It seems a shame, really. The man hadn’t been pope for two hours when the lefty blogs went (literally) profane and disgraceful (and – of course – adolescent) and the press was hardlining their memes and caricatures of him.
Benedict XVI, it seems, is a relentless and remorseless hard-ass who takes-no-prisoners and wields a clumsy and undiplomatic sword, cutting a path of hard-hearted destruction no matter where he goes, and he will be a disaster for the church, and oppressor of women, gays, people of girth, people of mirth, people with brains, and people without, little puppies, small furry rodents and children he doesn’t like.
Or, something like that.
I have one thing to say to all of this – to all of the breathless ranting from the left and the grim, woe-is-us prognostications of SOME members of the press. It is this:
Fer cryin’ out loud, CHILL OUT.
God, through the Holy Spirit, is NOT DONE WORKING ON THIS MAN – OR FOR THAT MATTER, ANY OF US.
Take a pill, take a breather, take a belt of tequila and consider that maybe, just maybe, the same people who thought they knew everything about John XXIII and were wrong, will think they know everything about Benedict XVI, and they will be wrong, again.
Because for all that we humans dig our little heels in and believe our puny intellects and opinions and stereotypes and memes matter, the truth is this: the Holy Spirit has a way of confounding everyone. All the time. And most people – unless they have personality disorders – do not remain stagnant. They have a way of growing into their jobs, their new life-situations, as circumstances arise.
Remember what my son Buster said: There is nothing you can learn that a smack in the face won’t teach you faster.
I have said several times, and do believe it in my heart, that Ratzinger had such a moment during John Paul the Great’s funeral, when the crowd’s passion and energy spoke to the College of Cardinals. I think it was a smack for the whole College, but Ratzinger’s face was especially poignant and it has remained in my head.
And now, the liberals who are beside themselves have had their own sort of smack in the face. They have been told in no uncertain terms that – for now, and the foreseeable future – their desire to bring the theory of de-construction further into the church, has been stymied.
I don’t know what they actually expected. It has always seemed very odd to me that people would think the Catholic church will suddenly put a finger to the chin and say, “you know, we’ve been all wrong about this stuff, all this time! Abortion is okay! Jesus didn’t really mean it about divorce! That whole thing about marriage being between a man and a woman, why that was just written in by some homophobe or other!”
The Catholic church has a job to do. As the taproot of Christianity, it must be the centering pole of the Big-Tent-Circus-of-Faith that comprises all of the churches. No matter what the mainline Protestant churches do, no matter how they decide to bend with the times and trends, the job of the Catholic church is to keep that centering pole in place. What is true is true, and no amount of spin and euphemism can change very simple facts: Babies are HUMAN LIFE from the moment of conception. A sacramental marriage is one made by mature, sensible people who make VOWS before God, meaning you have to take marriage seriously – as seriously as you can. In order to be a theologian representing the church, you DO have to believe in things like the Resurrection!
To suddenly swerve away from those truths would be like snatching the centering pole from the tent. The whole thing collapses.
The other part of the Church’s job, and the means by which it can help that centering pole stay erect, is to issue an invitation to all people to “open wide the doors to Christ,” to “cast your nets into the deep,” and to “be not afraid.”
Yes, I know, those are three things JPtG is famous for saying, as he fished and attempted to reel in those who were simply following slipstreams and currents. He was a wonderful fisherman.
But John Paul understood, as does this new pope, that it’s not enough to simply invite. Once you invite in, you have to explain what the club is about, and what the rules are. The Church has a duty to make the invitation to people, “come, and meet Christ…” but it also has a duty to preach the Gospel in full, which means that you can’t simply tell the part about Jesus loving you and forgiving you, without also telling the part where he says, “go and sin no more,” or when he says, “go and show yourself to the priest and cleanse yourself as Moses prescribed.”
Jesus was pretty clear: it’s in the rubrics and liturgy, and yes, authority does matter – go do it. And sin no more.
To invite people into a Church, to meet Christ, without telling them what is expected of them is incredibly unfair – sinfully unfair and wrong and irresponsible. To tell that Christ is Merciful without mentioning that He is also Just – that’s half the story, and it’s like selling someone a new car without an engine. The pope MUST, in fairness, tell people the whole story, or he is not doing his job.
And so it is the job of the Church to invite, to instruct, to create boundaries and guidelines, to admonish and to enforce and to discipline and to love. It is the job of the pope to see to all of this.
Rather like trying to parent a billion or so kids in various stages of development.
It is an enormous job, one that (as with all parenting) cannot be done well without supernatural help. The help will come, and if the pope is faithful, the job will get done.
John Paul II was a remarkable man, but the John Paul that ended his pontificate was not the John Paul who began it. And that will be true of Benedict XVI, as well.
