Peter knew he had denied Christ. The question must have hurt. It would be repeated twice more, each time like a hammer blow on a nail, or the thrust of a spear.
"Feed my sheep."
The final, Luciferian answer is unexpected.
I love you, Lord, but I love my own idea of the Church, the good it can do by raising awareness of worthy causes. I love you Lord, but I confess I love the world more. I am thrilled by the attention. People hang on my every utterance! I am famous for my deeds of humility. Indeed trumpets sound when I bend the knee to an outcast. I wish to smell like the sheep, but I have no interest in feeding them. Indeed, I will not feed your sheep. The sheep are mine, and I will do with them as I please. The Church is mine. When it comes to it, Lord, you will see. The sheep will follow me, whom they can see, even when I do not feed them. They will not follow you, whom they cannot see.
Where is the Church? What is its future? What if there came a time when the Church lies in ruins, and a pope and his prelates thought nothing of twisting the very words of Christ Himself?
Human beings get used to nearly everything. Put them in a jail, and within a couple of weeks they will have made a sort of home for themselves, adapted to the routine, learned the ropes. Catholics have gotten used to homosexual priests molesting adolescent boys, and the string of bankruptcies caused by diocesan settlements. We have gotten used to liturgies that are uninspiring, at best, and travesties at worst. We have gotten used to ugly, modern churches. We have gotten used to heresy: Modernism. We have gotten used to African priests, shipped over because we no longer make priests of our own.
And we are already getting used to a Pope who ignores Church teaching and blurts the first thing that pops into his head when asked about important matters. A pope and bishops who just don't like the Church very much, not as it is. The old liberal dream has traded its radical uniform for clerical garb. We cannot love the Church as it is, they tell us, for it is cruel and old-fashioned. But you can trust us to change all that.
The Church must be more inclusive, more ecumenical, more interfaith, more social justice, more new, more this, more that, anything but more holy, more saving. And by any metric you care to cite, these people are killing out Church.
We have gotten used to so much more than we usually realize, until you sit and think about it. Things are far worse than we ever imagined, even in our darkest mood. If it had all happened in a week, the Bear believes people would have literally died of shock and heartbreak. "Gradualism," and evolution, and a never-ending stream of happy propaganda have spared us the shock, but left us paralyzed by a malaise. We look for the Church in vain.
The Bear wonders if there could ever be a clear -- it would have to be very clear -- choice between Peter and Christ. Some would say no. God would never torture us with such a dilemma.
We can all survive one bad pope. The first step is recognizing that we've got a bad pope on our hands. It will just be more of the same, which is not good, but not fatal. But whatever else Pope Francis has done, he has raised questions. What is non-negotiable? Where do we draw the line? What can we do to, first, survive, and, second, to rebuild a ruined Church? When do look for the Church outside of Rome?
These are the questions that will never get asked on the airplane, that Pope Francis will never get to answer in his usual, careless manner.
The Bear is only a Bear, and does not have the answers. His foot is still nailed to the floor in front of his favorite pew, and he is trying his best to live within the wingspan of his guardian angel. But there's no denying that Church has imploded. It will be remade by whichever group is more determined, although possession of the hollow institutions are a tremendous advantage. How that might work out the Bear doesn't know. But he does know that Pope Francis is all about Pope Francis, and he will not feed the sheep unless there's a television camera on the scene.