The Pope spoke sweetly at his last Wednesday Audience this morning. Of course we all watched and listened attentively. At lunch all the brothers remarked on how beautiful and personal were his words and on the humility he radiated in various ways.
Of course, everyone also mentioned which Cardinals they had seen and recognized, how they looked, what their expressions seemed to say, etc. One mentioned that he had seen Seán O'Malley. Others concurred; they had seem him too.
"But he seemed to have shortened his beard," the first brother offered.
"No. You were looking at someone else," corrected another.
As someone known to have met the Cardinal on various occasions, my opinion was sought. Was it him? Had he shortened his beard? Or was the first brother looking at someone else?
I was no help. Unfortunately, I must have missed him entirely, either when I was distracted from the video stream by having to post news blurbs on ofmcap.org or when I had to leave my desk for a half hour to set the refectory for lunch.
But then I thought of something. Maybe our dear Cardinal O'Malley had cut his beard down to liberal length.
One time, just prior to going to a Provincial Chapter, I trimmed my facial hair down very close. When a brother remarked on it, I quipped that I had cut my beard down to "liberal length."
The beard, of course, is traditional to the Capuchins, and the more big, untrimmed, and out-of-control a Capuchin friar's beard, the more it will be interpreted as a badge of traditionalism. Having a short and well-groomed beard isn't necessarily a sign of not being conservative or traditional, but it doesn't hurt if you don't want others to suspect you might be afflicted with these defects of soul. For it is only a short jump from the maladies of conservatism and traditionalism to the irretrievable damnation of being 'rigid,' a disease 'for which there is no cure for', as they say.
So, as I say, before going to a big, sensitive meeting of the brethren, I cut my beard back to liberal length so as to contribute, in some small way, to the serenity we all seek in our fraternal concern for one another.
Therefore, given the discussion at lunch today, I wondered if it might be possible that Cardinal O'Malley had done something similar, trimming his own Capuchin beard down to liberal length before coming to Rome, precisely to injure his chances of being elected pope. Not having seen, I can't guess. But I will say that if he did, and for that reason, it might be counterproductive. Popes, after all, aren't supposed to have beards at all, but are to go about clean-shaven like proper Romans.