Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Day I Saw the Pope on the Toilet

The Pope and the Pinch

I'll never forget the day I saw the Pope sitting on the toilet.

He was in full papal regalia, having a wonderful time throwing rolls of toilet paper to the crowd as he went by. Then, somebody made the mistake of pinching Red Death, no doubt emboldened by the distraction.

To be fair, Red Death remains very pinchable to this day, and a real redhead must have been irresitible among all the black-haired Sicilian girls, not that they lacked a certain monochromatic leggy charm. Things like a fake pope-on-a-float and getting pinched are just part of quaint Sicilian culture, just as having your arm broken in thee places is part of American culture.

That is what makes cultural exchange so rewarding.

That does not mean Sicily is not a religious place. Every week or two there would a religious procession through our little town on the knees of Mt. Etna, accompanied by the tiny uniformed municipal band from The Godfather. On those nights, there would be fireworks, which the family would watch from the back balcony (the one that overlooked the enclosed area inhabited by cats; not the one over the street where we would buy fresh mozzarella wrapped in green leaves by means of a bucket on a rope).

Among all the differences between Sicily (where we lived) and Bahrain (which I visited a couple of times, courtesy of the U.S. government) the one I remember most was that Sicily had church bells and Manama had muezzins.


Funny the things you remember. The proliferation of posters was another culture shock. No flat vertical surface in our Sicilian town was not layered with posters. Besides the pornographic movie posters our children passed on the way to the asilo, there were the ubiquitous black-lettered death announcements and sometimes political posters.

One had a cute, well-scrubbed girl in jeans. Another a smiling sun. There were Communist-red and Green-green posters. (Maybe the Greens had the smiling sun, now that I think of it, but there were probably the Greens and the Real Greens--50 shades of Green: that's Italy.)

There were way too many political parties by American standards. But since their government was proportional, everybody both got their say and didn't expect much. Not a bad system. Is your thing hunting and fishing? You got yourself a party. Neo-fascist? Make the trains run on time! (Bear in mind, this was in the early 90s, about the time the system was being overhauled.) There was even a famous porn starlet elected to the Italian parliament.

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on Sicilian politics. However, the same people who can make fun of the pope one week and march in a solemn religious procession the next probably hold their beliefs in an easy balance. Perhaps it comes from having your country conquered by someone new every other decade for centuries. In any case, despite invasions, plagues, the Mafia, earthquakes and eruptions of Mt. Etna, Sicilians enjoy life.

Maybe living where you are so frequently reminded that you don't control much makes you focus on the simple pleasures. Everything shuts down for a nap in the afternoon. Everything closes during August for vacation.

You learn to give, so you can receive. We had a padrone--the mayor, who happened to be our landlord--which means we were golden. We were invited to his campanga and his lido. The Bear always suspected he might be asked to "do a small favor," but that day has not yet come. If the road was blocked by a herd of "geep" (we believed them to be an abominable mix of sheep and goats) a couple of cigarettes would get you on your way.

Every job would be done "domani." At first--don't laugh--we believed them. It wasn't that they were lying. That anxious American need to know a deadline probably just didn't compute. "Tomorrow," just meant, "Not today, not six months from now, what do you want from me? Got any cigarettes?"

American culture is all-or-nothing, take-it-or-leave-it. A soccer game might end an a tie, but not a baseball game. Politically, we have our good candidate and the other guy's evil candidate. It's black and white, and thanks to social media, half the country would kill the other half and consider it a mitzvah. Thank God we're all geographically mixed up now, or every day a thousand Ft. Sumpters would bloom.

Which brings me to the real point.

American Binary Intensity

Americans hold opinions with a binary intensity one does not necessarily find in other places in the world, at least those not controlled by ISIS. It is part of our history. Since it also means no American is capable of being argued out of any opinion, the Bear shall not attempt to do so here. He will leave a testament, however, and continue to explore how the internet is making everyone stupid and wicked.

We see the same thing in the controversy over Pope Francis. Maybe if we could get a kick out of seeing a toilet-seated pope-on-a-float without having a stroke, we might have a different perspective.

This is the horrible, heretical truth the Bear believes.

Hierarchy versus Tradition

The Church is a hierarchy. The Church has changed many practices throughout history. There have been popes who were saintly, wicked, foolish and mediocre. We have even had more than one at a time. (Stop snickering.) Wherever we are today, for better or worse, it did not start with Pope Francis, but long ago.

If I believe that Pope Francis is foolish and wish he would isolate himself in a catacomb far from microphones and cameras, that's one thing. However, the establishment of a permanent internet papal opposition party (and there is zero doubt that is what is happening) is a negation of the concept of hierarchy and saps the foundation of the actual Church to replace it with a museum. That, I won't participate in, if this blog's audience dwindles to three people from its current nine.

There's already an Orthodox Church.

Between the concepts of hierarchy and tradition, many have decided the Church is to be found in the latter. In theory, one should not have to choose, and in practice, I suppose it depends on what one considers essential. Everything on this earth is pinched between a very Sicilian Scylla and Charybdis: the ideal and the real, so Bears are not overly troubled by such things.

This Bear believes the Church is not found apart from the hierarchy and the test of time is not always the acid test of truth--truths of the past sometimes being a little too much acid not to burn people.

