Catholicism

Blessed Are the Brief

This past week, Pope St. Francis conducted a not-so-brief interview with La Civilta Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit journal. Ranging over 11,000 words in length, the Pope divulged his preference in music and film as well as his real thoughts on where to take the Catholic church. He stated, “We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”  He went on to say, "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible … We have to talk about them in a context." For progressive young religious people like me, hearing the Pope say that religion should be about compassion, and mercy, and creative connection is falls on welcome ears. But judging from the (very brief) sermon I heard this morning at mass, I'm not sure the rest of the U.S. clergy thinks so. It's as if they gave the "Blessed are the meek" idea a taciturn spin: blessed are the brief.

The sermon was not more than five minutes long, and consisted of the rhetorically stunning offering that - get ready -  the Pope's comments were in line with the Church's long-held positions on sexual politics.

That was the beginning. And the end.

I was stunned. These are some of the most interesting statements, any major religious leader has made in decades, yet many priests kept it inaudible. According to the Boston Globe, the US bishops and Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, Boston’s archbishop declined to comment about the statements the Pope made in his interview.

If the Catholic church is going to at least try to give the semblance that it is a hierarchical, matrixed, top-down institution, it has to act like one. When a CEO of a major corporation releases a statement, his or her PR people fall in line. That didn't happen today in the Catholic church, and it looked horrible. The sort of silent mutiny said droves in itself, and it was disappointing.

In today's hypervocal world, the brief are blessed on Twitter. Or Tumblr.

Not the pulpit.

Flying the Coop

This Lent is an odd one. In no less than 600 years, the Catholic church is Pope-less. Pope Benedict XVI's resignation has raised radical questions about the nature of the papacy, transparency in the Church, the nature of divinity, and the institutionalization of forgiveness.

But it has also left the Church like a chicken with its head cut off, walking in strange but wonderful stumbles.  The body of the chicken - the millions of the faithful - is swaggering just fine, as the swirling significance of prayers and pedidos are the real corporal offering of Lent, not the chains, rings, smoke and mumblings of the papal hierarchy. 

As Lent continues on, this chicken-Church is walking away from the dogmatic theology of the clergy. In church, when priests bring up whatever papacy PR points they were given that week, you can hear the parish belt a mental sigh of, "Oh no you didn't." It strikes the wrong nerve of an electric wire relationship with power within the almost 70% of Catholics worldwide that are from post-colonial and developing countries. There, religion was a tool of social repression but was then syncretically transformed into a tool for personal relief. That strain has become the dominant one; Catholicism has become a deeply personal religion, and a dogmatic Rome that doesn't understand the Church itself. Whether or not the smoke is white or black matters little if the clergy fundamentally misunderstands the material needs and aspirations of its followers. For starters, birth control is an economic, and not just a theological, issue for most folks. And etc. Etc. etc.

Anachronism is a hipster exercise; it doesn't suffice as a philosophical justification for one of the world's largest religions. 

The Church should walk in the direction of its parishoners. The Portuguese slogan of this Lent is "Eis-me aqui" (Have me here, Lord), and it seems fittingly appropriate. Religious folks worldwide are waiting for Easter, but they're also waiting for change.