Friday, October 11, 2013

What do you think of the new Pope?

Dear Rev. Know it all

So, what do you think of the new Pope?

Shirley U. Geste

Dear Ms. Geste,

I am often asked this question, and my answer is not nearly as intriguing as the question itself. Are you asking what I think, or are you hoping that I will agree with what you think? 

First, an answer. He seems like a nice guy. I was impressed by the look on his face when he came out on the balcony in his white cassock and zuchetto. His “deer in the headlights look” said, “What have I gotten myself into?” This was good. It was honest. Also, I like what he has said so far. He hasn’t said anything a regular parish priest wouldn’t say. He hasn’t said anything I wouldn’t say and haven’t said. He thinks you should be respectful and kind to everyone, no matter their issues or attractions. Parish priests are in the business of welcoming sinners, because they are sinners. 

A friend of mine who rose to some prominence in the Church had to travel to Rome for a meeting with the Blessed John Paul and (then) Cardinal Ratzinger. He said that the two nicest guys he met in Rome were John Paul and Joseph Ratzinger. They were so interested in what he had to say that they invited him back for breakfast. They wanted to hear more about his ideas. I got the impression they were the kind of guys you’d go bowling with on a Friday night. I have this impression of Pope Francis. If we were pastors in the same diocese, I might try to sit near him in the back of the hall if I arrived late at meetings. And in his kindness and compassion, he would probably even laugh at my jokes.  I like his driving a Focus, it’s what I drive. Good on gas. I like that he cooked for himself and did his own laundry. I do that, and so do most priests I know.

But I worry, too. I worry about his living at St. Martha’s instead of the papal apartments. I worry about his having breakfast in the cafeteria. These are not necessarily humble things to do. They are simple things, but not necessarily humble. The papal apartments are probably about as comfortable as a fish bowl. I doubt there is a Lazyboy recliner in them as far as the eye can see. Above all, I suspect the papal apartments are lonely. Lord knows what ghosts linger there. 

In the cafeteria at St. Martha’s you probably get to pick what you want for breakfast instead having a doting staff tell you what you want. There is a perfectly good reason for worrying about the new pope’s choice of breakfast venue. It’s hard to fire someone with whom you have breakfast. 

Perhaps I am confused about this but, one of Pope Francis’ appointments seems to have been someone who did a good job as a manager at the Casa St. Marta. The Holy Father  appointed him to assist in the cleanup of the Vatican Bank. However, there are credible stories that years ago, the fellow in question had a reputation for hanging around in some very unfortunate places and had in fact been beaten up by some very interesting people. 

When he made this appointment, Pope Francis had no idea that the priest in question had such an interesting past. When asked about the matter the new pope assured us that the fellow was a good man, and that was long ago and who was he to judge?   

This is my worry. Having breakfast with someone may not be the best way to vet him for high positions in one’s reformist regime. Maybe Pope Francis should get use to eating his grapefruit and granola in the cold and lonely splendor of the papal apartments.

So, what do I think about the new pope? I like the guy. I agree with him and I am delighted by the response of the world to him... mostly. What I think of your question is the more interesting matter. History and Heaven will judge the new pope, and that will take a century or so. I suspect Heaven’s judgment will be quite favorable. 

The Lord is kind and merciful. He is full of compassion and laughter, and by the time history’s decision is made, you and I will not be much interested in history. So what you and I think of the pope isn’t really very important. He is the pope, and I am a Catholic who trusts Heaven’s wisdom, despite the human foibles of those who do the choosing. “I believe in one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church.”

I don’t believe in the press and the lights of our modern culture. I cannot help but wonder why they so love the man. I have heard so many people say  they like the way the new pope looks. The old one didn’t look as friendly. The other guy was German as I am -- at least in my ethnic background. There is a type of German whose smile makes it look like they are trying bravely to endure a medical procedure. They look  pained, not happy, when they smile. It can be scary. 

However, the way a person looks is far more important to our deep-as-a-puddle culture than the way he actually is. Hollywood stars of a certain age have had so much work done that they look paralyzed from the neck up. Their faces are frozen in a kind of permanent grin. They are caked with so much makeup that they leave little work for the embalmers as they prepare for the not too distant funeral, but we say, “they look so good for their age”.  To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, the devil wants us to look and feel good. Heaven wants us to be good.

The compassion of Pope Francis is a good and healing thing, even when it appears that he is winking at certain behaviors, even though he is not. The pope emeritus was also a man of tremendous compassion. I have heard a story that I think true about the pope emeritus that may surprise you. There is a certain theologian for whom the new pope seems to have a great respect. He has often been at loggerheads with reactionaries like myself. It is rumored that years ago when Pope Benedict was still Cardinal Ratzinger, he was visiting a famous German school of theology at the same time as the aforementioned theologian. Ratzinger, a.k.a. God’s Rottweiler, summoned the fellow, who thought, “Here it comes. He is going to lower the boom in person!” Quite the contrary. Cardinal Ratzinger let the theologian know that someone was about to be appointed bishop of his diocese who greatly disagreed with the theologian. Ratzinger suggested that the he join a religious order to protect his priestly faculties, which the theologian aforementioned promptly did. 

If the story is true, Ratzinger protected someone with whom he disagreed out of respect for the man’s intellectual honesty and his priesthood. I heard the story from a well placed source, not from the press. It was not something the press would bother to report because the press is uninterested. Ratzinger isn’t much of a looker. The press fails to comment on Pope Francis’ powerful denunciation of abortion, his clear stand on the ordination of women and women’s sacred role as mothers and his very traditional piety, Rosary, Eucharistic adoration and all! The appointment of someone from breakfast at St. Marta’s was dropped by the press like a rotting cantaloupe.  They are in love with a man who doesn’t exist.

The current occupant of the throne of St. Peter is far more complex than the air-heads of the media can comprehend. All that hair spray has addled their wits, I’m afraid. The pope is doing his best to renew dialogue with all people of good will. I worry that the vultures of the press will swoop down to pick the carcass clean as soon as they have a slow news day. 

Personally, I would worry if Chris Rock, Jane Fonda and Sir Elton John had nice things to say about me, but I think the new pope is a better man than I and he may just succeed in reaching the members of the Mediacracy

God bless him for trying. Underneath all that hair spray and the layers of makeup, the Holy Father has reminded us, and them, that they do have souls.

Yours as ever,
The Rev. Know it all

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Father, for what is one of the calmest and most realistic assessments or our new pope I have read. I realize that he has said nothing in conflict with Church teaching, yet I worry that his sound bites are so easily misconstrued and worse, misused. I could wish he would focus more on the hard teachings which are needed. Or perhaps I wish that simply because I recognize how badly I need such hard teachings. However, he has his own approach, and when I read something which raises doubt, I turn to the Catechism, and so far, I have always found that his comments are Church teaching, albeit with the hard elements removed. God knows my own faults are many, and God knows I would never wish to wear the mantle Francis now wears. As you have said, God bless him for trying.