Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My Papal Wish List

Pope Benedict is resigning, and I'm bummed. So, if I must prepare to relinquish him without the normal rites of mourning and farewell, then I am at least going to give full voice to my heart as to what I want in his successor. This is both "my sharing" and my invitation to you. Speak aloud what you hope for. Post it in the comments or write it your own blog. Splash it as a status update or make a Facebook Note of it. Tweet it with the hashtag #PopeDreams. 

I know this could result in awkward replies. I know some people from the farthest Right or Left may wish wishes quite different from my own. I know some may want a universal return to the Tridentine Mass, and others may want women priests. I can live with them wishing these things. As for myself, I do not have specific "program goals" that I would like to see from Pope Secundus, but rather I have some traits in mind that I would love to see in the next Vicar of Christ. And actually, they all can be found in the popes of the last sixty years. 

First, I want a Pope that can think and write like Pope Benedict does—lucid, structured, humane. He can explain anything and everything Christian, all while avoiding the opposite traps of missing nuance and chasing minutiae.  The only line of the "Papal Resignation" coverage that really burned me came from John Moody's FoxNews Opinion page (who also ridiculously suggested that Benedict's heart was broken that he was never as popular as his predecessor). Comparing their writings, Moody says: 
"Benedict’s first [encyclical] —entitled 'God is Love'— is a caressing, simply worded, logic-based reassurance that our Lord loves us. Yet even his writing about love suffers in comparison with John Paul’s towering, intellectual yet intimate canon of work." 
Sorry, Mr. Moody, you are profoundly off the mark there; you confuse simplicity of style with simplistic thought. Read Called to Communion. Read his Sunday homily at WYD in Cologne. Read paragraphs 44-48 on Purgatory in Spe Salvi (or even just #48) and see his genius: the deep theology, the humane touches, the uncomplicated prose.  

Next, I want a polyglot like John Paul II. I want eloquence not merely of content, but also of voice. Our world is ever-less-inclined to read. So give me a Pope who can speak lots of languages and in near-native accents. Let's hear flawless free-flowing French homilies. The Internet was made for sonorous Spanish soundbites. And frankly, if you can ad-lib in English you can conquer the world—since the English did you the favor of conquering it in the 17th-19th centuries. Today the Church is still moved by John Paul's:
"We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son" 
but we who were at Downsview that day felt it even more keenly and it was humanized for us because the Polish-accented paragraph had begun with "You are young, and the Pope is old..." but then the crowd interrupted, chanting, "The Pope is young! The Pope is young!" at which he looked up, listened for a bit, and then ad-libbed, "Eighty-two or eighty-three years of life is not the same as twenty-two or twenty-three," before looking back down and picking right up with his text, "but the Pope still fully identifies with your hopes and aspirations." In that moment the world had shrunk to the size of a coffeehouse. 

Why must "my Pope" speak well and write well? Because my Pope would keep pushing more and more windows in the Church open like Blessed John XXIII did. All the Popes of the last half century have been open to interact and dialogue with the world, and to use its platforms and its resources. Pope John gave them that vision. John said to the modern world, "Come, let us teach each other a thing or two. Come tell me what you've been up to. Come, science and art and psychology—come show me your successes. Come, and maybe I can leave you with a bit of wisdom in exchange for your time and trouble." John stunned people with his humility, his jovial manner, and his openness. Was Blessed John, as some people think, about to have revolutionaries and skeptics come in to renovate the Church? No. But he may have invited them in to look around and slipped some goodies into their pockets which they might discover on a lonely night when their ideologies had deserted them. Give me yet another Pope who can say "The world is changing swiftly and always asking new questions. So let us ask them too. The truth is nothing at all to be afraid of."

Finally, my fourth ingredient for the next Pope: I want him to have Paul VI's perseverance to carry the Cross. Here I must make a confession: for years I looked down on Pope Paul VI. I saw weakness and maybe a (small m) modernist. I saw him as little more than a testimony to the Holy Spirit's guarantee that in faith and morals the Pope will not teach in error—like weak Liberius before the Arians, like sinful Vigilius with the Monophysites—all I could say was, "Well, at least he didn't utterly collapse." I was a fool. Paul VI stood in the breach when the whole dang civilized world thought him silly and stupid and manipulatable. He knew everyone thought contraception was essential to modernizing the Church. He knew he would be hated. He knew they would laugh at his words. And heck, he did not even have to attempt to overturn any official Church teaching to make them happy; all he had to do was just not speak up. 

But he did speak up. Maybe his voice shook a bit, but he did it—and "the world was not worthy of [him]". Paul VI spent almost all of his papacy watching as the edifices of Christendom seemed to tear themselves down. He must have been haunted on alternating days by doubts that, if only he had been more conservative or progressive, this could have been avoided. He carried that Cross for years. He was willing to—as Galadriel would say—"through the ages of the world fight the long defeat." Benedict's successor will face this too. The road is not getting any more level, and it sure as heck is not a downward grade.  People will think him a fool (as they did of Pope Benedict at Regensburg, which was perhaps the single most important speech of his pontificate), but the new Pope must carry the Cross and persevere. Regardless of whether the next pontiff is much like my first three models, he will certainly have to be like Paul VI.

Some people are interested in the next Pope's color or country. Frankly, I couldn't care less. I know what I want; I've got my Dream Pope. He can write like Benedict and speak like John Paul. He has the open hands of Blessed John and the heart of Paul VI. Is there a cardinal that has all these qualities? Maybe not. Maybe the next Pope has a unique gift that will be a fifth trait that I will also be wishing for the next time I get to I try to cobble together a Successor of St. Peter.

Monday, February 4, 2013

St. Paul's Greatest Hit

St. Paul wrote a lot. He wrote what is the longest single letter we still have from the Greco-Roman era (his Letter to the Romans). And he's kind of famous for what he wrote. 

Nothing he wrote is more famous than Chapter 13 of the First Letter to the Corinthians. You've heard it at probably 70% of the weddings you've attended: "Love is patient, love is kind..." The Catholic Church reads this on the 4th Sunday of the Year (C). And I decided to preach on it.

(If you'd like to download it rather than stream it, click here, and right-click on the "2.9 MB" under "Apple Lossless Audio" in the bottom right corner.)  

This is a pretty basic overview. It's not in-depth on any point. It touches briefly on thoughts from St. Thérèse, Martin Luther (sort of), and J.R.R. Tolkien. It makes fun of Valentine's Day, Milli Vanilli, and myself. And yes, I do a dubious imitation of Alan Jackson singing in it. 

My apologies in advance.