As most of you probably know, the pope is in town (DC). I thought I would be fine this morning. I ride the Metro. I'm often late to work, but this morning I caught the train that usually has me signing in on the dot of nine. Today I was eleven minutes late, and for a change it wasn't my fault. The trains were crazy crowded and backed up from here 'til Tuesday.
So I have a confession to make: I don't really like this pope. Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike him either. He's the pope and I respect him as such. Like EG, both God and being Catholic are among the things I like about the universe. Pope John Paul II was pope for most of my life, though, and this pope still feels very much like The New Guy. My pastor was telling me how this pope is older and less charismatic than the last one; he can only have a couple of events scheduled per day. So I would imagine a lot of Catholics share my lukewarm feelings. Then there are those who don't. It's funny to me that so many people are so pope-mad. I read a piece, maybe in the New York Times, about people coming from close to two hours away just to line one of the streets along his route and wait for a glimpse of the pope mobile. It's part of our celebrity mad culture, for which I have little patience.
Reading about Pope Benedict's remarks at the White House yesterday, I felt...fine. The quote I read was, "The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one's deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate." The president, with his usual flare for nuance, said that the pope's U.S. tour was a reminder to "distinguish between simple right and wrong." (AP) I'm not sure that right and wrong are as simple as he would have us believe. I bet some of you aren't either.
So what's so great about being Catholic? Well, it gives you a nice structure and some pretty strong guidelines, but then there comes a point where, to paraphrase the philosopher, the unexamined faith is not worth having. And yet when I went to hear the Archbishop of DC speak last year, he essentially told us that we should accept what the church says because people who know more than I do about the faith devote all their time to thinking about it. I'm not sure that's the way God would see it. Or maybe I'm just an unholy mess of a girl.
Father Andrew Greeley is a Catholic priest, novelist, and sociologist. I've read many of his books. They're not that good, more "okay", but he has some nice characters. The most famous of which are probably Sean Cronin (who, if you read enough books, you follow from the seminary until he becomes cardinal of Chicago) and Blackie Ryan, about whom he wrote a series of detective stories. Both of them appear prominently in the novel White Smoke, a story written circa 1996 about the way the next papal election might play out. Greeley, or course, is about the most liberal priest I know of. His novels tend to have more sex in them than you might expect from a priest. However, the part that stands out about this novel in my mind is the vision he articulates for what the church could be. "[W]e want our Church to be, insofar as we poor humans can make it, a Church of radiant love. Does such a Church have a future? How could it not?"
How indeed. I just hope the faithful can find that love. Starting with me.