A protestant friend shared with me yesterday that she was riveted by this conclave. She said, “I’m not Catholic. Why do you think I care?”
I think the answer is that, regardless of religious denomination, we are corporately suffering in the early 21st Century from a leaderless world. And it is scary to us because, as Our Lord noted so many times, men are like sheep in their instincts. We run around searching for guidance and someone to shelter us. Doestoevsky’s forever ominous “Grand Inquisitor” gets its power from the very true claim of the evil Archbishop that there is no drive stronger in human nature than the one that would have us turn over our responsibility for our own lives. The desire for shepherding, in the best sense, proceeds from a similar place in us as the perverse desire to abdicate our free will.
This has obvious echoes in the arena of storytelling today, in which the people telling stories to the world seem to have completely lost all sense of the meaning and nature of the hero. Most would probably eschew the notion of hero at all, as if it were now a genre-thing appropriate to comic book movies, and even there we have the new Superman who is a deadbeat dad, and the new Batman, who triumphs by letting the people believe a lie about him. Hollywood couldn’t do To Kill a Mockingbird today without having Atticus Finch be sleeping with his secretary and smoking weed on the side for stress relief. Believing in heroes requires a cessation of cynicism. It requires that self-sacrifice be thought of as a virtue and not as a rather risky personal gamble. How can you sell a “Christ-figure” archetype to a community that no longer believes in Christ?
The consensus of my undergrads recently was that there is no one whom they could all point to as a role model, or even just somebody we could all corporately agree to admire. When I was their age, we were healthily “shamed” into civility by the heroic example of folks like Mother Teresa, Billy Graham and JPII. There is no one right now on the world leadership stage who is not tainted with hypocrisy, self-interest, or falsehood.
So, I think that’s what is at the root of the fascination here. This conclave is a glimmer of hope for a shepherd-less world.