In mid March (I presume) the proclamation “Habemus papam!” will launch a new papacy.
The next Bishop of Rome will be the 265th pope and launch the 267th papacy. (An earlier Bishop of Rome, Benedict IX, served multiple times, but with interruptions…..And then we have the little historical problem that Apostle Peter, the Rock, can only be considered “first pope” with a lot of symbolic imagination; but that is a discussion for another time……)
How should we react to Joseph Ratzinger’s successor? I suggest a sevenfold spiritual path:
(1) We should welcome the new Bishop of Rome with respect; but not with self-negating, servile adulation for a new Catholic monarch. We are followers of Jesus of Nazareth and not some Jesus of Rome.
(2) In what we say and do, therefore, let’s keep a healthy perspective on popes and Catholic life. Popes come and go. We the people remain the Body of Christ: the People of God. Let’s not let the white smoke from the Sistine Chapel cloud our vision.
(3) Let’s be honest and frank about our old institution. Our contemporary Roman Catholic Church has tremendous moral shortcomings and organizational problems. It is terribly dysfunctional right now. It rewards unthinking obedience and unquestioning loyalty instead of critical observation, respectful collaboration, and shared decision-making. Too many of its high level managers sacrifice principled behavior for self-survival and career advancement.
(4) We cannot rebuild Rome. We can shape the quality of church life in our families, parishes, schools, and dioceses. Let’s reject arrogant authoritarianism and unquestioning servile obedience and work toward a humble recognition of our mistakes and ongoing respectful collaboration.
(5) The current Roman Catholic scene can invite cynicism and sarcasm. Let’s be firm and correct in our criticism but remember that no institution is perfect and without sin. We aren’t either. Christians are people who believe in giving the other a second change. That goes for the men in pointed hats as well.
(6) Ignorance is not bliss. Let’s take seriously our own responsibility to stay up to date: in our knowledge about contemporary life, our understanding of human evolution, our understanding of the Scriptures, and in our remaining open to ever new perspectives on Catholic faith and history. A lot of those old men in red and purple behind Vatican walls are woefully ignorant old guys. They prance around and pontificate in medieval theatrical grandeur and with rock-hard medieval understandings of what it means to be a woman, a man, or a happily sexual person. Let’s neither be nor become silly ignoramuses like them!
(7) Let us not fall into the trap — into which so many “progressives” as well as “conservatives” fall! — of energetically TALKING about our Faith without humbly and genuinely LIVING our Faith. God’s Spirit is closer to us than the air in our lungs and the blood in our veins…..She beckons and says: attune your ears and open your eyes. Walk with me!