The internet makes it so easy now. Americans are practical and see things in black and white. The internet has not opened us to infinite viewpoints, it has only further committed us to which of just two (never more!) sides we have already chosen. That is unfortunate in most things, but a clear and present danger to the Church and souls.


  1. Yes, thank you for saying is. It is our responsibility as laity to charitably point out when those in the ecclesial hierarchy, including the whoever the college of Bishops tells us is the Pope, are not behaving in a Christian manner or not preaching the teachings of Christ as determined by said college and said office of Pope. And "charitably point out" might include derision, mockery, and warning people about Hell if they don't get the message, because helping a priest avoid damnation is far more important than sparing his feelings.

    But I get really concerned when I see people damning everything some cleric does or says. That's very twisted. That amounts to a lack of trust in God, which is a grave sin. If Jesus could use even the curses of the demonically possessed to teach His message, who are we to deny that God could use a Bergoglio? If an ordained priest advocates sexual sin in public that is a grave error and scandal, but if that same priest baptizes someone into the Church that baptism still counts. It's as is some Catholics treat Francis as having a reverse Midas effect, as if everything he touches is suspect. That's really unhealthy.

    1. Please identify yourself in some manner when you post here. Thanks!

      As for our responsibility as laymen, that is one thing in the abstract, but when it becomes a permanent lay inquisition--that's really unhealthy. But, that's the internet. No one thinks about the internet, because that is now where live and move and have our being.

      Funny, I seem to remember reading that somewhere else.

    2. Great Bear --

      It might be possible to argue that the "Internet" fosters a sort of peasents' revolt, akin to the 16th century ones,if that is where your thoughts are taking you.

      Anonymous --

      In regards to the "reverse Midas effect", this is result of man being a rational creature. If a man, by words and actions, shows themselves to not be trustworthy, other men will rationally always doubt him.

      Pope Francis has the problem that one cannot take what he says at face value without checking the Catechism, because he has shown by words and actions that he teaches, shall we say, unclearly. It is not to doubt God that one checks the Catechism first, but only a rational course of action.

      But yes, as you said, in so far as Pope Francis, acts as priest and bishop and pope, we trust him because our Faith is in God not Him. But when it comes to other things, then our trust is limited because his own actions rationally cause people to choose that action of limited trust. That people have limited trust of Pope Francis is his fault not the people's fault. That is not a lack of charity on the part of the people.

      Charity is to lay the groundwork that helps an individual who has proven themselves to be untrustworthy to regain being trustworthy.

    3. The trustworthiness or lack thereof of Pope Francis is a fish for others to fry. By the same token, the Bear has nothing against trads. The only thing he is interested in, especially in this context, is whether there are hidden dangers in the collection of media we'll call "new ways of handling information." In his slow way, he will show, yes, social media and blogs and Pope Videos and soundbybtes are all unsuitable for the transmission of thought, and both limit and shape content. The biggest danger is that no one in the Catholic blogosphere, which includes the Pope, seems to even be curious about this. The internet is mostly and engine of provocation-reaction. It is the tool of the partisan, and edged weapon used without a second thought as to its suitability for rational thought or danger to all of us. This is not to say it cannot be useful. Of course it can, but people who use it must take a long hard look at what they're up to. However, I don't see that coming, any more than I expect fish to think about water. The Internet is where we live and move and have our being now.

  2. Thanks Bear. Thanks for the meditation. And Happy Fathers Day to you as you remind us of the Church Fathers.

    1. Happy Fathers Day to you, too, Mike. I had my kids over last night. (Hard to get a clan together what with work schedules, etc.) It was good. One of my nearly 30-year-old twins gave me a tank model for us to put together, since we were always doing stuff like that when they were growing up. My daughter gave me the traditional gift of sardines... seems like that's the only time I get them (and Bears love sardines). It was a really nice time.

  3. What do you get when you cross a bear and an owl? (I don't know, just throwing it out there like toilet paper :) But you Bear are very wise and I am forever grateful to the mug I have that says "Nail your feet..."

    1. You get an Owl Bear, of course, as anyone who has played at least the original Dungeons and Dragons knows! Thank you for the kind words.

  4. Sloth here,

    I'm in the midst of watching a video pitch from Louie Verrechio about a new Trad Newspaper called the "Inquisitor", and at around the 2:41 mark he goes into a Bearish spiel about how a hard-copy paper is necessary to treat topics in sufficient depth. Randy Engel and others are writers for this.

    1. "The Inquisitor," huh? Might the Bear suggest "The Grand Inquisitor?"

      The Bear is glad to see that others recognize the problem. Good content or bad, if Bears wore hats, he would doff his to the return to linear processing, non-interactivity and the lack of an instant scoring system. Not to mention doing things to your brain you will scarcely believe.

  5. Ah, Sicily, and Italy, where rules are seen more as suggestions than absolute commands.

    1. Rules are seen as incitements to subversion! Sicily is really a game, which is why fun-loving Sicilians seem to live so long, or at least you see the old men walking arm in arm in the piazza. Could be the wine, too.

  6. Hi Bear! I'm late reading this, it's been out for awhile. You may think you are talking to the air, but I'm believing you on the effects of using the computer on our brains. In fact I'mm fidning that midsentence I just...
    I'm kidding, kind of. God bless, and a late Happy Father's Day and Happy Fourth to you and all and sundry...I hope you are well, very well. Such a dear.


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