Wednesday, April 20, 2005

New Pope

Originally uploaded by jlyn1267.
I have been following the happenings at Vatican City with interest over the past month. It's an interesting process, a pope dying and being laid to rest and another being chosen. The secrecy, the old customs, the pomp and circumstance. I think of the Sistene Chapel and of red cardinals locking themselves into it. I think of Latin echoing in the walls. The result? Pope Benedict XVI.

I suppose I have mixed feelings about this choice, on some level I don't care. I go about Catholicism in my own way and it doesn't really matter who leads the Catholic Church. But on another, I feel as if good changes can be made with a new man in the high seat - but given Ratzinger's traditionalist ways, it seems as if that's not going to happen. While I don't expect the church to hand out condoms on Sundays, it would be nice if they acknowledged some of the archaicness of the Church in the 21st Century.

On another note, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge how grateful I am for my friend Kelly Anne. Whom else could you call at noon on a Tuesday and have a deep theological discussion? Love ya Kel!


Blogger Chuck Lowry said...

Sweet Mother of God, where to begin? I love you like crazy, Jenn, but I think you are wrong, wrong, wrong about this, and I can't keep my comments to myself, alas.

1. You should not give up on the possibiliy of surprise from Pope Gregory XVI. He was a traditionalist in a job that demanded a traditionalist. He is in a bigger job now, and the wind of the Spirit can blow pretty powerfully. "When you were young, you made yourself ready and went where you wished to go; now that you are old, you reach out your hand, another makes you ready and leads you where you would not wish to go."

2. Still, it is true that the Pope will not hop out of bed one day and decide that abortion is a sacrament, that marriage ought to be a serial adventure, that fidelity within marriage is preferable but certainly not mandatory, that racial and ethnic discrimination are matters of individual conscience and that our obligations to the poor are optional. But if he could, if the entire tradition were embodied in one man, what kind of religion would that be? We all think that King Louis was both arrogant and silly for saying, L'etat, c'est moi. Would it be any different for Pope Benedict XVI to say, Traditio sum ego?

But all of that is beside the point. The Pope must defend the truth of the faith, but it might be more accurate to say not the truth of Catholicism as much as the reality of Catholicism. The reality of Catholicism is most often experienced indirectly and, I must say, poorly, as individual admonitions against extramarital sex or as individual teaching regarding the Immaculate Conception or the Eucharist, or as sometimes simple-minded and otherwise uncontexted exhortations to piety.

Try this, though: try to look at the reality of the Catholic faith as having a two-part grounding, from an anthropological perspective and an historical perspective.

Anthropologically, Catholicism is the religion that corresponds to the nature of the human race. It is the religion above all that recognizes the dualities of the human condition, primarily body and soul, but also hope and despair, right and wrong, joy and sorrow. By confronting the human condition head on, and without flinching, the Church is able to give us the experience and the expectations of our fellow humans. Sometimes I wonder if the impatience and irritation we all from time to time show toward the Church is not, in fact, impatience and irritation toward the human condition in which we find ourselves. And nowhere is the anthropological imperative of Catholicism shown more clearly than in the centerpiece of our faith, the fact that God became man. Now other religions and other traditions tell the stories of gods who come to earth, disgiused often, to live with men, but we believe that in fact God became man. Striking. He did not just come to live among us, He actually became one of us. Lived and died as a man, the son of Mary (Catholics my age are unlikely to forget that element!).

And the anthropological leads right to the second perspective, the historical. Christ, in His human body, is no longer with us. But he has left us the Eucharist, the Mass, not so that we can have some symbolic recollection of His presence here, but so that we can share in and continue His work. It is related that someone once said to Flannery O'Connor that the Eucharist was a beautiful symbol. She replied, "If it's a symbol, I say to hell with it." It is not a symbol but a reality, and participation in that reality makes us share Christ's work: Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you to eat, thirsty and give you to drink, naked and clothe you, sick or in prison and visit you? The mandate of the Eucharist, in its anthropological and historical context, is that we not address the hunger or nakedness or sickness, but we address the human person who is hungry or naked or sick made in the image and likeness of God.

When the Church asks us to attend Mass every week, it is not to bore us with ill-prepared sermons or to hope to get lucky when the collection basket comes around. It is to remind us that we as Catholics are expected to continue and to share in Christ's work of saving the world.

I am a grouchy and ill-tempered and ungenerous man, so I am probably not the person to be making these arguments, but there it is. If you quarrel with some specific doctrinal point or behavioral mandate or religious obligation, try to remember that none of these are in isolation, that they are all part of the Church's attempt to continue Christ's work. That is even more important than the Latin bouncing off the walls of the Sistine Chapel, though I doubt if ant of your other readers love Gregorian Chant quite like I do!

12:34 PM  
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