I went out to the grocery store this evening, as I was sick of dorm food and had a sudden urge to bring back the old practice of not eating meat on any Friday (read: I felt like pizza). I had completed my rounds of the market, and spied the latest issue of Newsmax, actually (I earlier slanderously attributed this to Newsweek, as I picked it up from in between Time and USNews) on the magazine stands. And sure if it wasn't our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI gracing the cover, and in some fine new duds, too. My critique of these is as follows:
PURTY!! For the most part. I really do enjoy the copious use of the cope (I know, I crack myself up), and the one he had on was elegant, if somewhat plainer. I liked the floral paneling on either side of the ends. His pectoral cross is also lovely, but I couldn't get a good look at it. The mitre was a different story. This particular one was perhaps a bit too evocative of a wicker basket. Msgr. Marini will no doubt soon put that one on the block, though. His Holiness also carried the late John Paul the Great's crozier. I've always had mixed feelings about it; for one, I think it has become so strongly identified with JPII (requiescat in pace) that perhaps it should've been retired, much in the way that you would retire a really great player's number. I know that's an awful analogy to use, but that's just me. There are aesthetic concerns, too, however. For one, the crozier seems to emphasize suffering and brokenness; while these were critical themes for the last years of John Paul the Great's pontificate, it may be argued that they ought not to be constant themes. There is a seemingly postmodern style of distortion in that particular crozier, too, whereby the arms of the Cross seem weighed down and warped. Now, there is definitely some heavy symbolism in there, but I'm not certain I agree with it all. But, both men were/are my shepherds and far wiser than me; beyond aesthetics, I don't have much right to criticize their pastoral accoutrements and sense of symbolism.
Anywho, to the meat (somewhat stringy) of the article. They tried. Boy, they really tried.
Maybe they didn't. But if they did, they didn't quite make it. I should explain: from a journalistic source, what I had expected from the article was an introduction to Pope Benedict as a theologian, cardinal, and now Pope, an analysis of the state of the Church in the US and perhaps in the world, and a survey of knowledgeable folks reading the tea leaves as to what His Holiness will say when he visits our far shores. To be sure, this is what the article promises to give, or at least pretends to give.
To get the fun stuff out of the way, the poor mag decided to give voice to two perennially reasonable, reliable, and pleasant human beings: Maureen Dowd and Andrew Sullivan. And they were billed as Catholics to boot. David Gibson was also quoted as having predicted that His Holiness will not make any significant, controversial pronouncements, and that "He'll just say: 'Pray harder'." Now while this elicited a chuckle, it left you waiting for the other shoe to drop. For anyone with their head plugged into Catholicism at all, this prediction looks a little more sensible than saying "World War II didn't really change anything." From their silence, one is almost tempted to conclude that Newsmax is in accord. A qualification of this statement, at the very least, was wanting. But on to the goods. So the Sullivan bum was quoted as bleating, in reference to His Holiness' election "The swiftness of the decision and the polarizing nature of this selection foretell a coming civil war within Catholicism. The space for dissidence, previously tiny, is now extinct. And the attack on individual political freedom is just beginning." When asked for a comment on this position, Chicken Little wholeheartedly concurred with Sullivan's shrill analysis. I have to ask: is this guy still waiting for the Swiss Guards to knock down his door and make him into the main event at the luau in the village square? For someone who whines so much about the shrinking of the space for dissent, any reasonable person must demand of him: "And what consequences have you suffered for your dissent in this piece?" And one must also wonder how important this dissent is to Sullivan, a fellow whose Catholicism can best be described as confused and inconsistent.
And then we heard from one of my favorite harpies, Maureen Dowd. She's the sort of person who, upon opening her mouth, proves time and again that she should, at all costs, be prevented from opening her mouth. (Yes, I am fully aware that the very notion that a person ought simply to shaddup is enough to send her ilk into a towering rage; which is, consequently, why it's so darned fun) Her take on His Holiness: the Pope is "a hidebound archconservative who ran the office that used to be called the Inquisition and who once belong to the Hitler Youth". Isn't she lovely, folks? I doubt the irony has occurred to her over how hidebound it must seem for her to categorize anyone to the right of V.I. Lenin in the same terms verbatim, but that's just me. Let's break that down, though: "hidebound archconservative"- doubtful, given the modification of some of his views from before the Second Vatican Council. I think that it's pretty clear that His Holiness is willing to look critically at his own thinking in ways Maureen Dud could only ever dream of. He is a highly insightful and thoughtful theologian. As for "the office that used to be called the Inquisition", well, that's fine... but it ain't anymore. As a matter of fact, it hasn't been called that formally for a century- this year in fact. But making an argument against a man based on the former name of the place in which he works is.... well, something Maureen Dowd would do. And in true harpy fashion, she pulls out the same old low-blow chestnut: the Hitler Youth. Forgot that that was compulsory for every German citizen, Dowd? But I assume, perhaps incorrectly, that she doesn't know otherwise.
All right, so those are some of the miscreants through the article; but some great folks get a nod, too. Fr. Fessio is mentioned quite prominently, and we all like him. Sandro Magister also makes it in, even if Newsmax tries to disagree with him. Fr. Neuhaus of First Things is quoted once or twice as well, even if that's not enough. But it's nice to see names you know in stuff like this.
What I found interesting about the whole article was the epiphany it granted to me about the nature of Catholicism in America. I should qualify this by pointing out that this is my interpretation, which I take to be representative of a wider current in American Catholicism. This may prove quite illegitimate; I am not exactly the best candidate here. I love the Usus Antiquior, love the Latin language, am as theologically orthodox as I know how to be, and am discerning a vocation to the priesthood.
That said, what I am referring to is the controversial statement of the CDF in 2004 regarding the distribution of Communion to Catholics who stood for policies which outright attacked Christian and Catholic principles. Even now, I remember my initial (gleeful) response: What a shot across the bow to the liberals! Woohoo! And to be sure, many newspapers and blogs made a lot of it. For one, we all immediately thought one thing: John Kerry. And from that, the two camps were divided in applauding the statement or berating the Pope for interfering in the way people vote.
What I realized afterwards was that, while I agreed His Holiness and still do, I was only looking at the small picture. Like most American Catholics, I think, I conceived the address in terms of its immediate political significance and its direction towards the Presidential election. This, then, is what I think is an identifying characteristic of the Church in America: to a large extent, it is inextricably linked to politics, and, for all the clamor to sever this link, there is no sign that that will happen (or that those who claim to desire such a thing actually want to see it happen). I saw the document as a big ecclesiastical bull's eye painted on Kerry's backside, but I missed His Holiness' subtlety.
I have said it before in this blog, Pope Benedict XVI is a very clever man, with an impeccable sense of timing. He knows not only what to say and how to say it, but also when to say it. And so his famous address at Regensburg ruffled quite a few feathers- but did the reaction not prove his point, to a large extent? And was it not confirmed quite visibly by the reaction to the Mohamed cartoons in the Jyllands-Posten? Or his scheduled visit to La Sapienza, topic: the reconciliation of faith and reason? So while I was so busy giggling at the thought of Kerry getting the treatment of Lord Gilbert in Becket, I didn't take note of the fact that the CDF statement reminded the Church in the US that you cannot serve two masters. It also opened (or should have) the debate over the formative influence of religion and theology on people's political views. The article in Newsmax mentions that document several times, and it is still frequently brought up, even more so with the impending papal visit. So I dunno, does that all seem conceivable?