Friday, April 20, 2007
Our remarkable pope(s)
I neglected to wish our holy father a happy birthday on Monday; but I am pretty sure he wasn't bothered by my neglect. (It is true someone in Rome occasionally reads my blog; I had assumed it was my brother priests from this diocese, but then again...?!?)
And I am really sorry I didn't remember to offer Mass in thanksgiving for his election, on Thursday; I would have, except I had Mass at a nursing home, so I didn't consult the Ordo, where I usually see such reminders.
Anyway, I write this post as a consequence of reading this article by George Weigel, to which The Catholic Report led me.
Weigel made a point that was striking to me: Pope Benedict "has established himself as a master teacher for the world...." What is striking is that anyone, especially Weigel, would offer such an emphasis in the wake of John Paul the Great, as he (and many of us) call Benedict's predecessor. My point is, weren't we just calling JPII the great teacher, the great theologian? And didn't everyone say, of Benedict, "how can he follow that?"
Thus, we have an astonishing thing: the bookish, shy, quiet, Benedict--who supposedly could never measure up to his predecessor in stature or appeal--is outdrawing the media-star in attendance at general audiences! Did any of Benedict's staunchest fans, before his election, predict any such outcome?
It brings to mind a point I've made many times: we have been blessed in our recent popes.
I know many who would be critical of Pope Paul VI, and though I don't fault my betters too easily, I do scratch my head at some of his judgments--but his bright, shining moment was clearly Humanae Vitae, whose prophetic qualities emerge line by line, writ large upon the events of our time.
Many are critical of Blessed John XXIII, but his legacy stands or falls with the Second Vatican Council; my basic disposition is to be confident in the hand of Providence, which we can't see because we're silly little mortals; and that leads to me to expect that, in time to come, the fruit of that Council will ripen and nourish many.
Of Pius XII, I will say this: it is becoming clearer to many that this was a great, noble and heroic man, hated by the people you most want to be hated by: the Nazis and then the Soviets and Communists -- and it was the latter who authored the smear that is now falling apart. His predecessor, Pius XI, was very much in sync with Pius XII's antagonism to the Nazis and athiest communists; Benedict XV is not a star, but he was a wise voice for peace in the idiotic First World War; yet another prophet those smart people, unfettered by dark, irrational religion, ignored to their terrible cost.
Before them? Pope St. Pius X, who played a decisive role in many matters, in several ways anticipating the liturgical renewal of our times, advanced in turn by Pus XII, and which I suspect will only really come to fruit several decades from now. Before him, Leo XIII, who midwifed the Church's Social Teaching. Before him, Pius IX, the scourge of liberalism--and you can mock him all you like--but here again is a man who may show himself more prophetic--and decisive--in decades to come, if he hasn't already. It's far too late to claim liberalism and its child, modernism, were happy, sunny, innocent movements that the old meanies in Rome slapped down and scapegoated.
And then we come back to John Paul the Great, and Benedict the Surprising.
Many like to say the Church lacks credibility, and they cite "bad popes."
I'd say, that's a very poor argument to make nowadays.
The run of popes for the last 150 years (no offense to those prior, but I don't know much of them) is either a remarkable stretch of way-above-average performance--or if it isn't that much off the norm, then perhaps the "bad popes" refrain is vastly overplayed. (Consider: it got its legs in a huge way in the mass-printed polemics of the Reformation...but that's another story...)