Friday, March 22, 2013

Is The Pope Catholic?

I have discussed before that I am not a sterling example of Catholicism. During my daughter's recent tour of our church to get her prepared for her Holy Communion (a building she visits frequently and, considering I send her to the attached Catholic school, could have been visited during school hours), I found myself pondering the inanities of my religion. Never is it more clear that we really do suspend disbelief than when the priest held the host and made sure to let the kids know that it was just bread until it was blessed, after which, it becomes the blessed body of Christ.

To be clear, a man dressed in long flowing robes mutters an incantation in a foreign language while waving his hands in a specific way, thus transmogrifying one object into another. Yet, we happily burned witches back in the day. It really does baffle the mind.
Anyway, as always, I am not a good Catholic. But as I recently told a friend, I am as much Catholic as I am Caucasian. It's a part of who I am and I cannot change it. I can mock it, yes, but I do so in the form of trying to understand it.

Which brings me to the pope. I am fascinated by the idea of conclave. Locking a bunch of important people in a room together and not letting them out until they have reached a decision is brilliant. Imagine how quickly Congress would work if they couldn't all fly home every weekend? I love that they send the important information of whether a pope has been chose via smoke signal. It is so deliciously old school. I also like the thought of little old men fussing around a fireplace, trying to get it to light.
The white smoke signal was released when my daughter was still in school. She came tearing out, yelling that we had to get home right away to see who was the new pope. Similar scenes were being enacted all over the schoolyard. It seems the kids had been watching the news indoors and couldn't wait to see what happened next. I put her in front of CNN, then I folded clothes in front of BBC News, a channel I have found chatters less but imparts more information. Lo and behold, our new pope was announced. In the rush and clamor to give us a description of the man who is one step removed from Christ himself, the best they could give us was that he was a humble man.

Humble? HUMBLE? What does that mean, exactly? At it turns out, humble means that he actually pays his own bills. He carries his own luggage. He prefers to ride public buses rather than private cars. He likes to kiss babies and mingle. He stood for his first holy (televised) blessing in a basic white robe instead of sitting in a throne, bejeweled and bedecked in sparkling diamonds.
Basically, to paraphrase Wil Wheaton, he's not a dick.

This, apparently, is his crowning achievement. I've read several stories about him in the past week and have learned little to nothing more about him. He's from Argentina. He is a Jesuit. I could get more information off of LinkedIn than I am getting from Time magazine. All everyone can talk about is the fact that he prefers an open-aired Jeep to the Pope-Mobile (seriously, who wouldn't) and keeps asking people to pray for him instead of the other way around. Why this tickles peoples fancies is beyond me. Hello! There is God, then there is the Pope. In terms of the business of Catholic INC., he's the CEO to God's Chairman of the Board. Why is HE asking for prayers? There is no on earth with a more direct pipeline to God. In fact, the phrase, from your mouth to God's ears is technically true when discussing Pope Francis. One good prayer from him should make you solid with the Lord for the rest of your earthly life, whereas a million prayers from the great unwashed are really nothing more than a general din, like a chant in the background of a football game. P-O-P-E Pope!
Is this how far the Catholic church has fallen? We break our arms patting ourselves on the back because the new pope isn't a dick? Years ago, while enjoying a nice relaxing lunch on Boston Common, I was approached by a bible thumper who asked me if I had taken Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. I replied yes, I'm Catholic, then went back to my book. His next question was if I was a good Christian. I thought that was covered by me being Catholic, said as much, and though he seemed confused, he did move away to bother someone else. I realized later than being a good Christian is not seen as being a good Catholic. Being a good Christian means being, in general, a good person. When someone says, that was a Christian thing to do, they mean that it was generous, kind, and thoughtful. Being a good Catholic, on the other hand, is a whole different ballgame and means that you deny homosexuality and women's rights and look the other way when priests diddle little boys. I spend a lot of time defending my faith instead of extolling it.

So, is the pope Catholic? I'm sure he is. The better question is, do we want him to be?