Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Conclave Begins!

This morning, we will pray the Rosary and offer a Holy Hour of Adoration at the parish, at the very hour that the Cardinals in Rome will be chanting the Litany of Saints and entering the conclave. One ballot will be cast this afternoon, then four each day until someone acquires the necessary 2/3 vote. Cut off from the world, the cardinals must make their choice, however long that takes. Cut off from further insider information, we in the world must await their choice, however long that takes.
Meanwhile, speculation continues - not just on who the next pope may be, but about what sort of pope might be best for today's Church in today's world. Last Saturday, The Wall Street Journal's "Saturday Essay" featured the opinions of several voices of the Catholic commentariat. Some - George Weigel on the right, James Carroll on the left - offered predictably ideologically caricatures,  of which, enough said. Others, however, offered some surprisingly interesting suggestions.

Some 30+ years ago, a colleague noted how I seemed to be seriously worried that the world was going awry, while remaining "on the whole somewhat cheerful about it." I was reminded of that by Peggy Noonan's hope for a pope "who can greet the world with a look of pleasure on his face. He should not come forward with the sad, bent posture of one who knows the world is in ruins and only the facades remain. He should be joyous anyway." Noonan recognizes and appreciates the intelelctual caliber and contributions of the last two popes, but her current view is that "for now, in the ruined world, what's needed is a reintroduction of Christ to the rising and post-Christian nations alike, always with an eye to meaning."

Michael Sean Winters wants the next pope "to identify himself more closely with the world's poor." Unfortunately, he couples that with an utterly unnecessary swipe at Pope Benedict's "penchant for elaborate, baroque dress." He acknowledges Pope Benedict's "commitment to the ideal of beauty in the church's liturgy," but believes "a simpler attire can be beautiful too." But in fact it can't - or at least not in our contemporary experience. If the ugliness of recent decades - whether in secular architecture or in "liturgical environment" - has taught us anything, it has highlighted the price we pay - the poor most of all - when we banish beauty from the public square! But, back to his main argument, I think a renewed emphais on "spending time with those whom the rest of the world tends to shun" really would greatly enrich (no pun intended) the pope's ministry - both as Bishop of Rome and as Universal Pastor. I also agree with Winters that "Identifying with the poor would allow the new pope to give visible evidence of Catholicism's deep-seated suspicions of modern consumer capitalism."

Mary Eberstadt of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center makes the conventional case for an assertive doctrinal orthodoxy "that galvanizes the faithful, mints new recruits and succeeds, literally, in reproducing itself." (Personally, I have long thought that Blessed Pope John Paul II's most lasting legacy was the revival of confidence in the Church's message and mission after the spiritually suicidal decade-plus that preceded him.) Eberstadt stresses the link between sound orthodoxy and the health and strength of families. As an aside, she adds an interesting suggestion - "a monastic order dedicated to penance for the sins of the sexual revolution," what she labels "that North Star of modernity." (It is an interesting suggestion, but personally I think the best alternative to the sexual revolution is modern men and women living out their sexuality in the world in more healthy and productive ways than those endorsed by our cultural and media elites.)

Finally, Paul Baumann of Commonweal counterbalances Eberstadt by proposing "a change in tone and a refusal to condemn what it cannot yet understand" and a willingness "to be joyously surprised by what is new."

Genuine joy, coupled with a visible commitment to the poor, and a doctrinal fidelity that undertands why what we believe really is good for the world, while still being able to appreciate and learn from what's actually happening in the world - that's not quite a complete job description, but it certainly makes a good start at one!

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