Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Shoes of the Fisherman's Wife are some Jive Ass Slippers

If I recall "The Shoes of the Fisherman" correctly (and I probably don't) Pope Zorba the Quinn reluctantly took up the trappings of Pope, and in what I always thought was far too Protestant a take on the role of the Holy Father, emphasized humility and simplicity and the awesomeness of God, not of a man in a white robe.

Anyway, it struck me at the time as more Protestant than Catholic, since I've never seen a groundswell movement in Catholicism to de-mystify and or even to greatly simplify the pomp and ceremony of the Papal office.  Pope Kiril was too close to a vaguely Protestant figure than a Roman Catholic who rose through the Roman Catholic church to its top position.  It made his appeal too easy, too comfortable, to a non-Roman Catholic audience.  And the idea of giving all the Church's wealth to pay for food for the poor in China (a pre-capitalist China)?  Good luck with that....

I won't go so far as to say Pope Francis is trying to be a revolutionary about such things, or even to increase the popularity of the Papacy, but this is interesting:

It might seem as if Pope Francis is in a bit of denial over his new job as leader of the world’s 1.2-billion Catholics. Or perhaps he’s simply changing the popular idea of what it means to be pope, keeping the no-frills style he cultivated as archbishop of Buenos Aires in ways that may have broad implications for the church.

The world has already seen how Francis has cast aside many trappings of the papacy, refusing to don the red velvet cape Benedict XVI wore for official occasions and keeping the simple, iron-plated pectoral cross he used as bishop and archbishop.

On Thursday, his belief that a pope’s job is to serve the world’s lowliest will be on display when he washes the feet of a dozen young inmates at a juvenile detention center in Rome. Previous popes have celebrated the Holy Thursday ritual, which re-enacts Christ’s washing of his disciples’ feet before his crucifixion, by washing the feet of priests in one of Rome’s most ornate basilicas.
As a fellow Christian who prefers to emphasize the humility of Christ and even the "preferential option for the poor," I cannot but applaud the Pope's actions, especially returning the ancient Good Friday practice to something closer to its historical roots (when kings washed the feet of peasants).  It can't go too far, however.  Pope Francis can't sell off the assets of Vatican City, or disdain the basilica of St. Peter's for a rustic chapel.  Even the steps he has taken have their limits, and if he tries to reduce "the awesomeness, the grandeur and majesty of the papacy" too much, he will face stiff resistance.  It would be resistance he would not overcome, or need to.  One of the problems of humility is that you can't assert it too strongly, or you start betraying your pride in it.

One doesn't, in other words, ascend to such a high position in such a massive institution, without recognizing the responsibilities of the office that have little to do with Christ-like simplicity, and more to do with what is expected of the role.  I hope Pope Francis can navigate these waters:  some are going to complain, eventually, that his humility is self-serving, just as others will complain he is still too grand and ceremonial for a proper representative of Christ.  


  1. It is always rather fascinating to see how a new pope is received. The pattern seems to be messianic hopes, followed by inevitable disappointment (as with many secular leaders). Brings to mind the brief tenure of the last pope who resigned, Celestine V. There was apparently, in the air, an idea that an "angel pope," if elected, would end the corruption of the Church. An ascetic hermit was therefore chosen, from outside the College, whose personal holiness unhappily didn't keep him from becoming a pawn of the Emperor and, needless to add, an ineffective reformer.

    It's funny, though, in your cited article, how the author interprets Francis' reluctance to adopt certain of the ecoutrements of the papacy as somehow being "in denial." In fact it's been kind of a constant thing--the jettisoning of the sedan chair and the triple crown come to mind. The giving up of the papal apartments--I don't know how things are in Europe, but I think many, perhaps most, of the New World "bishop's palaces" have been mothballed. "Prince" doesn't go quite so naturally with "Archbishop" in the Western Hemisphere.

    It's hard to see how Francis can be more unpopular than his predecessor. Benedict cared about theology and liturgy. His great task, as I saw it, was the integration of the teaching of Vatican II into the broader stream of Catholic dogma, accomplished most significantly before his papacy, in his chairing the committee that produced the catechism promulgated by John Paul II.

    It appears that Francis cares more about Catholic social teaching, an emphasis that will, at first, endear him to the popular media. Once it becomes unmistakable, though, that care for the poor doesn't entail the affirmation of the sexual revolution, I imagine the honeymoon will be over. (I noted at a local coffee shop this morning that his face was on the cover of Der Spiegel, described as "the modern reactionary.") We shall see.

  2. The pattern seems to be messianic hopes, followed by inevitable disappointment (as with many secular leaders).

    Pastoral leaders, too, mon frere.

    Once it becomes unmistakable, though, that care for the poor doesn't entail the affirmation of the sexual revolution, I imagine the honeymoon will be over.

    Yup. "Popularity" is both a two-edged sword and a fickle beast. If Francis were inclined toward "liberation theology" and the "preferential option for the poor," he'd be a radical Marxist danger. If he doesn't support abortions and condoms in every backpack, he'll be a hide-bound reactionary out of touch with reality.

    Go and please the world.

  3. There's a bit of a tizzy among conservatives that some of the prisoners whose feet he washed were, gasp!, girls! Which is in violation of one of the laws that Pope Kiril, uh, JPII put in to place, or so I read somewhere.

    No, he's not going to change church teachings on sexuality, yes, that part of what he has to say will be widely ignored by Catholics as they continue to take their own experience into account. Atheists and anti-Catholics will continue to snark on as usual.

    So far as pope, Francis has been OK, certainly better than the movie star (I think the only reason JPII was elected was because of that stupid movie) and his henchman, the reincarnation of the Baroque popes. Francis having been a bishop of a parish in a modern country might make him a more pastoral pope than we've had since the death of the blessed John XXIII. I suspect he might do something to end the priest shortage by allowing married men to be ordained, which would open up things enormously. I think he's a bit less likely to follow hypocrisies like allowing married Anglican priest misogynists to be ordained than the last two really bad popes. But, we'll see.

    No, he won't sell the Vatican to a consortium of computer moguls.