Who Was That Masked Man?

Pope Francis waves to crowds as he arrives to his inauguration mass on 19 March 2013.Well, he doesn’t wear a mask, but he wears a white cossack. Along with the other wardrobe symbols of the papacy of Rome,  they denominate him as Pontiff. Yet, he is so much more than the God’s representative on Earth. He is a man and he has his own ideas.

It is often said that many a president has nominated and had confirmed a supreme court justice who later turned out to be quite a bit different than was anticipated. That certainly happened where Dwight David Eisenhower and Earl Warren were concerned. Eisenhower became quite unhappy with the liberal turn of the Chief Justice. Similarly, after Chief Justice Roberts became the deciding vote that upheld “Obamacare” many a Republican rued the day that Bush selected him for the top job.

One wonders are some cardinals (so many of whom are arch conservatives chosen by JPII and his successor Benedict XVI to continue the conservative imprimatur they put in place, now wondering what they have wrought in the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio to St. Peter’s Chair. Surely I am in no position to know.

But many on the outside are scratching their collective heads and wondering just who this man is. He was thought to be  fairly conservative from a doctrinal point of view, with great humility and great concern for the poor. Yet, today, he is at least giving reason for those Progressive Catholics to hope that change may be in the air. It seems that every few weeks he grants another interview and says tantalizing things that suggest that he is rethinking things thought by conservative Catholics to be set in stone.

As I said, I am no one to reach a conclusion on these issues. I find it unlikely that there will be a major change in doctrine, but I could see that Francis might adopt the position that it is wrong to deny the full sacramental life of the church to those who are in “dissent”, being practicing homosexuals, divorced and remarried, those seeking contraceptive care and so forth. That would be the most I believe we could expect.

I am told, certainly by the ultra conservative Catholics, that no such thing will happen, and they are ruthless in pointing out emphatically that this Pope is offering no light at the end of the tunnel as it were, but merely the victim of “poor word choice”. Such poor choosing of words seems, alas to happen again and again, and the rising frantic denials of the uber Right suggest that they are pretty darn scared that change of some sort is coming.

Several, in fact, on the very conservative “Catholic Answers” admit to being “troubled” and “uneasy” with this Pope. They tell each other, that all the “other” Catholics will surely misinterpret the interviews and think it’s now “alright to abort babies” and use birth control. They, of course, being so much wiser and capable in dissecting papal announcements are very sure that no such encouragement is warranted.

I don’t know, and time will tell.

I have thought  that at the very least this Pope is telling his fellow priests to stop beating up on people for their sins and start helping them to be more loving Christians. After all, what is confessed is not grounds for denial of Eucharist unless the sinner is open and public in their sin. Few are. Perhaps we are headed for a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the RCC.

In any event, I haven’t seriously thought about going back. That is not because I’m waiting for a more explicit statement, but rather that more and more, I find organized religion to be a hornet’s nest in every direction. It seems that almost everywhere I look, I find dissension within churches and within congregations. Some if it pains me deeply. I have no desire to become embroiled and I have found being a “backbencher” a detachment that doesn’t work either.

So I remain outside.

Yet, I continue to feel a vitality in that.

People call themselves, “spiritual but not religious”. I have never cared much for that self-designation and have considered that most who use it aren’t much of anything. Basically I have seen them as people who rarely think about God, and have a knee-jerk “of course I believe in God” reaction when asked. Beyond that, they are too busy.

That surely is not fair, although it may fairly define a good many people. Yet many people are spiritual but like me find religiosity increasingly confining and unfulfilling. I have heard a new term and I rather like it. It’s called being a “spiritual creative”.

What this means, at least to me, is that one picks and chooses those practices, rituals, and behaviors from a broad range of varying religious traditions. One feeds oneself with those things that seem to help create a God-space within which a loving God can move within, helping one be shaped to His will. In other words, I have become a jack-of-all-religions. Well, not all, really, but I draw from different traditions. I may, for instance decide to combine lectionary readings every day, with meditation, praying at set times during the day, practicing mindfulness, reading spiritual books or deeper thoelogical and scholarly writings. I might celebrate other holy days that only Christian ones. I might include service to community as part of a spiritual practice. The list is as endless as are the rituals and practices of all the faith systems of the world.

This makes for some exciting possibilities, and plenty of dead ends I suspect.

But after all, it is the journey that counts, right?

Blessings, Amen.

It is worth your while to read the wonderful interview conducted by the Jesuits with His Holiness. You can find it here.

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