February 16, 2013

What Things?

Before I came here to Rome, a friar reported to me a comment about my assignment that another friar had made. The latter friar said that perhaps I was suited to a Roman assignment because I didn't seem 'easily impressed.' When I heard this, I didn't agree. I'm often impressed, I objected. I'm just not easily seduced, I remember saying.

But maybe there was more truth than I realized to what my confrere said about me. The other day, it being a nice morning without a lot of new work having appeared first thing, I decided that it was a good moment to go out and take care of an errand at the Vatican. So there I was on the bus, and then on the other bus, without much thought of the recent, momentous event here in Rome. Instead, I was just saying my rosary, though of course with the standard distractions: there's the place to go when you need a  new hair clippers. I bet that place has good kebab. This serious young priest, I wonder where's he from. Mexico, maybe. He looks kind of Mexican. This studious young woman, I wonder what she's reading....the third sorrowful mystery...

But my inattention to the historical moment at hand was immediately remedied when I got to the neighborhood of the Vatican. TV reporters were everywhere. They were probably hoping to catch some prelate and get a comment out of him, but with no prelate around, they seemed ready to put a lesser brother to the test:

"Father, did the Pope do the right thing?"

"Father, has the Pope done well?"

"I'm sorry. I am an American tourist. I don't speak Italian."

Why should I have an opinion on Benedict XVI's resignation? He has the right to resign, and as the bearer of the Petrine ministry, he thinks that the best thing for the ministry at this moment is that he do so. So there you have it. Yes, of course this will have strong and far-reaching implications for the Church, but I'm not sure any of us can guess exactly what those might be yet, and I for one am not worried about it. I'm under no obligation to have an opinion on this either.

And of course, now begins the chatter about the coming conclave, about the various papabili.

'The next Pope should be this sort of person...'
'The next Pope has to do this...'
'The next Pope needs to change this and this and this...'

When it comes from believers, this sort of thing is usually earnest and devout and it doesn't really bother me; most of the time it comes from a love of God and his people. But when it comes from unbelievers and the organs of their media, it can be such misunderstanding nonsense. Can you imagine if the unbelieving press tried to tell Jews or Muslims how they ought to modify their faith or their religion the way they try to tell us Catholics? That wouldn't last too long. But there are good reasons, both natural and supernatural, why the Lord and his Church suffer these kinds of rudeness and misunderstanding. Unfortunately for the world and its purposes, all those reasons end up pointing to the truth of the faith and the Lord's promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church.

But, as I say, though most of the time these comments about who or what sort of man the next Pope ought to be don't bother me when they come from believers--of whatever label or faction--they still often remind me of a certain saying from the Desert Fathers:

A brother said to a great old man: "Abba, I wanted to find an old man after my own heart, and die with him." And the old man said: "Your search is good, my Lord." The brother reiterated his desire, not understanding the irony of the old man. But when the old man saw that he thought this was a good idea, he said to him: "If you find an old man after your own heart, you want to live with him?" And the brother said: "Yes. I wholeheartedly want this, if I can find one according to my mind." Then the old man said to him: "You do not want to follow the will of an old man: you want to follow yours, and so you will be comfortable with him." 
But the brother saw the sense of what he said, and rose and prostrated himself in penitence, saying: "Forgive me. I was very proud of myself for saying something good, when in truth there was nothing good about me."

Benedict XVI has been very much 'an old man after my own heart.' I am grateful to him and I feel close to him, as if God had given him to me personally. I wrote about some of that for the occasion of his birthday a couple of years ago. And I think he was to my liking in part because he has been a good Pope for the Church in this moment in her earthly pilgrimage, and as a member of the Church I want to become a good Catholic. But I'll also admit that some of why he has been 'an old man after my own heart' derives from the particulars of my own journey, some of which doesn't apply to everyone, and a little bit of which might even be called eccentric.

And I know if that if I start saying that the next Pope should be like this or needs to do this or change that, etc., I know that I would just be advertising my desire for someone obedient to my particularities, like the brother above.

So nor do I have an opinion on what sort of person the next Pope should be or what he needs to do. Is it too strong to say that since I am not a Cardinal of the Roman Church under eighty years old, the Holy Spirit has not asked my opinion? Or if I reject such a thought, am I giving in to the way the world invites us to apologize for our Catholic faith? I'm not sure. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

But I will say this: I'm already praying for the man who will be the next Pope. Maybe he has no idea. Maybe he does. Maybe, at some level, he already knows. So whether he turns out to be an old man after my own heart or not, I pray that he has the courage to be the old man after the Lord's Heart that the Holy Spirit will soon call him to be for us and for the world.


Judy Kallmeyer said...

My only thought about the new Pope is that he should be a younger man. The Papacy entails a very grueling schedule, especially with the all the travelling. Their Eminences would probably be wise to seek someone younger.

James said...

Thank you for this post.

1) It is encouraging to hear that you, too, get distracted when praying the rosary.

2) I'd like to steal your Desert Father quote for my FB wall (with attribution, of course). Do you remember which Abba it was?

3) This is somewhat sobering for me. I've come down with a bad case of "Conclave Fever". Part of this is because it's interesting, and a good teaching opportunity. But, part of this is due to my own intellectual vanity and spiritual pride: I think of myself as the only teacher at my school knowledgeable (and pious) enough to talk about it. Perhaps I should keep my mouth shut and let the Holy Spirit do His thing.

Brother Charles said...

James: I remembered the quote in vague outline from one of the editions I used to have and came up with the posted version by searching and copying from this page: