

At any rate, the spirit of monarchy is gone from the Church. Well, that's good, isn't it? Kings are wicked, like that tyrant King George III, who ate colonial babies three times a day. We got rid of ours 200 years ago and have been living the republican dream ever since. So who cares about monarchy? It's un-modern. That should be enough to dispose of it, right?

Just Who's Papacy Is This, Anyway?

The first thing that bothers me is that the papacy does not belong to any particular pope. When any pope makes a show of changing tradition, it seems to me he is showing a lack of respect for not only his predecessors, but his successors, not to mention the sheep he is charged with feeding. We have a right to graze undisturbed by novelties. (I'm probably kidding myself: likely as not the wandering sheep are eating it up like high clover.)

I hate to say it, but Francis seems always to make it all about Francis. That's an easy thing to do in this age. However, right from the beginning, he chose a unique name, one never before used. Nothing wrong with that per se, but what message was he sending? Benedict had fifteen predecessors with the same name. John XXIII was not only first the name of an antipope, but there were XXII before him. Paul was a sixth. (John-Paul I and II were special cases.)

Francis is the one saint non-Catholics know and like. Perhaps an pearly clue to his plans?

The King Is Dead, Who Cares?

The second thing that bothers me is that the Citizen Bergoglio approach tacitly admits that monarchy itself is discredited. We know better now.  This is the 21st century!

Bur if this is so, why do we have a feast for Christ the King? What does being "Queen of Heaven" mean? Are these just embarrassing Medieval relics that should be quietly taken off the calendar as lacking relevance and resonance? God forbid! Why ape the world, with it's succession of presidents, parties, prime ministers, and strong men? Is the world so irresistibly admirable and washed in success?

Monarchy means something deep that a president or prime minister, or even Secretary General of the United Nations can never possess. The Lord of the Rings is a publishing and film success because it is about the return of the king. That's what Christians are waiting for -- the King to come again in glory! If you don't get the idea of monarchy, there is much in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and later unfolding of apostolic realities you won't get, either.

One suspects Pope Francis imagines all the pomp and circumstance is for him, personally, so the humble thing to do is to resist it. Does he not understand that the more a pope is covered up and encrusted with the Church's past, the less he is Jorge Bergoglio and the more he is Pope Francis? The humblest thing to do is to be swallowed alive by the papacy. The Pope needs that distance, and, frankly, so do we, whether we know or or not. Many even secular roles require dress-up. If I went to court wearing a polo shirt and khaki slacks to demonstrate my humility, the judge would rightly hold me in contempt.

Or perhaps appearing less Catholic is designed to appeal to non-Catholics?

Dumbing Down the Church

How many changes have made under the excuse that we supposedly couldn't understand this, or that wasn't relevant? According to whoever "they" are, we keep getting dumber and dumber, unable to grasp the most basic concepts. Everything is dumbed down, chopped off, and pureed until we can suck it up through a straw. If someone else holds it for us. Our stupidity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Seventy percent of Catholics don't know that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. How far are they poor souls, from being Protestants already?

Similarly, if the pope is seen as just another public figure, or worse, celebrity, it diminishes the office that Jesus Himself established. Before you know it, some silly Bear in the middle of nowhere has the temerity to tell you how to do your job.

Ineffective reformers try to reform the right thing at the wrong time. The world's problem today is not that we're too caught up in pomp and splendor, too enamored of titles. We need not always count the cost of the ointment. A pope once said that a worldly Church "can be a charitable NGO, but not the Church." Christ is indeed King, Mary is Queen of Heaven, and the Church is the Bride!

And the quote is from His Holiness Francis, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God.

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