This is an interesting article by the tireless John Allen. An excerpt:
Ratzinger has also said on many occasions that the church of the future may have to be smaller to remain faithful, referring to Christianity’s short-term destiny as constituting a “creative minority.” He has also used the image of the “mustard seed,” suggesting a smaller presence that nevertheless carries the capacity for future growth as long as it remains true to itself.
In a world full of capitalists who think only bigger is better, and other people who think that the most important thing in the world is “to be liked,” that is an incomprehensible idea. A smaller church? Isn’t that going backward? You mean, like, a schism?
Well, yes. Possibly. A larger church that has its heat diluted until it is lukewarm is not pleasing to God. Christ says in Revelation “because you are lukewarm, I vomit you from my mouth…”
It is entirely possible that Benedict’s papacy will be one of surprising and unexpected healing – as I said, the Holy Spirit is not done working on the new pope, and he is a man of considerable gifts, which means he has considerable potential. And by all accounts he is a man who listens and prays.
Laurie Goodstein, a very good writer with the NY Times, gives us this:
In recent years, as John Paul grew more and more debilitated by Parkinson’s disease and old age, Cardinal Ratzinger increasingly became the power behind the throne. Bishops from every country who visit the Vatican on their regular visits spent more time with him than they did with the pope, according to cardinals and Vatican staff.
It may have been this familiarity that led the cardinals to turn to Cardinal Ratzinger as their anchor in this time of transition. The Rev. Joseph Augustine Di Noia, an American priest who serves as under secretary at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told reporters last week that he often observed the cardinal listening intently to bishops on their visits presenting him with all kinds of conundrums on how to apply the faith in their countries. Cardinal Ratzinger would respond with “remarkable profundity” and “distinctions that are immediately illuminating,” Father Di Noia said.
Hmmmm…doesn’t sound too rabid, irrational, unreasonable and destructive to me.
Joseph Ratzinger has taken the name of Benedict, Father of Western Monasticism, Abbot and a Patron Saint of Europe, and a powerful intercessor against evil and malice. Benedict as Abbot, was a “father,” a writer and a teacher. It is possible, that Benedict XVI will bring many people back into the church, just as Benedict brought so many to prayer and service.
But that first Benedict was not one to put up with unreasonable or unmoveable dissent, either. Such monks would not stay forever in his community.
It may be the same with this Benedict. Perhaps he will preside over the church in a time of schism, where the progressive factions, fed up with waiting for Rome to do what it demands, finally break away, taking all of its boomer-aged dissenters and a good number of poorly-catechised and/or disgruntled Catholics with them. Those folks, seeing no difference in sacramentals and ignorant of other distinctions, will shrug their shoulders and say, “this church is EASIER,” or “more tolerant,” or “less narrow.”
Jesus did say the path was a narrow one, but we’ll put that aside for now.
In this schism scenario, you might even see a few bishops – men who are flattered by the praise of the press and happy to be thought of as mavericks or visionaries, or who sincerely believe in the progressive ideas, or who simply want to be on the cover of TIME, leave and take their properties with them.
And then you’d see the Roman church smaller, but more fervent, more on fire, less diluted, no longer lukewarm.
My point is: no one KNOWS what the Holy Spirit is up to. All of this breathless carrying on by the press is unseemly.
The Holy Spirit is working. Let it work. Relax. Say a few prayers and have a glass of wine. Go take a walk. Go pet the dog.
And maybe consider giving Benedict XVI at LEAST the same benefit of a doubt you would want for yourself, were you put into a job for which others thought you unsuited.
In other words: take Jesus’ advice and apply a little Golden Rule to the bruised ideologies and egos, folks.
Or, if you’d rather, take Atticus Finch’s advice and try walking a mile in his papal slippers.
James Lileks is also wondering what people actually expected:
Choose a cardinal who issues a homily titled “On the Need to Gas Grandpa When He Starts Crapping Himself” – I’m sure it would sound better in Latin – and this might have an impact on the society where I hope to find myself in 30 years. The selection of Ratzinger was initially heartening, simply because he made the right people apoplectic. I’m still astonished that some can see a conservative elevated to the papacy and think: a man of tradition? As Pope? How could this be? As if there this was some golden moment that would usher in the age of married priests who shuttle between blessing third-trimester abortions and giving last rites to someone who’s about to have the chemical pillow put over his face. At the risk of sounding sacreligious: it’s the Catholic Church, for Christ’s sake! You’re not going to get someone who wants to strip off all the Baroque ornamentation of St. Peter’s and replace them with IKEA wine racks, okay?
UPDATE: Captain Ed is taking particular issue with the Washington Posts disingenuous editorial this morning.