I saw a cartoon recently of three mythical Catholic cardinals, each of a different ethnicity, happily discussing the upcoming conclave.
The first says: “Perhaps the new pope will be from Africa.”
The second says: “Perhaps the new pope will be from Latin America.”
The third says: “Perhaps the new pope will be from Asia.”
Beside them is a nun in full habit standing with hands folded and head bowed in prayer. She thinks silently, “Perhaps he’ll be from the 21st century.”
I was baptized as an infant, attended weekly mass with my parents and grandparents, spent twelve years in Catholic schools. I’m with the cartoon nun: we need a pope with a 21st century sensibility. Priests should be allowed to marry, women should be ordained, and gays should be welcome as they are.
However, regardless of the next direction of the church, I expect I will continue to practice Catholicism. I was raised here; it’s home. I consider myself a follower of Jesus. “Love your enemies,” he said. Has anyone ever said anything more startling and radical than that? Do any one of us live up to it? Well, not many of us, and certainly not often. But it’s worth shooting for.
The other reason I stay with the church is to receive the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. There is a deeply sacred mysticism that manifests itself in the Eucharist. We are sharing the very essence of the Divine in the physical form of bread and wine. I was taught as a child to accept such things as mystery, but as a writer it pains me to say that words may be inadequate to explain it. I simply have a very deep faith that the Eucharist is the heart and soul of the church.
There’s been evidence in recent years that makes it seem as if the patriarchy wants to turn back the clock to pre-Vatican II times when women were complicit and complacent, gays were closeted, divorcees were excommunicated, the pill hadn’t been invented yet, and pedophile priests were spirited away at the first hint of scandal. The church has many awful things facing it, things which must be dealt with. But why can’t the hierarchy focus on welcoming everyone in to receive the grace of the Eucharist rather than putting up barriers designed to exclude many good people? Why can’t they see how healing that would be?
God bless Pope Benedict on his very wise decision to retire. Although I know that the cardinals who will elect his successor have all been appointed by Pope Benedict himself or by John Paul II, and news commentators are dismally predicting little change in church policies, let us affirm that somewhere in the College of Cardinals, there waits another Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, who when elected as Pope John XXIII, surprised everyone by sensing the great changes afoot in the world, and opened the windows of the church to allow the entrance of the Holy Spirit, by calling for the Vatican II conferences that brought great light to the church. Let us pray that God will call forth such a man to lead the church into a more progressive era. I suggest we pray to Blessed Pope John, that he may intercede for us, who still hope and believe that the Roman Catholic Church may be a beacon for good in the world.
Let the novenas begin!!