Black Smoke and the Borgias

Image via Patrick Hertzog/AFP/Getty Images

Black smoke yesterday, black smoke today. Not time to get concerned by a long shot, but some people are getting anxious.

In the past weeks since Benedict announced his resignation, I have seen no shortage of articles and blog posts about the terrible abuses of power in the Vatican. The secular side is appalled by the male hierarchy, the sexual abuse scandal, and the continued stance against contraception, among others. The religious side, particularly those faithful Catholics to whom this conclave matters a great deal, are anguished by reports of a powerful homosexual lobby amongst the higher-ups in the Vatican, or a concentration of power in the hands of the “liberals”, or the election of a cardinal who has failed to take swift and decisive action against priests who have sexually abused children.

Before I was a Catholic, I would have watched this conclave and read those articles with fervor, collecting yet more evidence in my mind for why this Church was a wretched blight on the face of Christianity. “Nothing changes,” I would have muttered. “From the Crusades and the Inquisition to the Borgias and the sexual abuse scandal, the Catholic Church is full of corruption and lies. It’s an embarrassment to the name of Christ.”

This time I read the articles reluctantly, and with sadness. I have no doubt that much, and maybe most, of what has been alleged is true. And yet, I’m not watching that stove-pipe chimney with anxiety, biting my nails and praying desperately that God will save the good bishops from the hands of the evil ones. I’m praying for guidance and goodness, yes, but with a peace that is surprising to me. I think it’s because, while watching this conclave and reading those articles, I’m saying to myself, “Nothing changes. From the Crusades and the Inquisition to the Borgias and the sexual abuse scandal, the Church is full of corruption and lies. That’s why she is a testament to Christ-because she endures still, and still among her ranks saints raise their voices along with sinners, praising God and proclaiming Truth.”

Deceit and manipulation, politics and intrigue…these things will exist forever, any place there is also power, which is everywhere. For a long time I was convinced that if I could just find the right place, the right church, the right kind of people, I’d be able to trust everyone and wouldn’t have to search their words for double meanings or veiled threats. But I know now that on this earth, there will never be such a place. The only thing to do is to stick with the truth and with Christ, even if the Church he left us is almost as full of darkness as it is light. Because in spite of all that darkness, the light still shines. The darkness cannot prevail against it. No matter when we see white smoke and whose coming it heralds, the Church will remain, as she always has, good, beautiful, and true.

Let nothing disturb thee,

nothing affright thee;
all things are passing,
God never changeth!
Patient endurance attaineth to all things;
who God possesseth
in nothing is wanting;
alone God sufficeth.

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